06/22/2015 11:18 EDT | Updated 06/22/2016 05:59 EDT

Justin Trudeau proposes lifting Mexican visa requirement

A Liberal government would lift the Mexican visa requirement, and host a new trilateral summit with Mexico and the U.S. to renew relations with Canada's North American neighbours that have worsened over the past decade, party leader Justin Trudeau said today.

Trudeau, fresh from announcing his vision for electoral reform should the Liberal Party assume government in the election later this year, is taking his first serious foray into the realm of foreign policy, with a keynote speech delivered at a Canada 2020 event in Ottawa on Monday.

"Mexico is now an equal or greater strategic preoccupation in Washington than Canada. That basic fact cannot be wished away," he said.

"As with the United States, [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper's approach to relations with Mexico has been belligerent and borderline churlish."

The federal government requires Mexican visitors to Canada to have a visa, a controversial requirement put in place in 2009 to curb bogus asylum claims, and that has strained relations between the countries.

Harper had also postponed the trilateral North American Leaders' Summit, referred to as the Three Amigos summit, which was scheduled for this past February, without much explanation.

Continent-wide clean energy agreement

Canada also needs to push for a clean energy and environment agreement with the United States and Mexico, Trudeau told the audience at the Chateau Laurier.

Another proposal seeks to reduce barriers to trade and commerce between Canada and the U.S. by, among other moves, improving border infrastructure and streamlining cargo inspection.

Trudeau said the government would also create a cabinet committee to oversee and manage U.S. relations, as well as boost the number of Canadian diplomats in "as many critical regions and communities as possible."

"Canada's special relationship with the United States is not automatic. Like any strong relationship, you have to put a lot of work into it, and continually earn it," Trudeau said in his speech.

"There is nothing preordained about our influence or value in Washington's eyes. Policy that fails to acknowledge this basic fact will fail."

Canada 2020 is an independent think-tank founded by former Liberal strategists.

Monday's speech, similar to last week's platform announcement, carried echoes of prime ministers past.

"From John A. Macdonald's deft management of fishing rights to Mike Pearson's negotiation of the auto pact, from free trade to abstention from the Iraq War – management of Canada-U.S. relations is among the largest markers by which history remembers our leaders," he said.

Boost foreign policy credentials

Trudeau again makes mention of his late father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, to contrast Harper's approach to the U.S.

"Everybody knows that my father and President [Richard] Nixon weren't exactly the closest of friends," he said.

"But it is hard to imagine any prime minister in the history of this country pulling Harper's fruitless stunt."

That "stunt" refers to Harper's 2011 trip to New York City where he said the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project, which would extend from Alberta to Texas, was a "no brainer" — widely seen as an attempt to goad U.S. President Barack Obama into action.

Trudeau said Harper has allowed the Keystone XL pipeline to define "one of the most positive and prosperous bilateral relationships the world has ever known. All of us, Canadians and Americans alike, are the poorer for it."

The keynote speech is an opportunity for Trudeau to bolster his foreign policy credentials.

The Liberal leader has come under fire for past remarks on international affairs, such as jokingly suggesting Russia's involvement in the Ukraine crisis was spurred by Russia's Olympic hockey loss and expressing admiration for China's "basic dictatorship."