Interview with the Canadian and American Ambassadors

Canadian Parliamentary Review, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Interview with the Canadian and American Ambassadors


The United States and Canada share not only a long border but their histories, economies, societies and interests are intertwined. At the centre of the relationship are the Ambassadors of the two countries, David H. Wilkins and Michael Wilson. They were interviewed separately in January 2008. Their thoughts on the various issues have been combined into a single interview.

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What previous experiences were most useful in preparing for your present position?

Ambassador Wilkins: I served 25 years in the South Carolina House of Representatives as an elected member--11 of those years as speaker of the House. I was on the ballot 13 times and know what it is like to get out and ask people for their vote. I also know what it is like to manage a budget as I was in charge of both the House's multi-million dollar budget as well as shepherding the state's multi-billion dollar budget through the House. At the same time, for more than three decades, I ran a very successful law firm begun by my father. So I was managing that business and employees as well, ultimately responsible for the firm's fiscal health and the success of our clients.

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All this experience helped me immensely in becoming U.S. Ambassador to Canada. Diplomacy is ultimately all about relationship-building. I had decades of experience in the House building key alliances and working with members in both parties to pass legislation important to our state and constituents. I also had tremendous experience dealing with the media which is invaluable in this critical post.

Ambassador Wilson: I was born and educated in Toronto. Following graduation, I worked for two years in banking in London, England and New York City. I then joined a Toronto-based investment bank before being elected to the House of Commons as a Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament in the 1979 general election. I served as Minister of State for International Trade in the nine-month minority government of Joe Clark. I was also a candidate at the 1983 Progressive Conservative leadership convention. After the 1984 election, when the party formed government, I became Minister of Finance.

After seven years of Finance, I became Minister of Industry, Science and Technology and Minister of International Trade. In that role, I participated in negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which remains one of the key achievements of my career. In 1993, after deciding not to seek another term, I returned to Bay Street to head my own consulting and financial services firm. I later rejoined Royal Bank of Canada and was Chairman and CEO of RT Capital when that business was sold to UBS AG, after which I became Chairman of UBS Canada. In early 2006, Prime Minister Harper called, asking me to return to public service as the 22nd Canadian Ambassador to the United States.

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I feel that my past experience as a Minister, which also brought me to the U.S. regularly, has provided me with the best possible preparation for my current assignment. In many ways, because of its size and importance, the Canadian Embassy in Washington is very similar to the operation of a department of government. As Ambassador, you are called to deal with all aspects of management, from policy development to human resources. As a Minister, many of the issues I was dealing with involved the U.S.

Describe the main accomplishments in Canada-United States relations during your Ambassadorship?

Ambassador Wilkins: When I first arrived in Canada in the summer of 2005 I vowed I would set a new tone in the US-Canada relationship, accentuating the positive and looking to strengthen the already-strong bond that exists between our two great democracies. As I tell folks when I travel this great nation, for some reason both Canadians and Americans tend to focus on the "clouds" instead of the many "silver linings" in our partnership and actively seek controversies where so few exist.

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