Three questions for the soon-to-be U.S. ambassador

Senate grills Bruce Heyman on KXL, IP and Santa

President Barack Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman, faced U.S. senators at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Heyman said his top priority will expanding trade and investment between both countries.

“If confirmed, my top priority will be enhancing our economic partnership,” Heyman said  He  noted that U.S. exports to Canada in 2012 exceeded combined exports to China, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore, and he’d like to see the trade relationship expand further. “My number one mission will be expanding our economic footprint,” he said.

The Goldman Sachs executive and top fundraiser for Obama’s election campaigns said his background in finance would “prove useful” in that effort.

“As a Goldman Sachs Managing Director, I have spent my entire career constructing business partnerships and helping investors see possibilities.” Heyman also said he would also work to enhance environmental cooperation, security, border efficiency, and regulatory co-operation.

Heyman was joined at the hearing by his wife, Vicki, and their three children. In his opening remarks, Heyman described his wife’s family’s background as an example of “the countless links that bind the people of our two countries together.” Heyman said his wife’s ancestors immigrated to Canada in 1910 and 1911, and some settled in Toronto.

Heyman was questioned alongside nominated ambassadors to Chile and Colombia. In addition to the committee chairman, Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, only two other senators attended the hearing: Republicans John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida, who had arrived earlier to question nominees to counter-terrorism positions. Heyman himself received only three questions from senators.

The first exchange was with McCain:

“Could I just ask one question? Mr. Heyman, you’re familiar with the XL pipeline issue?” began McCain.

I am familiar with it, yes, sir,” replied Heyman.

And your position is?”

“…Is there’s a process underway at the State Department, and when that process is concluded I think that I will be the person on the ground that will be communicating with Canadians, that decision,” said Heyman.

McCain continued: “So you have no position because there’s a process that’s been going on for several years?”

That’s correct,” said Heyman.

Shortly after that exchange both McCain and Rubio left the hearing room, leaving Menendez to continue the confirmation hearing on his own. Menendez pressed Heyman on two issues: intellectual property protections and the nationality of Santa Claus.

Menendez said it is a “serious concern” that “innovators should face significant intellectual property challenges with one of the largest trading partners with the United States. He complained that Canada was no supportive of “strong IP protections” in the TPP trade agreement negotiations and in its domestic policies. Heyman said that Canada was moving toward tougher laws. “I know the Canadians are working harder to try to do better in this area. They’ve worked on passing legislation on Internet piracy issues last year, and there is legislation before the Parliament right now on counterfeiting and some border rules that would go into effect. That being said, if considered to be ambassador by this esteemed committee, I will take this issue to the Canadian government and I will make this issue an important issue.”

Next, noting that both Canada and Russia were making claims to the North Pole, Menendez, asked whether the U.S. was also mapping its own continental shelf to see whether it had any additional claims to the Arctic sea floor. Heyman said mapping was underway, which prompted Menendez to talk about Santa:

“And if we were to succeed in this process in terms of our claim, would that mean that Santa Claus is an American citizen?” asked Menendez, adding, “You don’t have to answer that,” and, “That might put you in a lot of hot water.”

But Heyman dived in.I understand that. But as I think you’re aware, NORAD tracks Santa Claus when he takes off, and it’s with joint Canadian and U.S. participation that we’ll secure Santa Claus’s protection. And it’s from my understanding, Santa Claus has a special right of being a citizen of the world, and he can enter U.S. space without…” Menendez cut off, telling Heyman that he had “displayed your diplomatic abilities in an extraordinary fashion.”

With that, the hearing was over. (Senators can still submit written questions to the nominee.)

Heyman must now await a confirmation vote by the U.S. Senate.