Biden names Comcast director David Cohen as an envoy to Canada among bilateral irritants

U.S. President Joe Biden has named Pennsylvania power broker and Washington lobbyist David Cohen as the next ambassador to Canada at a time when Ottawa appears to be making some headway on a number of bilateral issues.

The White House announced Wednesday that Mr. Cohen, a leader with telecommunications giant Comcast, has been formally selected as the U.S. envoy to Ottawa. The secondment will require US Senate approval.

The announcement came the same day that the Biden administration extended its current land border restrictions until August 21, days after Ottawa said it would allow fully vaccinated Americans to travel to Canada from August 9.

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The US Ambassador to Canada is one of the key players in Ottawa due to the deep trade ties and security and defense relations between the two countries.

David MacNaughton, who was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ambassador to Washington until 2019, said Mr Cohen would not have an easy time in the post given the many troubling bilateral issues that have arisen since Mr Biden moved into the White House. House.

“The expectation from the beginning was that the Biden years would be much easier for us to deal with, but we see that many issues remain challenging,” he said.

While Prime Minister and President Biden have a warm relationship, as do many Council of Ministers with their US counterparts, MacNaughton said the new government has not been particularly helpful on issues like Pipeline 5, softwood, Buy America and protectionist trade measures being discussed by Democrats in Congress.

“If he thinks this is going to be ‘best friends’ and not really a difficult post … I think he will find out that there are some really tough issues that need to be addressed,” MacNaughton said. you think about the size of our commercial relationship [and] of our security and defense relations, I think many Americans underestimate the importance. ”

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Derek Burney, a former Canadian ambassador to Washington, said Canada does not appear to be on the White House radar and he is unsure whether Cohen will have much influence over the president.

Mr. Cohen, who hosted Mr. Biden’s first fundraising event as a presidential candidate in 2019 follows in the footsteps of other U.S. envoys to Canada who were major U.S. donors to Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns.

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“Who is he associated with in DC? Because I have not read anything about his background that can tell me that he is close to Biden in any way … except that he was obviously a great fundraiser, ”said Mr. Burney, who was the envoy to Washington under the former progressive Conservative prime minister. Minister Brian Mulroney. “This guy Cohen wants his hands full because the relationship is not in good shape.”

Mr. Burney added that there has been no movement in major bilateral cases since Biden became president. Mr. Trudeau, he said, has not even been invited to the White House, though the two had a Zoom meeting in February.

“We seem to be blown away by the fact that Biden has done nothing for us but make life difficult, especially on the trade front,” he said. “Despite the so-called bromance between the two.”

Mr. Burney expressed concern that the Biden administration wants a stricter interpretation of duty-free rules for cars shipped across the border, as agreed under the US-Canada Negotiated Agreement (USMCA) in 2019. The Trump administration insisted on 75 percent North American content for auto parts, an increase of 62.5 percent below NAFTA.

The United States is now seeking to push the calculation to 100 percent under pressure from unions, Burney said.

“Given the importance of the automotive sector in our trade with the United States, this is far greater than lumber or coniferous wood or any of the other things they hammer us on,” he said.

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Another major annoyance right now is Michigan’s bid to close the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, a major petroleum pipeline for central Canada that runs through the states of the Great Lakes, and the Biden administration’s apparent lack of interest in intervening in the dispute. The oil pipeline transports up to 540,000 barrels a day from Alberta and Saskatchewan through Wisconsin and Michigan before recapturing Canada in Sarnia, Ont. The Canadian government has warned that a shutdown would pose a threat to this country’s energy security.

“The US administration has ordered an environmental study of this pipeline. My God, if people stop the pipeline, what will it do for the people of Ontario and Quebec? ”Burney said.

Mr. Cohen was chief lobbyist and senior adviser to Comcast’s CEO. He served as Chief of Staff to former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell before becoming CEO of Comcast.

In 2012, he was credited with lobbying for U.S. regulators by the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal.

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