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New U.S. ambassador good news for Canadian relations

WASHINGTON - The close friendship between the incoming U.S. ambassador to Canada and President Barack Obama is delighting those who have been hoping for a better relationship with the United States.

WASHINGTON - The close friendship between the incoming U.S. ambassador to Canada and President Barack Obama is delighting those who have been hoping for a better relationship with the United States.

David Jacobson, a 57-year-old Chicago lawyer who served as a key fundraiser during Obama's historic run for White House, got the official nod on Thursday after weeks of speculation.

The president announced his pick for Canada along with a handful of other appointments to countries including Mexico, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

"I am grateful that these individuals will help represent our nation abroad during this important time for our country and the world," Obama, who was in Egypt on Thursday to deliver a speech to the Muslim world, said in a statement.

"They bring a depth of experience and I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come."

Jacobson replaces George W. Bush confidante David Wilkins, who left the post the day before Obama's inauguration in January.

While his appointment has yet to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, there's no indication it will be held up.

In the wake of a series of senior Obama cabinet appointees stepping aside because of past tax issues, the administration has been careful to do extensive and meticulous vetting of its would-be ambassadors to avoid any further embarrassments.

Kory Teneycke, spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said the PMO welcomed working with Jacobson once his appointment has been confirmed.

"It's good news," he said, calling the U.S. "our friend, our neighbour, our ally, our largest trading partner."

"It's always positive to have an ambassador who has a strong relationship with the president and certainly that would seem to be the case," he said. "So we're pleased and we're looking forward to working together."

Bob Rae, the Liberal foreign affairs critic, agreed.

"His close relationship with the president will ensure a good and active dialogue on the key issues that face us both."

A source with ties to the Obama administration said earlier Thursday that Jacobson wanted the Canadian job and lobbied for it.

"He considered it the plummest of the plum," the source said.

"Canada was appealing because of the magnitude of the issues. There really isn't another posting with as many different issues - the environment, border and security issues, energy. And it's in the same time zone as Washington and it's an easy flight to Chicago."

One of the biggest sources of tension between the U.S. and Canada is the so-called Buy American provisions contained in the president's economic stimulus package.

Industry Minister Tony Clement was in Washington recently to complain that incidents of Canadian firms being shut out of the U.S. marketplace thanks to Buy American were "expanding and cascading."

Janet Napolitano, the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, also landed herself in hot water recently for suggesting the 9-11 terrorists entered the United States through Canada.

She has since corrected herself, but also said Canada has more lax immigration policies than the United States, causing some Canadian exporters and manufacturers to fret that she's formulating border policy based on false assumptions.

Chris Sands, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, said recently that having an ambassador in Ottawa during Napolitano's missteps would have helped ease tensions.

Another observer of Canada-U.S. relations agreed, and praised Jacobson's appointment on Thursday, saying it will be a win-win posting for Canada.

"It's a terrific choice; it's an inspired choice," said Maryscott (Scotty) Greenwood, the executive director of the Washington-based Canadian-American Business Council.

"Having someone who's as powerful and capable with such close ties to the president is a huge plus not just for Canada but for the entire Canada-U.S. relationship."

Jacobson, who specialized in securities and complex litigation for the law firm Sonnenschein Nath and Rosenthal, raised between US$50,000 and $100,000 for Obama during his presidential campaign.

He also personally donated $2,507 to Obama's campaign and $500 each to the unsuccessful presidential bids of Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Jacobson is now working in the White House as a special assistant in the Office of Presidential Personnel, filling slots on executive branch boards and commissions.

Obama has been criticized for picking friends and cronies for diplomatic appointments, with some suggesting those type of old-school political rewards aren't in keeping with his pledge to bring change to Washington.

But Greenwood, who was the chief of staff to former ambassador Gordon Giffin, called those criticisms unfair.

Giffin was another career lawyer who was appointed ambassador to Canada under President Bill Clinton and served for four years, from 1997 to 2001.

Like Jacobson, she said, Giffin had a close relationship with the president that benefitted Canada-U.S. relations.

"David Jacobson is in the Gordon Giffin model of ambassador - a talented lawyer who's politically astute and politically connected as opposed to a talented career politician," she said.

"You have to stickhandle Canadian issues in the U.S. and David Jacobson will be enormously talented at that."

 
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