By Carlo Dade
In Embassy

Oct. 2, 2013


For western Canada, recent public comments by Mexico’s ambassador to Canada should be of great concern.

The new Mexican government has been vigorously, and so far successfully, pursuing energy sector reforms and this presents potentially huge new opportunities for foreign participation and investment in the worlds sixth largest oil producer.

Thanks to NAFTA, Canadian firms should have advantages in Mexico over other foreign companies in any new opportunities.

Yet that now appears to be at risk.

The issue is Mexico has finally had enough of Ottawa’s intransigence in discussing, let alone addressing, the visa requirement for travel to Canada. With the growing anger in Mexico, there is a real threat that the visa fight between Ottawa and Mexico City could spill into discussions over the opening of Mexico’s oil sector.

In Mexico, the issue with the visas is two-fold. First, there is appreciation of the reason for the sudden visa imposition by Canada –the surge in refugee claimants – even though this is a Canadian issue about which the Mexicans can do little, if anything. Offering cash payments, health care and a work visa in return for saying “yo soy refugiado” is the problem and Prime Minister Harper and former Immigration Minister Kenny admitted this repeatedly in Mexico.

However, they also repeatedly promised Mexico that the visa requirement was a temporary fix until reform legislation was passed in Canada. That has happened; Mexico has been listed as a low-risk country allowing expedited refugee hearings and speedier repatriation of bogus claimants.

And yet, the visa remains.

Worse, Ottawa has been unable to tell Mexico when the visa might be lifted. And worse still, Ottawa has shown no real interest to do so.

If this is how Ottawa makes friends, western Canada should be worried.

The second issue is that better alternatives to a visa have been rejected out of hand and without explanation by Ottawa. A solution favoured in Quebec, whose tourism sector took a hit with the visa, was to allow the 30 million or so Mexicans holding ten-year US visas to enter Canada. Not ideal, but a practical solution that would have mitigated anger in Mexico, kept out bogus refugee claimants and, most importantly for Quebec, kept its hotels and tour companies happy.

Quebec made sure that this was known in Ottawa and more importantly, given its trade relations with the country, made sure that Mexico City was aware of its stance.

As strange as it may sound out West, we need to follow Quebec’s lead.

Should Mexico’s energy sector reforms succeed, we cannot risk an angry Mexico not returning our phone calls because we are tarred with the same brush as Ottawa. Waiting until we are at the oil concession bidding table to suddenly show concern will not do us any favours; just the opposite.

And it is not just oil. We risk losing Mexico as an ally on a range of western Canadian issues with the US such as country of origin labeling for beef and pork and the Food Safety Modernisation Act that threaten to shut our agricultural exports out of the US.

These are also issues that, thanks to NAFTA, we share uniquely with Mexico. We have not been able to move the Americans on our own. Working with Mexico can bring needed political clout to actually solve some of our common concerns regarding US policy – think about which country’s diaspora has had a greater impact on any recent US election.

The public comments by Mexico’s ambassador about the visa issue have essentially asked if anyone in Canada cares about its concerns.

Taking a page from Quebec’s playbook, it is time to let the Mexicans know that they have friends in western Canada.

Carlo Dade is the Director of the Centre for Trade & Investment at the Canada West Foundation. The Canada West Foundation is the only think tank with an exclusive focus on policies that shape the quality of life in western Canada.