June 3, 2014 4:01 pm
Updated: June 3, 2014 4:09 pm

McKenna spars with U.S. ambassador: ‘I wasn’t asked to get on stage and blow bubbles at you’


WATCH ABOVE: U.S. ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman and former Canadian envoy Frank McKenna trade barbs, earn laughter from audience at unusually feisty question-and-answer session

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TORONTO – Newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman highlighted President Barack Obama’s climate-change program in a speech in Ottawa Monday night, but ended up in a battle of wits with a former Canadian ambassador to the U.S. on the slow progress on the Keystone XL pipeline.

“It’s like a marriage. It might be really good for you, but I’ve got some problems,” said Frank McKenna of Canada-U.S. relations.

“Thank God I’m not married to you,” replied Heyman, drawing laughter from the audience.

Earlier in their exchange, McKenna said it could be years of waiting for Keystone, as Heyman referred the matter to an issue before the courts in Nebraska.

“That doesn’t seem fair to Canadians who are losing huge amounts of their economic rent in the meantime. …On this one, we don’t feel the love,” said the former New Brunswick premier.

“I’ll try to give you as much love as I can in so many different ways. That’s about all I can say though,” countered Heyman, who emphasized he had no “news” to share when it came to the pipeline.

Later, McKenna tried to continue questioning Heyman on Canada-U.S. relations, but was cut off.

“Frank, did you ever buy a new car, and you get the new car and you have that new car and it smells great, it looks beautiful and everything else. And you bring that new car home and realize there’s a scratch on the bumper that you didn’t notice when you bought it. And you go inside and start thinking about the scratch all day long. You ever done that?” [laughter]

Heyman’s analogy was meant to illustrate his belief that McKenna was focusing too much on current “irritants” with their neighbours south of the border.

“I don’t mind talking about these things, but I use this opportunity today to highlight what we can do together in the direction of the possibilities of the future. Some of these challenges, and some of these things, we’ll work through.”

“We are neighbours by geography. But we are friends and partners and trading allies by choice.”

And that sounded all too familiar to McKenna.

“Ambassador, you’re giving the same speech I’ve given 100 times on the relationship.”

Heyman: “Then you must believe it.”

McKenna: “I do believe—I—I believe profoundly in the deepness and richness of the relationship. I think it’s huge and I think it is bigger than the irritants.

“But I wasn’t asked to get on the stage with you and blow bubbles at you. I was asked to get on the stage and ask you some questions.”

This evoked more laughter from the audience, apparently surprised by the feistiness of a typically friendly question-and-answer session.

“I wanted to tell you that we enjoy enormously the relationship and it works best when all of us are rolling up our sleeves and trying to fix the irritants that go from being small irritants to rather major irritants,” continued McKenna.

Heyman agreed, and managed to get in the last word.

“I’m willing to work on every issue…and let’s see what the possibilities are and drive those ahead and not be distracted sometimes by the irritants. But let’s roll up those sleeves and deal with those irritants professionally, and work together.”

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