- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

New tone

Canada’s new ambassador arrived in Washington Monday morning and within hours was at the White House to present his diplomatic credentials to President Bush.

That was not just a case of good timing. With a new Conservative government in Ottawa, White House officials wanted to demonstrate a new tone in the bilateral relations between two countries with the strongest economic ties in the world.

Some ambassadors have to wait months to present their credentials, but Bush administration officials wanted to make sure that Ambassador Michael Wilson would be among the 14 ambassadors who met with Mr. Bush on Monday.

They began making arrangements with diplomats at the Canadian Embassy last week in anticipation of the arrival of Mr. Wilson, Canada’s 22nd ambassador to the United States and only its second political appointee. Mr. Wilson served as finance minister under Brian Mulroney, the Progressive Conservative prime minister whose terms coincided with President Reagan‘s.

Mr. Wilson replaced Ambassador Frank McKenna, a former Liberal premier of New Brunswick who served less than one year before the defeat of Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, who adopted an anti-American tone in his failed re-election campaign.

Mr. Wilson, addressing reporters at the embassy Monday afternoon, downplayed many of the tense issues between the United States and Canada, such as high tariffs on softwood Canadian lumber and a proposed passport program that could cause lengthy delays in cross-border traffic.

With more than $1 billion a day in bilateral trade, a truck crosses the border every three seconds and 300,000 people cross the border every day.

Mr. Wilson said that a U.S. requirement for passport-like documents “could have the effect of disturbing the flow of people.”

“It’s one of a number of border issues,” he added.

However, Mr. Wilson said he and Mr. Bush emphasized the positive aspects of the relationship in their Oval Office meeting.

“The president and I had a very friendly conversation. It is a very good start,” he said.

“We’re starting off on a good footing. … We do want to have a change in tone. … It’s important that when we do disagree, we don’t have to be disagreeable.”

Mr. Wilson, 68, is the former chairman of UBS Canada, one of the world’s leading financial-investment institutions. He said he was honored to cap his career by serving as ambassador to Canada’s most important foreign post.

“Nothing is more important for Canada internationally than the relationship with the United States,” he said. “I can’t think of anything more exciting to do over the next few years.”

However, he added, as excited as he was to visit the Oval Office, his four grandchildren who accompanied him were indifferent as they waited in an anteroom outside the office of the most powerful man in the world.

“It’s hard to impress grandchildren,” Mr. Wilson said.

“The two girls, 7 and 8, ran around the room and did pirouettes. The two boys, 7 and 9, were filling their pockets with George W. Bush M&Ms.;”

Flight plans

The U.S. ambassador to Venezuela yesterday predicted that Washington will retaliate with a complete ban of Venezuelan flights to the United States if the South American country carries through with threats to halt all U.S. passenger flights.

“Hopefully, that will not happen, because if that happens, it is not only possible or probable, but an absolute certainty the U.S. government and Transportation Department would suspend flights by Venezuelan airlines,” Ambassador William Brownfield told Reuters news agency in the capital, Caracas.

Venezuela threatened to ban U.S. airliners after the Bush administration refused to lift restrictions on the number of Venezuelan flights that were imposed in 1995 because of safety concerns.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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