Canada’s ambassador to the United States David MacNaughton attends a business luncheon in Montreal, Wednesday, November 16, 2016. MacNaughton will brief finance ministers from across the federation next week on the roller-coaster relationship with the United States.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

David MacNaughton, ambassador to U.S., to leave post at summer’s end

MacNaughton said he had long planned to leave his job before the October election

David MacNaughton, the U.S. ambassador who became the fulcrum of the federal Liberal government’s strategy for managing relations with an impetuous and unpredictable White House, says he plans to step down from the post at the end of the summer.

MacNaughton, who is vacating the job just weeks before Canadians go to the polls Oct. 21, said he intends to return to the private sector in Toronto. He’ll be replaced on an acting basis by Kirsten Hillman, his deputy since 2017.

“I’ve never done anything in my life that has been as difficult as this — physically, emotionally — and part of that is just realizing what the stakes are,” MacNaughton told a news conference Thursday at Canada’s embassy in Washington.

“Having said that, I wouldn’t trade it for anything because it’s an honour and a privilege to represent your country anywhere, any time, but to have been here at this time, in this place, under these circumstances has been extraordinarily special.

“It’s been an interesting experience, but I’m looking forward to the next chapter in my life.”

When MacNaughton was appointed top envoy to the U.S. in March 2016, Barack Obama was president and the relationship between Ottawa and Washington appeared a cosy one — Justin Trudeau and his family found themselves at the White House barely a week later as the guests of honour during a lavish state dinner, the first of its kind in 20 years.

Before the year was out, however, Donald Trump had surged into the presidency, in part on a promise to scrap or renegotiate unpopular trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement, presaging a dramatic turn in Canada’s relationship with its next-door neighbour and largest trading partner.

MacNaughton was a central player in the ensuing 13 months of talks to renegotiate the outdated trade pact, talks that culminated in a slightly retooled “new NAFTA” christened by Trump as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. That deal has been approved in Mexico, but still awaits ratification in the U.S. Congress and on Parliament Hill.

In a statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described MacNaughton as a “Canadian patriot” who played a pivotal role in those negotiations, as well as in finally securing relief from Trump’s punishing tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, which lingered for months after the trade deal was signed.

“David’s skill in bridging partisan and ideological divides — always putting Canadians’ interests first, never deviating from objectives he knew to be both possible and desirable — has been unparalleled,” Trudeau said.

“Working alongside our foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, and Canada’s team of expert negotiators, David has been our point person with Congress and with the U.S. administration, in the most difficult and uncertain trade negotiations this country has ever faced.

“It’s no exaggeration to say his contribution has been historic.”

The Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives started its five-week summer break in late July without ratifying the deal, and both Trudeau and Freeland have repeatedly signalled that Canada won’t proceed until after Congress does.

The Democrats have pushed hard for changes to the deal’s provisions on labour, the environment, patent protection for drugs and enforcement. U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, 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 Canada isn’t willing to re-open the pact — ”I’ve said to them, a deal’s a deal’s a deal” — but is willing to see what can be done within the confines of the negotiated agreement. He said he expected the deal to get congressional approval.

“Predicting outcomes in this city is not exactly a science, but I am confident that the Democrats, as well as the Republicans, want to get to ‘yes’ on USMCA,” MacNaughton said.

“I won’t say that it’s a slam dunk by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think that there is broad support even within (and) among Democrats.”

In a statement of her own, Freeland expressed gratitude for MacNaughton’s cool head and wise counsel.

“At a time when our country faced unprecedented economic uncertainty, David was a steady hand to guide us through these challenges,” she said.

“Over these past few years I have come to rely on David’s insight, intelligence, and grit as a negotiator, so it is with immense personal appreciation — and a degree of sadness — that I mark his departure from this key diplomatic post.”

MacNaughton said he had long planned to leave his job before the October election, and particularly after the Trump administration lifted the steel and aluminum tariffs.

He said he was willing to pass on advice to Trudeau and the Liberals if they called on him for campaign advice.

“I have never been very shy about offering my opinions. So if they are called on, I will offer them.”

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed more than 1,000 cases over the weekend Monday afternoon. File photo
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up Monday

‘We’ve now crossed the tipping point,’ says Hinshaw

Ryen Williams, 11, with a lost miniature horse at JJ Collett Oct. 23. Photo by Don Williams
UPDATE: Owner found

Father and son found miniature horse while out for a walk at JJ Collett

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

Paula Law took the oath of office on Oct. 19 with Lacombe County Manager Tim Timmons. Photo courtesy Lacombe County.
Lacombe County re-elects Paula Law as Reeve

This will be Law’s eighth term as Reeve and tenth year on the county council

Rieley Kay owns both Moe’s Pizza and Cilantro and Chive which are businesses located in downtown Lacombe. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
City of Lacombe announces updated plans for downtown redevelopment

The plan would see $1.7 million spent on the downtown over the next 10 years

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join AUPE walk outs across the province Monday Oct. 26, 2020. Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin health-care workers strike in protest of province-wide cuts

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join other front line hospital workers across the province in walk-outs.

Front-line hospital workers have walked off the job at the Rimbey Hospital, and across the province. Photo Submitted
Front-line health care workers on strike across the province, including Rimbey Hospital

The strike is due to cut of 11,000 health care jobs in the province, according to AUPE

The death of 19-year-old Jacob Michael Chitze of Edmonton has now been ruled a homicide following an ongoing RCMP investigation.
UPDATE: RCMP arrest youth for second degree murder of 19-year-old Jacob Chitze

Arrest made for the murder of Jacob Michael Chitze, 19.

Pumpkins for the 46th Annual WDACS Pumpkin Ball on display at Vision Credit Union Wetaskiwin. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
46th Annual Pumpkin Ball held virtually this year

This year the pumpkins were sold over a six-day online auction.

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday October 22, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
O’Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were ‘late and confused’ on COVID response

He says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has taken charge and not waited to make things happen

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

A lawsuit filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice argues the inquiry is politically motivated

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Most Read