Meeting with Enrique Peña Nieto in Ottawa shortly before the new Mexican president’s inauguration, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged to work to reverse a sensitive visa requirement for Mexicans visiting Canada. In an email interview, Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, discussed Canada-Mexico relations.*
WPR: What was the trajectory of Mexico-Canada relations under Mexican President Felipe Calderon?
Duncan Wood: At the beginning of 2006 relations were at a relative high point. Canada had identified Mexico as a strategic partner; the Canada-Mexico Partnership had just been founded; and the language, at least, of trilateralism was still in fashion in Ottawa. Within the Canadian business community, a gradual realization that North America extended south of the Rio Grande had taken place, so that a progressive “discovery of Mexico” by Canadian firms was firmly underway. Then a series of negative factors hit the relationship. First, the election of Stephen Harper as prime minister of Canada in February 2006 brought concerns that Canada would refocus its attention on bilateral relations with the U.S. at the expense of Mexico. Second, Mexico’s catastrophic drug violence severely damaged Mexico’s image in Canada. Third, the handling of visa applications for Mexican citizens created a negative reaction among Mexican political and social elites and strained relations at the diplomatic level. Lastly, the Harper government’s cancelling of Canadian studies funding globally decimated what was one of the world’s most active and enthusiastic Canadian studies communities in Mexico. After that, despite a very healthy business and economic relationship, it was difficult to re-establish strong and active relations.