If, as reported, Justin Trudeau is considering Rona Ambrose for the post of Washington ambassador, what an intriguing and inspired choice she would be.
For starters, in an era of venomous political polarization, this would be a splendid show of bipartisanship. Never has a government chosen its U.S. ambassador from the ranks of the Official Opposition party. In the case of Ms. Ambrose, it would be the former party leader, no less.
She would become the first female to hold the post, happily halting a 90-year run of male envoys carrying out the country’s most important diplomatic assignment. The diplomatic corps has been a bastion of maledom for far too long. It’s time to terminate this irrational practice.
Ms. Ambrose would work with another native Albertan, Chrystia Freeland, who runs the U.S. file in her new role as Deputy Prime Minister. As they are two of the brightest stars in the political firmament, it would be a captivating combination, one that could do Canadians proud in charting relations with the deviant White House.
Accepting the post would not be easy. Being a prominent Conservative working hand-in-hand with the Liberals on major trans-border issues would hardly sit well with many of Ms. Ambrose’s party confrères. Mr. Trudeau’s decisions on the bilateral file would be seen as coming with a top Conservative’s stamp of approval, rendering those decisions more difficult for the Opposition to condemn.
There is the possibility that Ms. Ambrose will pass on the offer, if tendered, so as to leave open the opportunity of seeking the Conservative Party leadership. Should the position become open, she would be the leading contender. As interim leader before the party elected Andrew Scheer, during which time she reduced the level of partisan malice brought on by Stephen Harper, party rules prohibited her from running for permanent leader.
The Liberals don’t want to face Ms. Ambrose in that position. A probable prime reason for dangling Washington is to scuttle the possibility.
She is well qualified for the ambassador’s role. In addition to her interim party leadership and many years as a cabinet minister under Mr. Harper, she served as a member of the Liberals’ advisory council on the North American free-trade agreement negotiations. Her conservative credentials would be an advantage when working with Republicans.
On the trade file, she’s been at odds with Mr. Scheer, who castigated the revised NAFTA the Liberals signed with the Trump administration as a “historic humiliation.” It was an ignorant assessment, prompting Ms. Ambrose to counter that Canada did “quite well” in the negotiation, given the difficulties of working with the erratic Donald Trump. She took another shot at Mr. Scheer two weeks ago, tweeting that she “was proud to have been the first Tory leader to march in a Pride Parade.”
In deciding where to turn, she must bear in mind the unusual set of challenges the Washington job presents, especially should Mr. Trump be re-elected. If his ego is gargantuan now, imagine how out of control it will be then.
While he did well in the job, ex-ambassador David MacNaughton faced repeated frustrations. In a sudden and surprise move, he stepped down from the post prior to the federal election without completing a four-year term.
The new ambassador may not have to deal with the trade-agreement file, as there is a strong likelihood that the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will be ratified in short order. Democrats and Republicans are close to coming to terms on revisions to the pact.
In the what-else-is-new category, pressure is coming from the White House – Mr. Trump raised the matter Tuesday in London at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting – for Canada to increase its defence spending to 2 per cent of gross domestic product. That’s a long way from the current Ottawa target of 1.4 per cent by 2026-27.
Since virtually every U.S. administration has demanded greater Canadian military outlays, the temptation will be to shrug it off. But the Trudeau government might do well to up its defence capacities by more seriously addressing the problem of Arctic sovereignty, an issue that both Mr. Harper and Mr. Trudeau failed to move on, despite their promises.
For the envoy’s job, the Liberals have good options beyond Ms. Ambrose. Seasoned veteran Ralph Goodale, who lost his seat in October’s election, would be solid. Bob Rae, who has been underutilized by the Trudeau team, would make a fine choice.
None, however, offer the bipartisan advantages of having a woman with the stature of Ms. Ambrose in the post.
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