OTTAWA – Barack Obama’s new envoy to Ottawa says building a strong economy doesn’t have to come at the expense of protecting the environment.
“Today you can be pro-economy and pro-energy and considerate of the environment,” Bruce Heyman, the former Chicago investment banker and major Democratic Party fundraiser, said Tuesday as he became the new U.S. ambassador to Canada.
Heyman formally took up his post, vacant for nine months, after presenting his credentials to Gov. Gen. David Johnston at Rideau Hall. He was then headed to a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
There was no immediate comment from the prime minister’s office.
Heyman will have to confront the Harper government’s pressure on the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Alberta oilsands crude to the southern United States.
The freshly minted ambassador had nothing new to offer in terms of when Keystone XL might be approved, but he weighed in broadly on the environment, energy and the economy while speaking to reporters at Rideau Hall.
“We have to work together to accomplish a strong economy but we have to work together to protect the environment,” he said.
Fen Hampson, an expert in Canada-U.S. relations at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, said that even though Obama and the Democrats may be beholden to anti-Keystone interests, the recent Russian incursion into the Crimean Peninsula has changed the state of play around energy security.
“In light of Ukraine, (and) instability in the markets, the energy security card got a bit stronger,” said Hampson.
The Harper government has used the energy security argument — that Canada is a safe source of energy in a dangerous world — to counter the criticism of vocal environmentalists in the U.S. who have branded oilsands bitumen as “dirty oil” that contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions.
Heyman replaced Chicago-lawyer David Jacobson, who bid Ottawa farewell shortly after hosting his final July 4 party last summer.
“You know good things come to those that wait,” Heyman quipped as he shook hands with Johnston after the ceremony.
Some observers say the long delay reflects Obama’s indifference towards Canada. However, the job was vacant for 18 months under former president Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
The delay in confirming Heyman’s appointment drew criticism last month from the Canadian American Business Council, which called it counterproductive to relations between Canada and the U.S. The two countries have the world’s largest two-way trading relationship.
Partisan gridlock in the U.S. Senate was largely to blame for Heyman’s delayed appointment after he had a relatively smooth confirmation hearing.
Hampson said Heyman’s effectiveness as an envoy will be limited because he serves a “lame duck” president.
“That could change depending on the outcome of the congressional elections, but if Obama loses the Senate and Republicans dominate both houses of Congress, then we will see a truly hobbled presidency,” said Hampson.
Republicans, not Democrats, are more closely aligned with the Harper government’s priorities, particularly the Keystone pipeline, he added.