Articles - January 2017

Canadian Ambassador
David MacNaughton

By James A. Winship, Ph.D.

David MacNaughton began his professional career right out of college as a political assistant to a Cabinet Minister in Ottawa. "I spent six and a half years doing that," he recalls, "then at age 28, I decided that I would become an entrepreneur. I had seen businesses come and go making representations to the government, and it occurred to me that I could give advice to business on how to do it better." Doing it better became the mantra of MacNaughton's professional life and political involvements. His official biography describes him as a seasoned entrepreneur and political strategist, and his resume bears that out. He founded KinMac Associates in 1977 and, following the purchase of Public Affairs International and Decima Research, restructured his company as Public Affairs Resource Group, later acquiring the Washington, D.C. based Government Research Corporation. In the process, MacNaughton transformed the government consulting industry by combining government relations, public opinion research and public relations into a single integrated operation.

MacNaughton's Public Affairs Research Group was purchased by the WPP Group in 1989 and a new company Hill + Knowlton Canada emerged. MacNaughton subsequently became North American President for Hill + Knowlton Strategies. After a five-year learn out, however, he turned his attention to the financial services sector heading Strathshore Financial, Inc. where he did mergers and acquisitions with a special focus on structuring public-private partnerships. He later turned to investment banking as Senior Advisor to CIBC Capital Markets, a subsidiary of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

Never far from political involvement as a Liberal Party activist and campaign strategist, however, MacNaughton served as Principal Secretary to Dalton McGuinty, Premier of Ontario, from 2003 -2005. When he left government service in 2005, it was to become Chairman and Partner of StrategyCorp, Inc. Its website describes StrategyCorp as Canada's trusted public affairs, communication and management consulting advisor. The company's services include everything from government relations to media training, corporate responsibility, reputation enhancement and protection, national security advising, cyber security and 24/7 crisis response.

MacNaughton left the firm early in 2016 in order to assume the post of Ambassador to the United States in the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He presented his credentials as Canada's Ambassador to the United States on March 3, 2016.

David MacNaughton has been credited by Canadian colleagues as having whip-smart political savvy and a record of sound judgment and consensus-building that reaches beyond partisan divides. Former Canadian Ambassador to the United States Derek Burney (1989-1993), a voice of the opposition Conservative party, observes that MacNaughton's asset in Washington and Ottawa will be the fact that he is known to have the Prime Minister's confidence and to have the ability to get to the Prime Minister without having to go through a lot of filters.

Ambassador MacNaughton was kind enough to share his thoughts with Diplomatic Connections after his first whirlwind months on the job. Both his perceptiveness and his sense of humor come through clearly in the interview.

Diplomatic Connections: Like the United States, Canada does not always draw its ambassadors from the ranks of career diplomats or even necessarily politicians. You've served Canada in a variety of roles at the provincial and federal levels, but most of your experience has been in the private sector. How does that private sector experience factor into your new diplomatic career?

Ambassador MacNaughton: Most of the time things in government are measured by how much money you spend on programs and process. But governments don't always measure outcomes and results very well. I understand how government works, but the private sector has required me to focus on outcomes and results because that is what you have to do to survive in the private sector.

The combination of my private and my public experience means that I tend to push much more for outcomes and results than process. Process drives me crazy! Hopefully, the combination serves me well in this new position as Ambassador.

Diplomatic Connections: You've been in Washington since early last year, but you had to hit the ground running. You had Prime Minister Trudeau here in Washington and President Obama in Ottawa for the North American Leaders Summit with Premier Trudeau and Mexican President Pe–a Nieto. What is the importance of diplomatic exchanges at the level of heads of government as opposed to the career diplomat or ambassadorial level?

Ambassador MacNaughton: When you have a high-level visit, people focus on results. You don't want to put the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada in a position where they have nothing substantial to announce. These meetings both gave us an agenda and allowed us to cement the progress on climate change, security, and trade issues that had been made.

Diplomatic Connections: Was it difficult to prepare for these state visits with such limited lead time?

Ambassador MacNaughton: It really was very fortuitous for me because no sooner did I arrive in Washington than there was a real agenda with pressing time lines to work on. Along the way, I met a whole series of people vital to my work as Ambassador in a concentrated period of time.  The experience was intense, but it was probably the best thing that happened in terms of beginning my tenure here in Washington. I was thrown into the proverbial deep end of the pool, and I didn't quite drown though I may have gurgled a little bit!

Diplomatic Connections: Canada has undergone a leadership transition. Now the United States is going through that same process. How does the embassy here in Washington work to help Ottawa understand the particular chaos that is any American political campaign? How do you prepare for a new administration in Washington?

Ambassador MacNaughton: We have had a whole team of people working on the various potential outcomes and their implications for the Canada-U.S. agenda. We have had to determine what are the initiatives already in process that we want to continue to make work or improve? And then, what are the new initiatives that we might put on the table for the Trump administration?

We are going through a defense policy review and a cultural policy review in Canada. When I go to Ottawa for meetings of the Prime Minister's Committee on Canada-United States Relations, I remind people that it is really important that we take into consideration U.S. views on things like defense, security and trade. That doesn't mean that we have to change our policy, but we clearly need to understand what is on the mind of the United States.

Diplomatic Connections: How will the change of administrations from Obama to Trump affect the Canada-U.S. relationship?

Ambassador MacNaughton: The American political system and its institutions are far more complex than the Canadian parliamentary system. We had a transition period in Ottawa that lasted three weeks, here in the United States the transition period is ten weeks or more. Given the outcome of the election we know that the presidency and both houses of Congress will be controlled by the Republican Party. But, even with this reality, it remains the case that both political parties have their own internal disagreements and that the workings of American political institutions are built on a complex system of checks and balances.

Diplomatic Connections: Did the tone and tenor of the 2016 presidential campaign leave you disillusioned with the American political process?

Ambassador MacNaughton: As discouraging as the level of discussion in the recent presidential campaign was, I must tell you that I have confidence in U.S. democracy. As I've traveled around the United States, I've met people in Congress, people at the state level and people at the municipal level. What I see time and time again are talented people who are optimistic about America's future and who are really good public servants. These are sensible, rational people who are trying to make a difference Ð Republicans and Democrats. I am optimistic about U.S. democracy.

Diplomatic Connections: What does the Canadian ambassador do on Inauguration Day?

Ambassador MacNaughton: Members of the diplomatic corps are invited guests at the Inauguration itself, and I will attend that ceremony.  Following the ceremonial part of the Inauguration, the Embassy will host our own Inauguration event. Four years ago we had more than 1,500 people come through the embassy on Inauguration day. We have one of the best seats for the afternoon's Inaugural Parade which goes along Pennsylvania Avenue, literally past our front door. I'll be greeting and talking to people, including many who are part of the new dministration coming to power in Washington.

Diplomatic Connections: Canada has an important anniversary to celebrate in 2017, the 150th anniversary of Canada's confederation formed in 1867. What are the themes of that celebration, and what would you like Americans to know about it?

Ambassador MacNaughton: We want to talk about Canada as it is today and about how we look to the future. Canada is a dynamic economy with a great deal of innovation and creativity. We have a society that is very much invested in inclusiveness, recognizing the rich variety of the Canadian people and immigrants coming from all over the world. That focus on inclusiveness also includes a focus on gender parity and opportunity. You may have noticed that Prime Minister Trudeau's Cabinet has good gender balance in it, 15 female ministers and 15 male ministers, most of them under 50. In Prime Minister Trudeau's description, it is a Cabinet that looks like Canada.

This government is committed to recognizing the role of Canada's indigenous peoples in our past but also to making certain that they participate fully in the future of the country. The 150th Anniversary gives us the perfect opportunity to celebrate this heritage. And, of course, this year-long celebration is an opportunity to anticipate Canada's future. Canadians are proud of our country, and we believe that Canada has a unique role to play in world affairs. We value our relationship with the United States, and we hope that many Americans will come to Canada this year and celebrate with us.

Diplomatic Connections: When President Obama visited Ottawa, he called the relationship between the United States and Canada an extraordinary alliance and a deep friendship. That said, what are the priority issues on your agenda as you undertake your assignment here in Washington?

Ambassador MacNaughton: Our relationship is like siblings in a family, or a marriage or the relationship between really good friends. If you take each other for granted, you end up with problems in the relationship. To some degree we have taken each other for granted too much. We need to talk about our successes and how deep and how broad the relationship is. Then we will appreciate each other even more, and we can build on that deepened relationship to do even better things.

Diplomatic Connections: Everyone always talks about the long peaceful border between the United States and Canada, and yet border security and border crossing procedures are major concerns. There is a deep concern about terrorism and the porousness of our borders. At the same time there are concerns about trade and the restrictiveness of borders. What is happening between our two governments to improve border security?

Ambassador MacNaughton: One of the things that people don't realize is that there are 400,000 border crossings a day, including tourism and business. Part of Prime Minister Trudeau's visit to Washington and President Obama's visit to Ottawa was to agree to a whole new set of border crossing procedures based on pre-clearance and information sharing. As a result of legislation Prime Minister Trudeau's government introduced in the House of Commons, we share much more information with the United States than ever before. We have significantly more data on potential threats to our respective countries.

Diplomatic Connections: Trade and NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, became almost anathema during the 2016 presidential campaign in the United States. How does Canada look at NAFTA and its impact on the Canadian economy? If it comes to that, will Canada be willing to reopen negotiations on NAFTA?

Ambassador MacNaughton: Canada is a trading country with a population of 36 million people. We need to be traders, and I would argue so does the United States. When I was in Michigan I was sitting at lunch with a company started by two entrepreneurs that now has about 250 employees. They export to 40 different countries. Those jobs are dependent on trade, and you need to have rules for trade. NAFTA has been a good agreement. There has been a fourfold increase in trade in North America as a result of NAFTA. Any agreement can always be improved. But, the one thing that people need to realize is that if you open up an agreement for renegotiation it isnÕt just going to be a one-way discussion. There are many things that, from a Canadian point of view, could be improved from the current agreement.

Diplomatic Connections: We have to talk about a very specific issue that has been a persistent trade irritant between the United States and Canada, the softwood lumber trade. What is the status of those negotiations?

Ambassador MacNaughton: We continue to negotiate with the United States. We have put forth new initiatives that we hope will break the logjam. It is a difficult issue. The U.S. lumber industry's allegation that the Canadian government is subsidizing its lumber industry has been disproven time and time again. Canada does not subsidize its lumber industry. We recognize the concerns of the U.S. lumber industry, and we are trying to create a system whereby we can share the gain when markets are good and share the pain when markets are bad. One of the things we have to make sure of is that disputes like this one, which are always going to happen when you have trade on the scale that we do, don't start affecting the overall relationship.

Diplomatic Connections: That said, there were headlines in the Canadian newspapers when the Keystone Pipeline decisions were made that declared, We Used to Be Friends. What is the status of the Keystone issue, and how do you expect it to unfold under a new administration in the United States?

Ambassador MacNaughton: That is exactly the kind of thing that we don't want to have happen. We don't want to have one issue dominate or sour the overall U.S.-Canada relationship. I do not know what Trans-Canada's intentions are for the future of that project. What is important to realize is that we have a North American energy market. The pipelines run north and south. It isn't just a bunch of oil pipelines going to the United States. There are gas pipelines that come north into Canada. If you look at a map and take that border away and look just at the way things flow, they flow in the most efficient way. We have to make sure that we don't destroy those natural efficiencies that have been established.

Diplomatic Connections: It is now the case that the mythical Northwest Passage is no longer myth. The Arctic Ocean is open. There is a good deal of commercial shipping going on and even the beginnings of tourism with cruise ships sailing the Arctic. How does Canada see the future of the Arctic? What are the areas where the United States and Canada can cooperate, especially in the face of what has been quite assertive Russian presence in the Arctic?

Ambassador MacNaughton: We have the Arctic Council, which includes Canada, the United States and the Russian Federation among its members. Initiated 20 years ago, the Council has been a very good forum for dialogue, discussion and coordination. It is especially important that we have included in the Arctic forum seats at the table for indigenous people who actually live there.  As the navigable waters of the Arctic expand there are both commercial opportunities opening up and military-security issues that must be confronted. You asked about the Russian presence in the Arctic. We are having frank discussions with the Russians in the Arctic Council setting.

Diplomatic Connections: You mentioned earlier Canada's international role. What is the future of Canadian peacekeeping involvements? Prime Minister Trudeau seems at least to be hinting at a larger role for Canada than it has had recently.

Ambassador MacNaughton: Canada does want to step up and help in some of the world's conflict torn regions, but such peacekeeping is a very different and a more difficult undertaking than it used to be in the days of the blue helmets of the United Nations peacekeepers. We have to make certain that we understand that. Any peacekeeping considerations are all part of Canada's overall defense policy review.

Canada has stepped up and agreed to lead the NATO mission in Latvia. We are part of the overall NATO process of extending the NATO umbrella to its newer members, particularly the Baltic states, in response to a growing concern about Russian threats.

Diplomatic Connections: You have talked about the long term relationship and the closeness between the United States and Canada. Does this complementary relationship have anything to teach the rest of the world?

Ambassador MacNaughton: The thing that makes the Canada-U.S. relationship unique is our shared values. There are no two countries, where you have lengthy borders like Canada and the United States yet where each country has a distinct identity and a unique political system, that have developed the peaceful cooperative relations that Canada and the United States have. We focus on practical ways to get things done rather than standing on ceremony or ideology or vocal assertions of sovereignty.

The rest of the world needs to think about how you can maintain your sovereignty but have a fabulous relationship with your neighbors. That is what Canada and the United States have done. It is a relationship unique in the world. That puts a special obligation on us to look not just at North America but to work together in the rest of the world.

Diplomatic Connections: Ambassador MacNaughton, thank you very much.
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