OTTAWA — He felt the love in Israel, but when Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives in Mexico later this month, he’ll be met by an undercurrent of resentment from a continental neighbour that feels spurned by Canada.
That simmering Mexican resentment towards Canada runs deeper than their high-profile disagreement over a burdensome travel visa that the Harper government imposed on travellers from Mexico in 2009.
It extends to lingering dissatisfaction over the lack of progress to move the economic relationship beyond the North American Free Trade Agreement, the 20th anniversary of which Canada and Mexico happily celebrated last week, along with 70 years of bilateral relations.
Canada and Mexico feted the milestones with simultaneous gala dinners in Ottawa and Mexico City that were video linked.
At Ottawa’s exclusive Rideau Club, Governor General David Johnston marked the occasion alongside Mexico’s Ambassador Francisco Suarez, proclaiming that the world “needs more Mexico” to an audience that included diplomats, business leaders, academics and the chief of staff to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
A few hours earlier, however, Suarez offered a much more negative assessment of the state of Canada-Mexico relations to an audience of students and academics at Carleton University.
“The relationship has lost dynamism,” he said. “It has become stagnant.”
He added that Canadian-Mexican relations have moved to “mature, dignified old age a with flaws, limitations and increasing wrinkles on their face.”
Suarez told to his audience that he usually tries to speak as diplomatically as possible in public.
But in fact, Suarez is not your typical diplomat. In an interview with The Canadian Press last fall, he said Mexico was “angry” at Canada for not being able to resolve the visa issue.
Suarez added that Harper would get an earful when he arrived in Mexico this year for his visit, and suggested Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto might postpone a scheduled trip to Ottawa this summer if Canada hasn’t lifted the visa on Mexican travellers.
Though both countries are working towards a solution, no announcement of a breakthrough appears imminent.
“Canada continues to work with the Mexicans on this issue and is monitoring the situation,” Alexis Pavlich, spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, said in an email.