Will Obama send a famous face to Ottawa as ambassador? Not likely

February 6, 2013

The rumour mill is churning out some pretty big names as a possible replacement for American ambassador David Jacobson: Jennifer Granholm, the former Michigan governor; Christine Gregoire, former governor of Washington state; Olympia Snowe, the recently retired Republican senator from Maine; and UN ambassador Susan Rice. Perhaps, but not likely.

As Brian Bow, a political scientist at Dalhousie University who specializes in Canada-U.S. relations, observes, we're just not in that league.

"The fact that we even play this guessing game tells us something about our own exaggerated sense of our importance," he said Tuesday in an interview. "...We have a hard time reconciling ourselves to the fact that we're going to get a party bagman or woman."

In which case, how about Fred Eychaner?

Your correspondent has not the faintest clue whether Mr. Eychaner wants to be the next U.S. ambassador to Canada, or whether the Obama administration is considering him for the post. But he is eminently qualified for the job: he raised a great deal of money for Barack Obama.

Mr. Eychaner raised or donated $3.5-million to a pro-Obama Super Pac, and millions more to help other Democrats, making him the top donor and fundraiser for the Democrats, according to Associated Press.

Mr. Jacobson was a major fundraiser for Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign.

Like Mr. Jacobson and Mr. Obama, Mr. Eychaner hails from Chicago, where he founded Newsweb Corp., a publisher of alternative newspapers. He is active in the gay-rights movement (one reason, perhaps, why Mr. Obama's position on same-sex marriage "evolved" into full support as the election approached).

Other top contributors, according to AP, included James Simons, a New York investor and philanthropist; the film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of Dreamworks Animation; Irwin Jacobs, founder of Qualcomm; and Jon Stryker, an architect and philanthropist.

None of these names may be anywhere near any list of possible candidates (though landing Mr. Katzenberg would be very, very cool), but they are by virtue of their fundraising skills more probable for ambassadorial appointments than former governors who are being considered for cabinet.

Not that former governors don't become Canadian ambassadors: Consider former Michigan governor James Blanchard (for Bill Clinton) and Massachusetts governor Paul Cellucci (for George W. Bush). Brian Schweitzer, former governor of Montana, is a name you hear these days in both capitals.

But mostly you hear the names of women, including Ms. Granholm, Ms. Gregoire, Ms. Snowe and Ms. Rice. There has not been a woman U.S. ambassador to Canada and President Obama has been criticized for the lack of women in the senior ranks of his administration. So appointing a woman to Ottawa would be a welcome precedent.

But if gender is the foremost criteria, then why not Amy Goldman? No, I hadn't heard of her either, until I began researching this story. Wikipedia describes Ms. Goldman as "one of the foremost heirloom plant conservationists in the United States," the author of The Compleat Squash: A Passionate Grower's Guide To Pumpkins, Squashes and Gourds. She also appears on several lists of major donors to the Obama campaign, kicking in $3.4-million, according to Newsday.

Whoever gets the job will inherit a reasonably quiet file. Mr. Jacobson, who intends to remain at his post until his replacement is named and confirmed by the Senate – which could easily mean until next autumn – will be around to handle the Obama administration's decision to approve or veto the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Beyond the Border integration initiative is now mostly being run by bureaucrats rather than politicians. The Trans Pacific Partnership trade negotiations are multilateral.

Of course, as Prof. Bow observes, events always come along and blow things up, but one can never predict what they'll be.

Mr. Jacobson is a distinguished lawyer. But when the next ambassador's mettle is tested, a background in film or heirloom gardening might be equally valuable.

In this game, you just can't predict.

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