Kirsten Hillman, the woman now serving as Canada’s acting ambassador to the United States, has been given the permanent job as the Trudeau government’s top person in Washington.
The word comes after months of speculation that the former trade negotiator would be appointed to the position, making her the first woman ever to serve in the role.
Hillman is widely respected in both Liberal and Conservative circles for her track record as a negotiator.
Under the previous Conservative government, she served as chief negotiator on Canada’s Trans Pacific Partnership team.
Hillman also played a leading role in Canada’s NAFTA negotiations under the Trudeau government.
In a news release making the appointment official, Trudeau said Hillman demonstrated an ability to stand up for Canadians and fight for their interests during those negotiations.
“She combines exceptional knowledge and skills, and is a gifted diplomat,” he said. “Ms. Hillman will remain a trusted adviser, friend and counsellor in Washington and is our point person with Congress and the U.S. administration. I know that Canadians will be well represented by her.”
The position is seen as the most important foreign diplomatic posting in the Canadian public service, given how crucial the Canada-U.S. relationship is to the Canadian economy.
That relationship has faced significant challenges since the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.
In addition to his demand that NAFTA be renegotiated, his administration has made significant policy decisions or changes that have had an impact on Canada — without giving Ottawa any advance notice.
Canada was not given a heads-up earlier this month that Trump was announcing a travel ban for certain passengers from Europe over the COVID-19 outbreak.
In January, senior Canadian government officials were frustrated by the Trump administration’s decision to keep Canada in the dark about an American drone strike in Iraq that killed a top Iranian general. Canada has hundred of troops in the region and works closely with the United States military.
The Trudeau government has gone out of its way to avoid angering Trump, who is prone to emotional reactions when crossed.
The previous ambassador, David MacNaughton — who left public life last fall — told cabinet members to avoid publicly criticizing the president.
Hillman steps into the role as Ottawa and Washington are working together to manage the pandemic crisis.
Both counties mutually agreed to restrict traffic at the border, announcing a 30 day ban on non-essential travel.
Maintaining that border flow will be a priority for Hillman, since Canada relies heavily on the integrated supply chain that brings essential goods into the country every day.