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The partnership between Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is necessary and beneficial to both.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

It is Confederation upside down: A Liberal Prime Minister went to Alberta to meet the Premier as an ally. Make no mistake: Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley need each other. And both of them, left-leaning politicians promising historic action on climate change, need oil to flow.

This was a Trudeau visiting Alberta not in magnanimous boom times, but during a worried, cranky bust.

Mr. Trudeau travelled to show that he hears Albertans' angst. The Conservatives in Ottawa keep needling that he is doing nothing, and does not care – but the NDP provincial government has been less pointed.

As much as Ms. Notley expressed her wish list with an expectant tone that echoes the Albertan mood – she said before the meeting that Alberta has done "heavy lifting" for Canada's economy and needs support now – she and Mr. Trudeau know they need each other.

Both are buffeted by the low oil prices that clobbered Alberta's oil industry and weakened the economy. That is bad for Mr. Trudeau, and terrible for Ms. Notley.

But they have a similar prescription for the near term: government intervention, including big spending on infrastructure.

And both have made a similar promise about the future of the oil industry: that taking environmental action will make it possible to get oil to export markets and a pipeline to carry oil to tidewater. Both need that promise to come true.

Ms. Notley is talking to Mr. Trudeau about infrastructure funds – both are planning to put billions into projects, making them eager partners in joint ventures. Ms. Notley is also seeking $250-million in federal financial-stabilization funds, and possibly changes to employment insurance to help claimants in Alberta.

Mr. Trudeau was in many ways elected on the notion that he would display more empathy for those hurt by economic change, so he is keen to show he is attentive to Alberta's hard times. Aides said the gesture of travelling there is in itself an important symbol.

But other forces are pushing the Liberal PM and the NDP Premier into alliance. Their promises to square environmental concerns with oil are arguably the biggest test for each.

Ms. Notley has a constituency among Albertans who want environmental action. But in Alberta, the oil-and-gas industry is crucial.

The Premier sold the idea that action on greenhouse-gas emissions will open foreign markets by greening the reputation of Alberta oil. But a key component is still getting a pipeline to carry that oil to navigable seas. Mr. Trudeau's cabinet will have the last word.

Mr. Trudeau needs Ms. Notley for that, too. He has promised not just "credible" reviews of pipelines, but essentially to reconcile the environment and the oil industry. His supporters demand advances on emissions. His pledge to negotiate a climate-change plan with provinces was really made credible when Ms. Notley's government unveiled its own plan.

Mr. Trudeau needs Ms. Notley's environmental policies to succeed if his own are to be credible – and he has made credible environmental policy a political condition for resource projects like the Energy East pipeline.

But like Ms. Notley, he needs a pipeline. He promised to help get oil to more export markets. That matters to Canada's economy, and particularly to hopes of eventually bringing back resource-sector investment that is drying up now. Mr. Trudeau will know a weak economy will eventually weigh on his government, and it needs to attract that investment.

Alberta is still not fertile political ground for the Liberals, but it is crucial to Mr. Trudeau. So is the alliance with Ms. Notley.

For Conservative politicians in Ottawa, it seems like a bizarro world. They have been accusing the Liberals of abandoning Alberta by refusing to endorse pipelines. It is hard to get used to an NDP Premier welcoming a Prime Minister Trudeau. "It's so out of whack," Calgary Conservative MP Ron Liepert said.

"It's kind of weird to be sitting here in Ottawa as the Alberta representative," he said. Before, Alberta's approach to Ottawa was predicable, he said: "Today, I don't have a clue."

But it may be more predictable than he thinks: Ms. Notley and Mr. Trudeau need each other.