With an hour-long summit, the premiers of British Columbia and Alberta have moved to rebuild their formerly tense relationship by ignoring the issue of the Northern Gateway pipeline that divided them.
B.C.’s Christy Clark and Alberta’s Alison Redford emerged from a hastily convened meeting in Kelowna on Friday saying they had not talked about Gateway, but focused instead on such issues of common interest as the economy, skills development and immigration. They met in the Okanagan city because Ms. Clark was there campaigning in a by-election after being defeated in her Vancouver riding in last month’s B.C. election. Ms. Redford flew in for the get-together.
Asked by reporters how they could possibly ignore Gateway, the premiers said they will talk through their differences in coming months to try to resolve them.
“The way you get there is to start talking, and to make sure you’re having a friendly, respectful conversation, which is what we were having today,” Ms. Clark said in a news conference after the discussions.
Of Gateway, Ms. Redford said the dialogue has to go beyond the two leaders, but that the parties have to remember what unites them.
It was all a startling turnaround from their last face-to-face meeting, in Calgary last fall. At the time, Ms. Redford was exasperated at five conditions Ms. Clark had laid out for B.C. support of such projects as Gateway, which would pipe heavy oil from the oil sands to the B.C. coast for shipment to Asia – a priority for both Ms. Redford and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Those conditions include a “fair share” of revenues from such projects. Asked how that brief meeting went, Ms. Clark told reporters, “I’d say it was frosty.” The label stuck.
On Friday, Ms. Clark cheerily said, “We are the best friends in this country that you will find between provinces.” Ms. Redford talked about the walk she and Ms. Clark had taken before their meeting, and described Kelowna as a cherished vacation destination for Albertans.
What seems to have changed is the fact that Ms. Clark led her B.C. Liberals to re-election last month – a reality that appears to have pushed the pair to finding common ground.
The premiers hinted their new-found unity might transform the neighbouring Western provinces into a kind of power bloc with the weight to have an impact on national affairs. The new relationship will be on display next week at the Western Premiers’ Conference in Winnipeg, and later this year at the Council of the Federation meeting, which will bring together all the premiers and territorial leaders.
“It’s incredibly exciting to see the commonality that Alberta and British Columbia will have to drive Canada’s economy,” Ms. Redford said.
Ms. Clark said B.C. and Alberta are making the “biggest contribution” to Canada right now. “Canada needs us to work together,” she said. “We need to find the areas of agreement where we can work together and not allow the areas where we disagree to divide us.” The two leaders agreed to form a working group on skills, immigration and labour.
Ms. Redford made several references to the re-election of the B.C. Liberals, noting that she and Ms. Clark share a lot of political experiences. Both, she told reporters, confounded pundits and some pollsters with their election wins and charted a course to victory with pro-growth, pro-job policies. “I had goosebumps that night,” Ms. Redford said.
The B.C. New Democrats went into the campaign with a lead of up to 20 points in the polls over the Liberals, who were seeking a fourth straight mandate with a new leader in Ms. Clark. The B.C. NDP was opposed to Gateway and an expansion of a Kinder Morgan pipeline from Alberta to B.C.
Of the re-election of the Liberals, Ms. Redford said, “It’s a pretty exciting outcome because it really gives all of us an opportunity to do so much more.”
“One of the things that was very clear in my election as in Premier Clark’s election is our voters said, ‘Please make sure that you grow the economy.’ What we hear from Canadians is not only should we work together but we have a responsibility to work together on behalf of our two provinces.