Politician or diplomat for Washington?

It has always been the argument. Does Canada need a diplomat or a political apparatchik representing us in the American capital? I also expect some humourist to suggest we go back to having the British Embassy in Washington represent us.

Canada was a footnote at the British Embassy in Washington until Vincent Massey presented his credentials to the U.S. State Department in November 1926. Massey was ranked as an envoy. I had fun 25 years ago in my book My American Mother, creating a fictious conversation between, then foreign affaires employee, Lester B. Pearson and my book’s hero. Pearson is telling the fellow foreign affairs employee why Vincent Massey hated Washington in the summer months.

If he were alive today, Massey would be more than pleased with the modern—and fully air-conditioned—Canadian Embassy at 501 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But the argument today is whether we should have a politico or a diplomat, representing us as ambassador. And believe me, we have had the good and the bad of both over the last 90 some years. What makes the argument more fun is appointments such as prime minister Jean Chrétien appointing his nephew Raymond. Chrétien, the foreign affaires employee, was fully qualified for the posting.

And that is saying more than we would for some of the political appointments over the years. Michael Wilson, the conservative finance minister for Brian Mulroney—who ran up some of the biggest deficits for Canadians—should have been sent further away than that by prime minister Stephen Harper.

Many liberals were disappointed when David McNaughton was sent to Washington after his less than stellar job on the 2015 liberal election campaign. Luckily that campaign did not require much effort. That seemed to me to be what he gave it.

The current discussion is whether civil servant and acting ambassador Kirsten Hillman should be named ambassador. She is the one who really provides the expert advice any way.


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