David MacNaughton, ambassador to U.S., to leave post at summer’s end [UPDATED]
Kirsten Hillman will become Canada's acting ambassador to the United States
OTTAWA – Canada’s ambassador to Washington will leave his post at the end of the summer after serving during one of the most tumultuous periods in the critical cross-border relationship.
David MacNaughton announced Thursday that he will return to the private sector in Toronto.
Kirsten Hillman, MacNaughton’s deputy since 2017, will become Canada’s acting ambassador to the United States.
MacNaughton has served as top envoy to the U.S. since March 2016 – and months later found himself as point person in Washington during a turbulent time in Canada’s relationship with its next-door neighbour and largest trading partner.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said MacNaughton was a key point of contact with Congress and the Trump administration during tense negotiations to update the North American Free Trade Agreement. He also credited MacNaughton for his work toward the removal of punishing American tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.
“It is with great affection and gratitude – and of course, considerable regret – that I have accepted Ambassador David MacNaughton’s decision to leave Washington. D.C., at summer’s end,” Trudeau said in a statement.
“He is a Canadian patriot – one whose honesty, moderation, and wisdom were pivotal to Team Canada in our successful renegotiation of NAFTA in 2017 and 2018.”
In a separate statement Thursday, MacNaughton called his decision “bittersweet.”
“Serving as Canada’s ambassador in Washington, at this pivotal time in our country’s history, has been the greatest honour of my life,” he said.
“I cannot help but recall the dire situation we faced in early 2017, with Canada’s most important trading relationship in grave peril. And hundreds of thousands of Canadians’ livelihoods hanging in the balance.”
Canada, the U.S. and Mexico reached a new deal late last year, but Canadians will likely vote on Oct. 21 without the agreement’s ratification – and doubts that it can be finalized.
The Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives started its five-week summer break in late July without introducing a ratification bill for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, even though President Donald Trump and his cabinet had worked hard to avoid such a scenario.
The Democrats have pushed for changes to the deal’s provisions on labour, the environment, patent protection for drugs and enforcement.
U.S. lawmakers won’t be in a position to take even the smallest steps towards ratification before the start of Canada’s federal election campaign, which is set to begin by mid-September at the latest.
MacNaughton said he was proud of the agreement, but acknowledged “considerable challenges” remain to receive the backing of Congress. Still, he said he expected the deal to get congressional approval in “due course.”
He added he had long planned to leave his job before the October election, and particularly after the Trump administration lifted the steel and aluminum tariffs.
MacNaughton also outlined two key lessons learned over the last two years.
“First, that we absolutely must never rest on our laurels – but rather always seek to push further into new markets and new opportunities, around the world, while ensuring we retain our access to our most important market, the United States,” he said.
“Secondly, the preservation of our most important relationship, with our neighbour, friend and ally, the United States, whether commercial, cultural, or political – will always depend, as they did in the NAFTA talks, on personal contact and relationships.”