OTTAWA – U.S. President Barack Obama will nominate Chicago investment banker Bruce Heyman as his ambassador to Canada, the White House said Thursday.
Known as a powerful fundraising force for the president, Heyman has been managing director of private wealth management at Goldman Sachs since 1999.
Thursday’s announcement comes despite rumours that had circulated during the summer that Heyman’s complex investment portfolio may have disqualified him from the running for the job.
Heyman, who has worked for Goldman Sachs since 1980, would replace departing ambassador David Jacobson, who has held the position since 2009.
Public records show that Heyman and his wife, Vicki, have been donating to Obama since 2007.
They are what’s known as “mega-bundlers” in American political parlance — top fundraisers.
Both Heymans served on Obama’s National Finance Committee in 2012, helping to raise millions for his re-election campaign.
A recent Washington Post report said Heyman has already undergone the State Department’s diplomatic “charm school.”
A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomed the choice.
“We look forward to working with Ambassador-Designate Heyman to continue to build on the strong relationship with the Obama Administration and advance shared priorities, including the creation of jobs and increased trade on both sides of the border,” Stephen Lecce said in an email.
Heyman shares similarities with his predecessor, Jacobson. Both came from Chicago, and were players in Obama’s political rise to the White House.
Jacobson departed Ottawa in July, leaving the U.S. embassy in Ottawa under the leadership of a charge d’affairs.
The apparent delay in nominating a replacement has sparked criticism in some quarters that the Obama administration was placing a low priority on Canada.
But with Obama facing a tough domestic and international agenda, one analyst says it will be tough for Canada to get Washington’s attention regardless of who represents its interests north of the border.
“We are the last G8 country to have an ambassadorial nominee,” said Fen Hampson, head of the global security program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont.
He said that shows “how low we are on the priority list for a country that is still the United States’ most important trading partner, and major supplier of energy. The good news is at least they did it before the end of the year.”
Hampson said Heyman benefits from his close proximity to Obama and the fact he has high-level business experience. That’s a plus given two of the key economic issues at the heart of bilateral relations: getting the Keystone XL pipeline approved, and the ongoing saga to speed the flow of goods and people across the 49th parallel.
But there could be limits to what he can accomplish in Ottawa.
“Given a president who seems to be politically on the ropes and is an early entrant into what you would call ‘lame duck’ how much one can expect a new ambassador to deliver I think remains to be seen,” Hampson said in an interview from Washington.
Maryscott Greenwood, of the Canadian American Business Council, flatly rejected the premise that there was an unusually long delay in nominating a replacement for Jacobson.
She called Heyman’s appointment an “an inspired choice on the part of the president.”
Heyman, she added, has the ability to “take the ball and continue to advance the interests of our two countries at a crucial time.”
Greenwood blamed political partisanship for holding up the nomination of dozens of ambassadorial nominees in the Senate.
“The fact that our system causes people to do their due diligence and to time nominations with political reality is absolutely the way it is,” Greenwood said in an interview from Washington.
“Do I think Canada was singled out or this is somehow a negative statement about Canada? Hell, no!”