....

I'm sorry, but doesn't this strike anybody as a particularely republican appointment?

Sellin off the country, a piece at a time..

WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF


Michael Wilson, the long-time finance minister in the Brian Mulroney government, is expected to be named Canada's next ambassador to Washington, sources said yesterday.

Wilson, who has been out of elected politics for 13 years, was a well-known figure in Washington where he helped negotiate the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement, and is well-remembered at home as the architect of the Goods and Services tax introduced by the Mulroney government in 1990.

He would represent a return of the old-guard Conservatives in Stephen Harper's party, one of a number of well-placed members of the former prime minister's inner circle to return to public life.

A well-placed diplomatic source told the Star of Wilson's appointment, which was also reported last night by CTV News.

Wilson would replace Frank McKenna, the former Liberal premier of New Brunswick, who announced his resignation shortly after Harper's Jan. 23 victory in the federal election. He soon followed that move by deciding to stay out of the Liberal leadership race.

Wilson is the chief executive of UBS Canada, an international finance firm, but he is valued for his ties to key players in the administration of former U.S. president George H.W. Bush.

He appeared on the campaign trail with Harper and had been active along in the new prime minister's transition team, headed by former Canadian ambassador to Washington, Derek Burney.

Neither the Canadian embassy in Washington nor the Prime Minister's office would confirm the appointment yesterday.

Harper praised Wilson who offered the Prime Minister advice in an unofficial capacity during the campaign and told a rally in Etobicoke-Lakeshore in January that Wilson was his MP when he was growing up in Toronto.

A cut in Wilson's much-reviled GST was a major plank in Harper's campaign, a pledge that drew applause from even the former finance minister at campaign stops he attended.

"Unfortunately in his day, many of the truths that Mike had to deliver were not truths that people always wanted to hear," Harper said at one stop. "But he stuck to his guns and he did what any true statesman did. He made things better so those who came after him could claim the prosperity and the benefits."

The Toronto-born Wilson was a Bay Street investment executive when he stepped on to the political stage in 1979.

He often tried to soften a dour, grey Bay Street image by attending Rolling Stones concerts, where he once met with his former London School of Economics classmate, Mick Jagger.

He sought the Progressive Conservative leadership at the 1983 convention but dropped off after the first ballot and threw his support to Mulroney.

He is also the former chair of the Toronto-Peel Mental Health Implementation Task Force. Wilson, whose son committed suicide in 1995, has campaigned for improved services for the mentally ill. When he is installed in Washington, Wilson will have to quickly tackle a series of nettlesome bilateral issues. First and foremost will be the ongoing dispute over softwood lumber. American legislators again called for a resumption of formal negotiations at a U.S. Senate committee yesterday.

He must also deal with U.S. plans to require travellers across the Canada-U.S. border to use secure identity cards, a requirement at land border crossings by January 2008.