Trudeau Vows to Boost Canada-U.S. Ties and End Mexico Visa Rule

The Liberal Party is taking aim at Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s handling of Canada’s relations with its closest neighbors.

Criticizing the Conservative government’s “hectoring” approach, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Monday he would ease visa restrictions on Mexico and host a summit with U.S. and Mexican leaders if his party is elected this fall.

“As with the United States, Harper’s approach to relations with Mexico has been belligerent and borderline churlish,” Trudeau said in a speech to an Ottawa policy group. Visa restrictions placed on Mexico “surprised and needlessly embarrassed the Mexicans, and quite frankly should have been reversed long ago.”

Mexico’s Ambassador to Canada, Francisco Suarez, welcomed the news and called the visa requirement a “major irritant.” Imposed in 2009, it was aimed at reducing the number of refugee claims -- the majority of which were being rejected by Canadian officials. The Conservative government said in its 2015 budget it would expand the use of electronic authorizations for “low-risk” travelers from four countries, including Mexico.

“Once again, Justin Trudeau is uninformed on facts,” Kevin Menard, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, said in an e-mail, citing the budget measure.

If the Liberals form government after the election, scheduled for Oct. 19, they will work to rejuvenate ties with Canada’s North American Free Trade Agreement partners, Trudeau said. In addition to addressing the visa issue, they would reschedule and host a trilateral summit.

‘Three Amigos’

In January, Canada postponed a so-called “Three Amigos” meeting between Harper, U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto. No reason was given and the Prime Minister’s office said it would instead be held later in the year.

Harper’s push to get TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline approved without major new environmental initiatives has soured Canada-U.S. relations in particular. On Monday, Trudeau linked the issue to broader continental ties.

“In 2015, pretending we have to choose between the economy and the environment is as harmful as it is wrong, at home and abroad,” he said.

If elected, the Liberals would work toward a “clean energy and environment agreement” to make North America “the world’s most efficient and responsible energy producer,” Trudeau said.

The Liberals, he said, would also form a cabinet committee to “oversee and manage” U.S. relations.

Suarez said that while Mexico is careful to “respect the political process in Canada” he is “delighted” by Trudeau’s announcement.

“Obviously, we have been fighting all along to eliminate the visa requirement,” he said by phone. “That’s very important in improving the relationship.”