Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke with Juan Guaido to congratulate him on unifying opposition forces in Venezuela, two weeks before he declared himself interim president.
Separately, Ottawa was told by opposition groups, former diplomats and Venezuelan émigré to expect a major announcement on Wednesday, the 61st anniversary of the end of a Venezuela military dictatorship in 1958, according to a senior Canadian government source who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Those conversations allowed Canada to respond swiftly after Mr. Guaido declared himself interim president that day, the official said.
Canada and the United States were among several countries that quickly recognized him as Venezuela’s president in preference to United Socialist Party Leader Nicolas Maduro, sworn in as president earlier this month. Russia, China, Turkey and Iran back Mr. Maduro.
In his first public comments since declaring himself interim president, and speaking from an undisclosed location, Mr. Guaido told Univision he would consider granting amnesty to Mr. Maduro and his allies if they helped return Venezuela to democracy.
“Amnesty is on the table,” the 35-year-old said. “Those guarantees are for all those who are willing to side with the constitution to recover the constitutional order.”
On Thursday, Mr. Maduro said Venezuela would close its embassy and consulates in the United States, as Russia accused the Americans of trying to usurp power in the South American country. The U.S. State Department ordered non-essential diplomats and staff at the embassy in Caracas to leave the country.
The Canadian embassy was closed Thursday over security concerns after Canada’s recognition of Mr. Guaido, a virtually unknown politician until he became opposition leader on Jan. 5.
The Canadian government official said there is no plan to recall Canada’s six diplomats in Venezuela. A spokesperson for the Venezuelan embassy in Ottawa said its embassy and consulates continue to remain open.
Canada joined members of the Lima Group – an alliance that includes Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru – in calling for elections soon. Canada will host the next meeting of the Lima Group to discuss next steps in Venezuela, according to a second source who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Canada’s former ambassador to Venezuela, Ben Rowswell, said Ottawa would have thoroughly examined the strategy the Venezuelan opposition was proposing before publicly supporting Mr. Guiado, to ensure the strategy holds up in a court of law. He said he was “astonished” by the Lima Group consensus that quickly followed Mr. Guaido’s declaration on Wednesday.
"It’s an unusual move for any country to comment on who the president of another country should be – to have countries that represent two-thirds of the population of Latin America do it in minutes shows there was a remarkable alignment that’s got to be nearly unprecedented in the history of Latin America,” said Mr. Rowswell, who is now the president of the Canadian International Council, a group of foreign-relations experts.
“What you might be seeing here is success of some extraordinary quiet diplomacy.”
The Venezuelan political turmoil has also caused division among Canada’s major political parties.
Michael Levitt, a Liberal MP and chair of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, called on NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to denounce comments from NDP MP Niki Ashton as well as Jessa McLean, the party’s candidate in York-Simcoe, criticizing the government’s decision to recognize Mr. Guaido as interim president. The NDPers’ tweets on Wednesday questioned the Trudeau government’s support for the Venezuelan opposition leader.
“I was really disappointed when I saw the tweets … taking this kind of partisan shot at the Prime Minister for speaking out and condemning Maduro," Mr. Levitt said.
“I hope Jagmeet Singh can do the right thing and denounce Maduro, clearly and unequivocally, and also distance himself from the comments of his candidate and his caucus member.”
In a statement Thursday, Mr. Singh said the NDP “condemns military action against protesters by the Maduro regime,” but did not address the controversial tweets. The NDP declined to comment directly on Mr. Guaido, saying the question of who leads Venezuela should be left in the hands of its citizens.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole said it’s clear that Venezuela’s National Assembly is the only remaining legitimate democratic institution in the country and urged the Organization of American States to work with Mr. Guaido to support free and fair elections.
With a report from Stephanie Nolen and Associated Press