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Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave a joint news conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 27. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave a joint news conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 27. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Mexico's President pushes Ottawa to act on climate change Add to ...

Mexico's president, in Ottawa as Stephen Harper's guest, has taken a whack at his host's wait-for-the-U.S. policies on climate change.

Prime Minister Harper has said Canada will wait to see what policies the U.S. adopts to regulate major emitters of greenhouse gases, because the two countries' economies are so closely integrated. But Felipe Calderon, who leads the United States' other border nation and trade-bloc partner, expressed exasperation at waiting for rich countries to step forward.

Mr. Calderon said Mexico couldn't wait for rich countries to do something about climate change, as droughts hit his country and Mexico City's water supply shrank, and had to take its own action.

"In Mexico, we cannot wait. We cannot wait for the developed countries to make a decision," the Mexican President said at a joint press conference with Mr. Harper. "Some of them, like the U.S., could take another eternity to decide on what they had decided since the Kyoto Protocol."

"We know that the quality of life, and the future, is at risk. And I mean the future of a great deal of humanity."

While it was no surprise that Mr. Calderon differs with Mr. Harper on climate policy, his move to publicly urge him to greater action during an official visit was unusual diplomacy, though planned.

Mr. Calderon, whose country will host the next round of United Nations-sponsored climate change talks in Cancun at the end of November, delivered a speech to the House of Commons earlier in the day that stressed the need for Canadian leadership on climate change. He raised it again, unasked, at the press conference with Mr. Harper.

Mexico has set out its own plans to regulate greenhouse gases, and is now seen as a leader among developing nations in tackling climate change. Like Canada, its economy is highly linked to that of the U.S., but it has not insisted that its regulations must wait a U.S. first move.

Last December, Environment Minister Jim Prentice warned that Canada's economy would "suffer economic pain for no real environmental gain" if it took a more aggressive approach than the U.S. "Given the integration of our two economies it is essential our targets remain in line - not more, not less," Mr. Prentice said then.

But at his press conference with Mr. Calderon, Mr. Harper insisted that is not the totality of Canada's climate-change policies, noting that Canada has put large sums into developing technologies to capture oil-sands emissions, and is doing other things at home to combat climate change.

"We are not simply working with the United States, although that is an important part of what we're doing," he said.

But he added later that systems for capping and trading emissions, for example, must be done on a continental basis: "In the integrated North American economy, it's difficult, if not impossible, to make progress on that kind of a system without the co-operation of the United States."

The two leaders met for just over an hour Thursday after Mr. Calderon addressed Parliament, and discussed the thorny visa issue that has annoyed Mexico - but Mr. Calderon handled that issue delicately in public, offering to work with Canada to solve the problem, though Canadian officials have admitted there's little he can do.

Last July, Canada moved to require Mexicans to get visitors' visas before travelling to Canada, aiming to cut the rising number of people from that country who make refugee claims here. Mr. Harper and Mr. Calderon both said the problem is bogus claimants who try to abuse Canada's refugee system.

Mr. Harper said he hopes proposed reforms, now before the Commons, will give Canada other tools than imposing visitors' visas, but that will take time.

"It's a comprehensive series of reforms to the current refugee-determination system. After it's passed it requires some significant machinery-of-government changes to be implemented. And obviously there's the problem of the backlog in the current system," he said.

Mr. Calderon did not mention the vexing visa issue in a dinner speech extolling Mexico's reforms and virtues as an investment and tourism destination to a large business audience in Toronto Thursday evening.

He did address the drug war, though, which has hurt the country's image abroad, saying it is essential to restore the rule of law to all parts of the country as part of "a deep transformation" of Mexican society.

The problem, he said, is that Mexico lives in a building "in which the our neighbour is the largest consumer of illegal drugs in the world," and everyone wants to use Mexico's door to sell them.

"If you see dust in the air, it's because we are cleaning house in Mexico," he told the gathering, held by the Canadian International Council.

Mexico was hit particularly hard by the global crisis, as its economy shrank by a precipitous 6.5 per cent last year. But it is in the midst of a sturdy recovery, thanks partly to surging exports. Growth this year is expected to reach 4.3 per cent.

With economic reforms ranging from reduced tariffs to less bureaucratic red tape, "Mexico is gaining competitiveness at the global level," Mr. Calderon told the audience.

His country, he said, has become the world's lowest-cost producer of manufactured goods for export to the U.S. and Canadian markets, ahead even of China and Brazil.

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