Clean energy and climate policy will be a dominant theme when the leaders of Canada, the United States and Mexico convene June 29 in Ottawa, a senior government official said Monday.
But because Barack Obama's days in office are numbered, Canada isn't pursing any major initiatives beyond climate change for reinvigorating the complicated three-way relationship at the summit, said Kevin Thompson, executive director for North America policy and relations at Global Affairs Canada.
"This is not really the time for grand visions."
Thompson told a panel discussion on Monday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's state visit to Washington in March gave a pretty clear signal of where he and Obama believe progress can be made.
They agreed to deep cuts in emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as one of the showcase announcements from the Washington visit.
Now with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto joining them, Thompson said it's no secret that climate and energy will feature fairly prominently on the agenda.
"I think you could probably read into the fact that this government is very committed to addressing the challenges of climate change, the Obama administration, as well as Nieto's administration, are all on the same wavelength in that regard," said Thompson.
"So that will feature fairly prominently in the agenda of the leaders."
But both Thompson and Steven Zate, a representative of the American consulate, downplayed expectations for any big headlines out of the one-day summit in their talk to the Institute for Research in Public Policy.
Instead, said Thompson, the three countries will content themselves with making "incremental progress" on a range of issues, including security, increasing shared competitiveness, harmonizing regulations on dangerous goods, streamlining the continent's patent regime and fostering female entrepreneurship.
The so-called Three Amigos summit has been fraught with delays and problems in the past.
This Canadian-hosted summit is a year overdue because Prime Minister Stephen Harper saw no political advantage in hosting it before the last federal election while Obama delayed a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Obama officially killed the project, which the Conservatives pushed hard for, after the October federal election.
There was also no win for Harper with Mexico because the controversial visa requirement that his government imposed on Mexican travellers remained in place — and still does.
The new Liberal government has not said publicly that the visa issue will be resolved in time for the summit, but Trudeau has said he wants to see it done away with.
Panel member Agustin Barrios Gomez, president of the Mexico Image Foundation and a former member of Mexico's Congress, urged immediate scrapping of the visa, which he said creates a "stack of papers" that must be dealt with every time a Mexican traveller applies and reapplies to come to Canada.
"Seriously, Canada, my God," he said. "It really does not do justice to this country."
He also said it was "a very exciting time for energy integration" on the continent because the U.S. Department of Energy is doing its first study of continental energy integration, while Mexico's government is investing massively in green energy in order to meet an ambitious target of 35 per cent clean energy production for the country.