Gary Doer hasn't been an elected official for more than four years but he hasn't lost the ability to sidestep a question with a joke.
Manitoba's premier from 1999 to 2009 has been based in Washington, D.C., since being sworn in as Canada's ambassador to the U.S. in October 2009.
The longtime NDP leader in the province now represents all Canadian premiers, opposition parties and mayors so when he was asked if he had been following the Rob Ford saga in Toronto, Doer was purposely non-partisan.
"All I'll say about a Ford is I bought one for the embassy and got rid of the Lincoln. We went from eight miles per gallon in our old limousine to 28 miles per gallon," Doer said with a smile.
The 65-year-old sat down for an interview at the Winnipeg Free Press News Café during the holidays.
Having to work with politicians on all sides in the U.S. has its challenges -- particularly when today's ally on one issue can be tomorrow's adversary on another -- but Doer said he has good relations regardless of political stripe.
"They know I was elected premier for three terms. I think to some degree in Washington, if you've run (for office) and put your name on a ballot, there's a certain respect when you go up to the hill with other elected people. They know what it's like to be in full-body contact in an election campaign," he said.
Doer doesn't see too many challenges facing Canada-U.S. relations. Instead, there are opportunities, particularly on the energy side, that have yet to be fully explored.
"Sometimes it takes a long time to get renewable energy on a transmission line. We're having trouble getting wind from Montana to Lethbridge. People want renewable energy but everybody opposes a transmission line," he said.
"We're constantly trying to take advantage of the great plans we have for energy efficiency and energy renewables. We can be energy-independent in North America in the next five or six years if we put our minds and decisions to it. It's sometimes too slow for my liking but it's a big, big system in the U.S. with a lot of moving parts and sometimes a lot of moving special interests."
With so many family and friends in Winnipeg, Doer is acutely aware of what's going on in Manitoba. He spoke to the reborn Canadian Club in Winnipeg just a few weeks ago.
"It's good to see the endangered species of the building crane all over town. I think that's a positive sign. I always thought building cranes were more important than slogans," he said.
"I think this is a great province. The economy is again doing well and there are lots of signs of optimism. I remember when I was leaving office, we always thought if we could get (an NHL) hockey team back and get an IKEA store, those would be good signs we're moving forward. Those things are happening in this community and I'm proud of it."
Doer, who was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, doesn't have a fixed term.
A longtime hockey fan, Doer was also able to take in a Jets game - a 6-4 win over Minnesota Friday. He hasn't been shy about showing his true colours whenever the Jets face the Washington Capitals in the U.S. capital.
"The first year (back), the Jets won five out of six points in Washington and last year they split (the games). It's a good place for the Jets to be and we've very proud to support them when they come to the capital of the U.S.," he said.