U.S. President Joe Biden has selected Pennsylvania powerbroker and Washington lobbyist David Cohen as the next ambassador to Canada, sources say.
Mr. Cohen, who was the host of Mr. Biden’s first fundraising event as presidential candidate in 2019, follows in the footsteps of other U.S. envoys to Canada who were major U.S. donors to Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns.
Two Canadian sources say the Liberal government has been privately informed that Mr. Cohen will be nominated as ambassador to Ottawa, a posting that will require the approval of the U.S. Senate.
The U.S. ambassador to Canada is one of the key players in Ottawa because of the deep trade ties and security and defence relationships between the two countries.
David MacNaughton, former Canadian ambassador to Washington, said Mr. Cohen will not have an easy time in the post, given the host of bilateral issues that have arisen since Mr. Biden moved into the White House.
“The expectation at the outset was that the Biden years were going to be a lot easier for us to deal with, but we are seeing that a lot of issues remain challenging,” he said.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Biden have a warm relationship, as do many cabinet ministers with their U.S. counterparts, Mr. MacNaughton said the new administration hasn’t been particularly helpful on issues such as Line 5, softwood lumber, Buy America and protectionist trade measures being discussed by Democrats in Congress.
“Are we really going to rebuild the economy on a North American basis, or is it ‘U.S.A., U.S.A.?’ And if it is, then that will cause some challenges,” he said.
A major irritant right now is Michigan’s bid to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, a key petroleum conduit for Central Canada that runs through Great Lakes states, and the Biden administration’s apparent lack of interest in intervening in the dispute. The petroleum pipeline carries up to 540,000 barrels a day from Alberta and Saskatchewan through Wisconsin and Michigan before re-entering Canada at Sarnia, Ont. The Canadian government has warned a shutdown would represent a threat to this country’s energy security.
The Washington Post first reported in late April that Mr. Cohen, senior executive vice-president and chief lobbyist for Comcast, was under consideration as an ambassador to Canada. He served as chief of staff to former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell before becoming an executive with Comcast, a global media and technology company.
In 2012, he was credited with lobbying U.S. regulators on the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal.
Mr. Cohen is considered an influential political player in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state. He also served as chairman of the board of trustees at the University of Pennsylvania for more than a decade.
Mr. MacNaughton said Mr. Cohen should not expect that his job in Ottawa will be an easy glad-handing post.
“If he thinks this is going to be ‘best friends’ and not really a difficult post … I think he will find there are some really tough issues that are going to have to be dealt with,” he said. “When you think of the magnitude of our commercial relationship [and] of our security and defence relationship, I think a lot of Americans underestimate the importance.”
Mr. MacNaughton said the fact that Mr. Cohen was one of the early financial backers of Mr. Biden could help gain him access to the White House to deal with bilateral issues.
He noted that former U.S. ambassador Kelly Craft, who along with her billionaire husband, Joe Craft, donated $1-million to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, could pick up the phone and call the White House and senior cabinet secretaries.
“It was important at key moments, particularly during the NAFTA negotiations,” he said.
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