August 16, 2007 at 4:56 PM EDT
OTTAWA — While the United States Congress turns up its nose at immigration reform, Canada is poised to start negotiations that would bring even more Mexican workers into this country.
An agreement to strike a commission into increased labour mobility is expected to be among the key accomplishments connected with next week's summit of North American leaders in Montebello, Que.
Mexico's ambassador to Canada, Emilio Goicoechea, said in an interview that the idea is to expand an already successful program that brings in thousands of Mexican agricultural workers every year.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Prime Minister Stephen Harper will hold a private meeting Wednesday.
“The first step will be a declaration from the leaders and the political will to do it, and the question of how it will happen will be up to a working group that will work out the details with Mexican and Canadian legislation,” Mr. Goicoechea said Thursday.
In June, the U.S. Senate rejected a bill that would have allowed more Mexican workers to legally enter the country and would have granted citizenship to some of the millions already there illegally. Since then, Washington passed a bill cracking down on illegals, sparking an outcry from American farmers who depend on the workers.
Canada currently takes in 12,000 Mexican workers through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, but is examining ways it could bring in even more people to fill low- or semi-skilled jobs. There has also been talk about more mobility for energy workers, especially for Alberta.
Mexico is also expected to raise with Canada the issue of contraband weapons flowing north and south from the United States, and what can be done collaboratively on the issue.
The discussions are another indication of the deepening relationship between Canada and Mexico, a hemispheric success story for both countries. Bilateral trade has been increasing, and there has been more co-ordination in areas such as energy, defence and security.
Canadian prime ministers, including Stephen Harper, have cultivated closer personal ties with their Mexican counterparts over several years.
Mr. Harper was one of the first leaders to congratulate Mr. Calderon on his victory last year,
and attend his November inauguration.
“They're becoming good friends, they trust each other, and that's something really important in order to develop better relations in the future,” said Mr. Goicoechea.
Still, a few irritants remain.
Canadian officials acknowledge that the number of Mexican visitors turned away at airports and land crossings is increasing, a sore point with the Mexican government. Last year, a high-profile Mexico City lawyer was turned away at Vancouver's airport when attempting to visit a client.
And some Mexican agricultural workers have complained of ill-treatment by Canadian employers. The issue has gained a high-profile particularly in Quebec, where news reports say the Canadian government has done little to investigate the allegations.
Mr. Goicoechea said his country would like to see a system set up to protect and assist seasonal workers when they're in the country. He said for example that a worker who is fired with or without cause has little recourse, and few resources sometimes to even buy a ticket home and settle accounts.
“Basically, what Mexico wants is that the human rights of Mexican workers who come to Canada are respected, and that there exist mechanisms that can quickly resolve disagreements between parties.”