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Doer named new U.S. ambassador

Flight to Churchill in 2007 launched discussion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/8/2009 (2915 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA –  Manitoba Premier Gary Doer has been named the next Canadian ambassador to the United States.

The NDP premier posed next to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the Conservative prime minister's office this morning. Doer resigned Thursday as premier.

Gary Doer is all smiles as he sits in the office of the Prime Minister on Parliament Hill.

ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Gary Doer is all smiles as he sits in the office of the Prime Minister on Parliament Hill.

"I’m delighted you’ve accepted our offer to become the next ambassador to the United States," Harper said to Doer. "You’ve been a tremendous first minister to work with and I know all the first ministers feel that way."

Doer thanked Harper for the "honour of representing Canada in Washington."

"I recognize we’re all part of the team," he said.

"I know as premiers we’ve been working as effectively as we can be with the governors of the United States. Mayors are working with mayors. It is very, very important to have strong relationships with the United States, but also to be able to reflect our mutual self-interest and Canada’s positions."

Doer’s ambassadorship to Washington began almost two years ago on a trip to Churchill with the Prime Minister.

Doer and Harper were heading to Manitoba’s north in October 2007 to announce funding for the port.

"We talked about kids, we talked about sports, we talked about premiers that don’t leave on time," said Doer.

He said he told Harper he believed 10 years was the mark at which he would step down.

"He was very aware of my timing," Doer said, in his first interview after his appointment was announced.

He wouldn’t say exactly when Harper first approached him about the ambassador’s job but many weeks, if not months, of background checks and diplomatic back and forth had to occur before this could be announced, he said.

Doer said he never specifically told Harper he’d be interested in a diplomatic position but he said he believes his years of work with various U.S. political groups, including governors’ associations, the North American SuperCorridor Coalition, and the Western Climate Initiative helped.

He said the fact Harper reached out across party lines was a good thing.

"I think Canadians want their prime minister to speak for all Canadians."

Doer said as ambassador it will be "the first time in my life I have to be diplomatic."

Manitoba Cabinet Minister Steven Fletcher said it is a great appointment.

"It’s good for Manitoba, too, to have someone who knows our issues," he said.

Fletcher, who has been critical of Doer in the past, said he believes Doer has proven he can work with anyone from any political party.

"An ambassador is nonpartisan and Doer certainly has a record of being able to reach out to people from all kinds of backgrounds," said Fletcher.

Doer announced his resignation as Manitoba premier Thursday. He said the timing of his official departure from the Manitoba legislature and his arrival in Washington is being coordinated.

He is hoping to stay on as premier until a new NDP leader can be chosen in a convention.

The Manitoba NDP's provincial executive will meet Monday evening to set a date and place for a convention to pick a leader to succeed party leader Gary Doer. Lorraine Sigurdson, the provincial party's president, said the executive tried to schedule a meeting for tomorrow, but found it was too difficult to assemble enough people on such short notice.

Before Doer can be sworn in U.S. President Barack Obama has to officially accept the appointment. A spokeswoman from the Prime Minister’s Office said that will likely happen in September.

Former Conservative finance minister Michael Wilson has been the Canadian ambassador in Washington since March 13, 2006, after stints as chairman of UBS Canada and with the RBC Financial Group.

University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy, who once served as Canada’s foreign affairs minister, called the Doer appointment a good move for Canada and especially for the western provinces.

"We’ve seen he’s made a special effort with a wide variety of American officials. He knows the country well and has a good understanding of the issues, everything from Devil’s Lake to the mid-continental (trade) corridor."

Axworthy said Canada’s diplomatic presence in the U.S. has not kept pace with Canadian activities in that country. He said Doer, as a centrist, will have "some simpatico" with the Democratic administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

"No criticism of (current ambassador) Mike Wilson, but for three years he was having to gear to the peculiarities of the Bush admininistration and it’s tough to shift gears," said Axworthy. He praised the appointment by Tory prime minister Harper as a "nice, non-partisan move."

Doer also understands energy and water-resource issues, "which have been emerging as the crucial issues between the two countries," Axworthy said.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest said Thursday he liked the idea of his longtime ally and friend possibly ending up in Washington, D.C., as Canada's ambassador to the United States.

"If that were the case, then I would be the first to applaud that,'' Charest told the Free Press in an interview only hours after Doer announced he would step down Thursday.

It was inevitable Doer would wind up in the United States, said University of Manitoba political studies professor Jared Wesley. "It was just a question of where."

"Premier Doer has excellent contacts in the United States, particularly with western governors. He’s also been on numerous trade missions," Wesley said.

In his resignation speech on Thursday, Doer hinted at the possibility a Tory prime minister could appoint an NDP premier to a high-profile position.

"The old left-right jargon I believe is out of date and out of touch with the public," he said.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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