Three days after the stunning victory of the Conservative Party in Canada, the biggest guessing game on the Washington cocktail circuit is who will succeed Frank McKenna as Ottawa’s ambassador to Washington. With McKenna almost certain to resign the “crown jewel” of Canadian diplomatic assignments (and, presumably, seek the leadership of the defeated Liberal Party to succeed soon-to-be-former Prime Minister Paul Martin), there has been growing talk of Prime Minister-designate Stephen Harper tapping one of the Canadians most familiar to Americans: Brian Mulroney, the last elected Conservative Prime Minister.
Thirteen years after leaving the premiership, Mulroney, at 66, is enjoying something of a revival here and in his own country. On election night (January 23rd), the former premier, silver-haired and tanned, served as guest political commentator on CTV-Television while on business in West Palm Beach, Florida (during the broadcast, Mulroney plugged the hit Canadian program Canadian Idol, whose emcee is his son). Last year, Mulroney—a frequent visitor to the US as a member of several boards of directors—touched Americans with his moving eulogy of old friend Ronald Reagan during the nationally televised funeral service. Mulroney was also a good friend of former President George H.W. Bush.
“It’s a perfect choice!” according to Paul H. Robinson, U.S. ambassador to Ottawa under Reagan, said of the rumored appointment of Mulroney as his country’s envoy to Washington. Chicago businessman Robinson, a longtime friend of Mulroney’s, told me that “Brian would be an outstanding ambassador—ideal, in fact. Before he was in politics, he worked for several American businesses. He’s well-oriented to American business and politics.” Robinson also admonished me to tell other reporters that “if they are pursuing a story about [Mulroney] as ambassador, please call me.”
Mulroney enthusiasts also point out that the former prime minister’s Yugoslavian-born wife Mila would be a major asset in a diplomatic post that requires almost as much work on the dinner party circuit as that of the British and French ambassadors.
Lord Halifax served as Great Britain’s wartime ambassador to the U.S. after several years as foreign secretary. However, a former head of government going on to serve as an ambassador is almost unprecedented anywhere in the world. In the case of Mulroney and Canada, however, pundits and pols agree that the former prime minister’s wide network of friends in the U.S. and his own stature might just be what is needed at a time when a major trade dispute over softwood lumber and the differences over the Iraqi war have put U.S.-Canadian relations at an all-time low.