Ambassador Kelly Knight Craft

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Trump’s ‘influential’ pick for ambassador to Canada faces Senate hearing

Kelly Knight Craft donated $265K to Trump campaign committee in 2016

By Matt Kwong, CBC News Posted: Jul 20, 2017 5:00 AM ETLast Updated: Jul 20, 2017 9:27 AM ET

U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick for the next ambassador to Canada, a deep-pocketed Republican donor with influential allies in Congress and family ties with a Kentucky coal empire, faces her Senate confirmation hearing Thursday.

Kelly Knight Craft will testify before the Senate committee on foreign relations in a joint session with Trump’s nominees for ambassador to NATO and the U.K.

Craft and her husband, billionaire coal-mining magnate Joe Craft, donated about $265,000 to a committee backing Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. She announced her support for Trump after getting assurances that he wouldn’t bump House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell from their roles.

Maryscott Greenwood, who is the senior adviser to the Canadian American Business Council and knows Craft personally through mutual friends, calls her nomination a “terrific” choice.

kelly knight craft UN

Craft addresses the United Nations about U.S. engagement in Africa in 2007. President George W. Bush chose her as an alternate delegate to the UN. (Courtesy of Glasgow Daily Times)

Craft “brings a Southern charm that Gordon Giffin and David Wilkins also had,” she said, referring to two previous ambassadors to Canada.

“She’s quite impressive. Canadians will see that when they get a first chance to hear her in her own words.”

With more than $700 billion in two-way trade of goods and services between Canada and the U.S., along with issues regarding cross-border security and energy, “the deeper our ambassador’s connections with policy-makers, the better able she is to navigate this huge, complicated relationship,” Greenwood said.

Those connections with the White House and key members of Congress could prove very beneficial to Canada, experts say, particularly as Ottawa braces for U.S. tax reform and “Buy American” rules for a $1-trillion infrastructure plan that could lock out Canadian firms.

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David Wilkins was a close family friend of George W. Bush when he was appointed ambassador to Canada. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

“The importance of the ambassador, really, is how close to the administration is she or he?” said Derek Burney, Canadian ambassador to the U.S. from 1989 to 1993.

“She must have the confidence of the president to get this appointment. And if she has the ear of the president, that’s good for us.”

Her appointment would come at a crucial time. On Monday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative released a blueprint of objectives for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Formal talks are scheduled to begin Aug. 16.

It’s in the interests of Canada and the U.S. to have that “point person” on site as soon as possible, said former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson.

“The ambassador acts as the quarterback in the field. With the release of the U.S. objectives for NAFTA, it’s very important that the Americans have an ambassador in Ottawa that can feed back into the United States the reaction of the Canadians.”

Joe Craft

Craft, right, with her husband, Joe Craft, a billionaire coal-mining magnate who has criticized former president Barack Obama’s climate policies. (Courtesy of Glasgow Daily Times)

One potential area of tension for Craft in Canada’s capital could be her strong links to the coal sector, said Elliot Tepper, a distinguished senior fellow with Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa.

“What’s clear is that her interests in regard to the coal industry are in sync with the American administration, but out of sync with the Canadian government at the moment,” Tepper said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government announced plans last November to phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030. Meanwhile, Trump has pledged to revive coal jobs in the U.S.

Craft’s husband is the CEO of Alliance Resource Partners LP, one of the largest coal producers in the eastern U.S. He has questioned the science and dangers of climate change, diverging from Canada’s position.

But Tepper said such factors are mitigated by the fact Canada has already gone through a six-month period of adjustment with its primary strategic and diplomatic trading partner.

‘Quick and without controversy’

Potential political differences with Canada aside, when lawmakers question Craft at Thursday morning’s joint session, her testimony should go smoothly, aided by a Republican majority on the committee.

Hearings for the Canadian ambassador post are typically “quick and without controversy,” following some warm remarks and introductions, said Robertson, who attended the hearings for former U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins.

“I suspect all the ducks are lined up and her hearing will go quickly, and that she’ll be confirmed early next week,” the former diplomat said.

Craft previously ran a marketing consulting firm. In 2007, she was appointed as an alternate to the United Nations by President George W. Bush, advising on U.S. engagement in Africa.

U.S. ambassadorships to Canada are considered plum postings, typically not awarded to career diplomats but to key fundraisers who have the confidence of the president and may be well connected in Washington.

Wilkins, a South Carolina lawyer, was a top Republican donor and close family friend of George W. Bush. The most recent ambassador, Bruce Heyman, helped raise more than $1 million for Barack Obama’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee in 2011 and 2012.

Bruce Heyman

Bruce Heyman, a Barack Obama appointee, resigned as ambassador to Canada back in January because Trump wanted to name his own ambassadors. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Heyman resigned on Jan. 20, heeding Trump’s State Department instructions for ambassadors to clear house by inauguration day so he could name his own envoys.

While Craft has been active in philanthropy and also served on the University of Kentucky’s board of trustees, Tepper said little is known about her diplomatic or political skills.

“We know that she’s influential. What we do not know is if she has the requisite communication and diplomatic skills,” he said. “That will be tested during the confirmation hearings.”

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Congress and the US Election

Forget Clinton and Trump — it’s Congress that matters most to some Canadians

A border deal, a trade deal, climate change co-operation all hang on partisan makeup of next Congress

By Matt Kwong, CBC News Posted: Nov 07, 2016 5:00 AM ETLast Updated: Nov 07, 2016 6:59 AM ET

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan speaks to the assembled House after being elected as the new Speaker in Washington in October 2015.

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan speaks to the assembled House after being elected as the new Speaker in Washington in October 2015. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Repeal this, legislate that, nominate them.

U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump can make all the campaign promises they want, but they won’t be able to accomplish much without Congress.

While the fight for the White House gets all the sizzle in this fiery election season, Canadian interests are also watching the down-ballot races as our superpower neighbour to the south — our biggest trading partner  — shuffles seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives. More than 400,000 people flow back and forth across the Canada-U.S. border each day.

At stake for Canada? Anything from trade pacts to ease of cross-border travel, taxes on goods, a potentially lucrative project for Hydro-Québec and climate change co-operation.

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Traffic makes its way from Windsor, Ont., to the Ambassador Bridge that connects Canada to the United States. In the dwindling days of the current Congress, a border pre-clearance agreement has stalled. (Mark Spowart/Canadian Press)

Whoever takes over the Oval Office, just as important to Canadians will be what the partisan composition is in the U.S. chambers.

“It’s what I’ve been telling Canadians for a long time,” says Maryscott Greenwood, senior advisor with the non-partisan Canadian American Business Council. “I know everybody’s obsessed with Trump-Clinton, but really, let’s also think about the Congress.”

Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, notes that as a general principle, “Democrats are less sympathetic on trade and bring in more Buy America legislation.” But both Clinton and Trump have offered protectionist views on trade policies.

Either way, it’s a moot point “because you work with whoever’s there,” he says.

How Congress approves future judicial appointments will matter because the U.S. Supreme Court, while not holding jurisdiction in Canada, often makes decisions that are of interest to Canada.

‘How we approach things is so closely linked — because of our economy, our environment — that we tend to move in tandem.’ – Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute

“How we approach things is so closely linked — because of our economy, our environment — that we tend to move in tandem,” Robertson says.

While it appears to be an increasingly distant possibility that the Democrats will be able to flip the Lower House to their control — requiring at least 30 seats from the Republicans — a Democratic-majority Senate looks within reach.

Were that to happen, Greenwood notes that the Upper House would have two members from Washington State, Democratic senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, in powerful committee positions.

As for why that matters to Canadian trade policy?

Both senators have played active roles in matters to do with the Port of Seattle, arguing that Canadian ports have unfair advantages over U.S. ports.

The senators have tried to introduce legislation to slap a fee on all containers entering the U.S. via Canadian and Mexican ports.

“A border tax on all cargo,” as Greenwood describes it. “And it hasn’t seen the light of day or been passed in[to] law so far because Murray and Cantwell weren’t senior enough” to be able to broker the kinds of deals they might have coveted.

Apple Dumping

Container ships sit moored at the Port of Seattle, which is in the constituency of two Democratic senators for Washington state who say Canadian ports have an unfair advantage over U.S. ports. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

TPP up in the air

Then there’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The largest regional trade pact in history includes Canada, the U.S. and 10 other signatories, but if Washington doesn’t want anything to do with it, Canada probably won’t want to either.

“It would be in Canada’s interests not to try navigating the Asian trade pond by itself,” says Geoffrey Hale, a policy expert on U.S.-Canada relations with the University of Lethbridge. “It’s a lot easier to slipstream behind the Americans in these waters than to try to cobble together alliances” with the Pacific Rim countries involved.

Clinton has denounced TPP, which she at one time hailed as a “gold standard” in trade agreements. Trump exhibits a rather un-Republican opposition to free trade, slamming it as “the death blow for American manufacturing.”

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Delegates protesting against the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement hold up signs at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 25, 2016. (Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

Obama’s fast-track on TPP was achieved with Republicans in the House and Senate, not within his own party.

Greenwood isn’t betting on the prospect that Obama will be able to push its passage through a lame-duck Congress, believing TPP will instead “wither on the vine.”

Border bill stalled

Likewise on the climate change front, Hale says the likelihood of coherent climate change legislation coming out of Congress in the coming session is slim. Hale says the “modest Democratic majority” projected for the Senate wouldn’t give Clinton much room to manoeuvre.

“The [Canadian] government would be absolutely insane to take a very aggressive, unilateral approach on climate change if the United States was doing absolutely nothing,” Hale says.

A Canada-U.S. border pre-clearance agreement also has been stalled. Passage of the bill, which in Canada received first reading in the House of Commons in June, would expedite commerce and allow pre-cleared travellers to skip long customs lines.

Although the deal has bipartisan support in the U.S., there’s precious time left to pass the law. And once the new session of Congress begins, “you’ve got to get started from go again,” Greenwood says.

Canadian interests are hot topics in local congressional races this year.

In New Hampshire, voters worry about the “Northern Pass,” a $1.7-billion joint proposal from Hydro-Québec and New England’s Eversource to export 1,000 megawatts of hydro power to the northeastern U.S. The controversial 309-kilometre high-transmission line would cut a swath through idyllic New Hampshire landscapes. Republican Senate candidate Dolly McPhaul opposes the plan, which would run through her district, and has focused her campaign on the issue.

In Alaska last month, Senate candidates on public radio debated how B.C. mineral mining upstream was affecting water flowing into southeast Alaska and threatening the state’s fishing industry. Republican senator Lisa Murkowski faced a grilling from independent Margaret Stock on creating an international commission to look into the matter.

Robertson, the former diplomat, notes that when the U.S. election ends, Canada’s wheeling and dealing only just begins.

“We have permanent interests for whoever’s there. We work with whoever we can to find our way in,” he says, adding, “For Canada, it’s a permanent campaign.”

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