On the US Ambassador to Canada

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Precedent says US envoy might soon be packing his bags

But don’t plan the farewell party yet, US Embassy warns.

Ally Foster
Published: Wednesday, 11/14/2012 12:00 EMBASSY

With the US election over and Barack Obama secure in the same job for another four years, US Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson might be packing his bags soon—if past precedent is any indication.

Despite Mr. Obama’s re-election as president on Nov. 6, US government procedure requires that Mr. Jacobson submit his resignation by Mr. Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

According to Steven Pike, a spokesperson for the US Embassy, “when the president is re-elected, political appointees by tradition are expected to offer to resign, and submit a resignation letter on the president’s desk.”

That resignation can either be accepted, or rejected, as all political appointees serve “at the pleasure of the president,” explained Mr. Pike, who added: “It is very rare for ambassadors to continue into the second term of the same president.”

But don’t start planning the farewell party yet, cautioned Mr. Pike, who explained that ambassadors often remain at their posting for some time while a replacement is found. He said the US Embassy has no idea when Mr. Jacobson might have to bid adieu.

Even still, since the 1990s, the longest US envoy posting to Ottawa has been four years.

A lawyer by trade, Mr. Jacobson was a Chicago-based Democratic fundraiser for Mr. Obama before being appointed to his current position. His appointment was slowed by a Senate hold, as a tool for pressing an unrelated issue, Embassy reported. Mr. Jacobson arrived in 2009 more than eight months after Mr. Obama’s inauguration.

And while Canada-US analysts Fen Hampson and Derek Burney published a piece in June 2012 that claimed that Mr. Obama had “lost Canada,” other US watchers say that Mr. Jacobson has been a critical player in improving relations over the past three years.

Goldy Hyder, general manager of the Ottawa arm of the public relations and lobbying firm Hill and Knowlton Strategies, said he is “cautiously hopeful and optimistic that [Mr. Jacobson] can stay a little bit longer.”

He added: “That would be great for Canada-US relations. But if not, I think he can leave with his head held high.”

Mr. Jacobson’s close connection with Mr. Obama has served as a benefit to Canada, Mr. Hyder said.

Sought win-win solutions

Mr. Jacobson has not only looked out for American interests in Canada, but also worked hard to find a win-win situation for both countries, he argued.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat in the US, agreed.

“He has the two things which I think every American ambassador has to have to be successful in Canada,” he said. “First, the confidence of the president and the ability to get to the president and members of the administration…Secondly, to truly understand what Canada is about and where we’re coming from.”

Mr. Jacobson has always looked for ways to “connect the dots” between American and Canadian interests, said Robertson.

Mr. Robertson said the Beyond the Border action plan has been executed effectively largely because Mr. Jacobson took a strong lead in Ottawa for the US government, and really pushed the issue.

Mr. Robertson also applauded Mr. Jacobson’s extensive travel in Canada.

Mr. Jacobson pledged to visit all 10 provinces in his first two months posted to Canada, and then made it his New Year’s resolution for 2010 to visit the territories.

Mr. Jacobson also does a good job of listening, said Mr. Robertson. He added that he has heard that Mr. Jacobson has a very close relationship with Canada’s ambassador to the US, Gary Doer.

“He’s got a superb network which he’s developed,” said Mr. Robertson.

Mr. Pike said it would be too premature for Mr. Jacobson to do goodbye interviews.

Mr. Jacobson wrote on his Oct. 2 blog post, on his three-year anniversary as Mr. Obama’s top man in Ottawa, that he has the best job in the American government.

“I have learned to cross country ski and curl,” he wrote. “I have rooted for your sports teams—unless they are playing ours,” he added.

“I have eaten your food and drunk your wine. I’ve come to love Tim Bits.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Jacobson is receiving the 2012 Sue M. Cobb Award For Exemplary Diplomatic Service on Nov. 14, the embassy confirmed.

The award is presented to a non-career diplomat each year to honour outstanding leadership and management skills having a significant effect on bilateral or multilateral relations.