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U.S.-Canada friendship will endure: envoy

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OTTAWA—U.S. President Donald Trump's envoy to Canada told guests at her cosier-than-usual Fourth of July party in Ottawa last night that the countries' strained relationship will overcome the tough times.

Ambassador Kelly Craft delivered the message with the U.S. and Canada locked in an unprecedented trade dispute.

She made the acknowledgment to hundreds of party-goers, who listened as they sipped cocktails and ate shrimp on the sweeping front lawn of her official residence.

“Canada and the United States have an enduring partnership that I am confident will stand the test of time—and believe me, these are testing times,” Craft told the crowd, which experienced attendees of the annual gathering described as far smaller than past years.

Craft, who was hosting her first Fourth of July party as ambassador, also quoted former U.S. president Thomas Jefferson in her remarks to drive home her message.

“I have never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy as a cause for withdrawing from a friend,” she said.

Then she added: “By your presence here tonight, I would assert that we all agree with Jefferson on that fundamental point of friendship.”

With the relationship at a low point, some notable Canadians publicly announced before the event that they would steer clear of the Fourth of July party out of principle.

In past years, the annual Independence Day bash has been the talk of the town, with a guest list that grew to include more than 4,000 people under former ambassador and Barack Obama appointee Bruce Heyman.

Under Craft, however, named to the post by Trump, the guest list was trimmed to an estimated 1,000 people.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, and interim Ontario Liberal leader John Fraser were among those who gave the event a pass, citing trade tensions and ongoing concerns with the Trump administration.

Watson, who usually attends the party, sent his regrets this year, saying he's unhappy about the “constant attacks on our country.”

A spokesman for Singh said the NDP leader was invited but won't be attending as a show of protest against U.S. policies on trade and immigration.

“While he will not be attending the July 4th celebrations, Mr. Singh knows that it will take more than symbolic gestures to successfully pressure the Trump administration,” James Smith said in an e-mail.

Still, the ongoing trade fight—which already has seen the countries exchange tit-for-tat tariffs—didn't stop some Canadian politicians from attending the event.

Transport minister Marc Garneau and Ottawa-area MP Andrew Leslie, the government's parliamentary secretary for U.S.-Canada relations, were present.

“There are tensions, of course,” Leslie said before Craft's short speech.

“The important thing is to lower the temperature, engage in dialogue," he stressed. "It's always better to talk than not.”

Leslie also referred to another problem area in the relationship—the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

He said he hoped the Americans would resume NAFTA talks because Canada is ready to get back to the table.

Leslie also expressed his respect for Craft, whom he added has a “really tough job.”

Asked about the high-profile people who declined to attend, Leslie replied, “The great news is that we can live in a country where people can make such choices to either or not attend a social function.”

A former Canadian ambassador to the U.S., who was directly involved in negotiations for the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA, said he doesn't go to many functions anymore—but he decided to make a point of attending this year's party after he heard that some people planned to avoid it.

“I'm not here with a 'Make America Great' hat on my head, I'm just here because we're celebrating the anniversary of our neighbour in a neighbourly way,” Derek Burney said at the event as he raised his voice to be heard over the sound of country music from a nearby speaker.

“For people to get an invitation and make a spectacle out of not coming, to me that's a cheap shot,” he added.

“That's a schoolyard tactic for elementary school.”

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