In The Media

Donald Trump chooses Republican fundraiser as ambassador to Canada, Bloomberg reports

by Daniel Dale and Bruce Campion-Smith (feat. Colin Robertson)

The Star
March 1, 2017

WASHINGTON—Kelly Knight Craft, a wealthy Republican fundraiser and campaign supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, is poised to become the next United States ambassador to Canada – and the first woman to hold the post.

Bloomberg News reported Wednesday that Craft, a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations under George W. Bush, had accepted Trump’s offer of the position.

She is best known as one of the top Republican fundraisers in Kentucky. Craft has raised money for Bush, Mitt Romney and Trump, and hosted a $5,400-per-couple fundraiser for Trump in June. She later served as a finance vice-chair for his inaugural committee.

Craft, who is in her 50s, is the wife of Joe Craft, the billionaire chief executive of Alliance Resource Partners, a large Kentucky coal producer.

Bush chose her as a “public delegate” to the U.N. delegation in 2007, a short-term role often given to political donors. She is a member of the board of trustees of the University of Kentucky, her alma mater, and sits on the board of directors of the Salvation Army in Lexington.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson said the appointment – if confirmed – bodes well, showing that Trump picked not just a loyalist, “but somebody he thinks would suit Canada and suit (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau.”

Indeed, Trump and Trudeau have launched a joint initiative to help female entrepreneurs and business leaders, something the president highlighted in his prime-time speech to Congress Tuesday.

Trudeau responded Wednesday to Trump’s shout-out, saying he was pleased with the efforts on this front. “It highlights one of the things we are very much in alignment on, the need to get more women into the workforce and have women get better jobs,” Trudeau said Wednesday when asked about Trump’s speech.

Robertson said that Craft’s time at the United Nations and her interest in Africa, all play well to Canadian priorities.

“This strikes me as quite a thoughtful appointment in terms of finding somebody who would fit well into Canada,” he said in an interview.

And he said Craft’s husband is also a good fit, with his expertise in business and energy.

“People say, ‘well, it’s coal.’ Look, it’s energy . . . He’s a businessman and the fact he knows the energy trade, I think that’s a good thing,” Robertson said.

Craft’s apparent selection puts to rest rumours about the possible selection of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, the idiosyncratic right-wing firebrand.

Craft would have to be approved by the U.S. Senate, a process that is usually a mere formality but means the post will be vacant for some time yet.

The news came on the same day Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Transport Minister Marc Garneau visited Washington to meet with their U.S. counterparts and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna spoke by telephone with Scott Pruitt, administrator of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Morneau, making his third trip to Washington since Trump took office, held his first meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. They talked about infrastructure and the “importance of tax reform,” including the proposal for a U.S.-imposed border tax that could hit Canadian imports, Morneau told reporters later.

“We didn’t go into any details on that as they don’t yet have details that they could communicate,” he said in a conference call.

Morneau said that without a firm proposal on the table, he did not voice Canada’s position to the tax.

“At this stage, without details, it’s not a time for us to express support, or opposition, or, even, insights, into the impact on the Canadian economy,” he said.

Craft has rarely made the news outside of brief Kentucky mentions of her fundraising work.

The Crafts met with Trump at his Trump Tower office in New York in the spring. They told Bloomberg that Trump’s promise not to try to oust House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is from Kentucky, was a key factor in their decision to back him.

In a rare news quote, Craft said she knew was putting her credibility at stake by collecting money for Trump.

“When someone gives us a cheque, we’re looking at that as they’re investing not only in that candidate . . . they’re investing in us, and I take that as a responsibility. I don’t take that lightly. We feel responsible to them,” she said.

The U.S. ambassadorship to Canada is regularly given to an ally of the president, often a wealthy fundraiser, rather than a career diplomat. Barack Obama’s last ambassador was former Goldman Sachs executive Bruce Heyman, who became a fixture on Ottawa’s social scene.

By tradition, Heyman left the diplomatic posting when Trump took office in January.


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