By Kelowna standards it was a cool June day Friday. But it was obviously warm enough to thaw the relationship between B.C. Premier Christy Clark and her Alberta counterpart, Premier Alison Redford.
Just eight months ago both women described a similar meeting in Calgary as “frosty.” But that was then and this now.
On Friday, the two women, who have led their respective right-of-centre political parties to surprise provincial election victories within the last 14 months, met at the Delta Grand Hotel in Kelowna. And they made a very public show of their new found friendship.
First Clark and Redford took a quick photo-op stroll together along the lakeshore, coffee cups in hand, laughing and joking all the way. Then, following a 45-minute private meeting, they continued their chummy public ways during a press conference, where they hugged, praised each other, pointed out how alike their private and political life experience has been and Redford even applauded when Clark said she hoped to win the Westside-Kelowna byelection next month.
The Alberta premier said she was “on pins and needles” May 14 as she watched the election results roll in from B.C.
Like Redford did in April 2012, Clark led her party to a surprise victory in last month’s provincial election, despite public opinion polls putting her party well behind.
For her part, Clark gave Redford a bottle of wine from Quail’s Gate Winery, a West Kelowna winery owned by the man she wants to succeed in Westside-Kelowna, former Liberal MLA Ben Stewart.
Both wearing B.C. and Alberta flag lapel pins, the premiers were asked about that “frosty” relationship and both were quick to say there is more that unites B.C. and ALberta than divides it.
Shrugging off past disagreements over the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, the pair instead tried to focus on their new plan to work togethers on a number of economic development issues.
But the the biggest stumbling block of the pipeline kept coming up.
Asked directly if they spoke about the pipeline during their private meeting, Redford simply said no. Both she and Clark said they instead, they talked abut issues they have in common, such as the need for more economic development in their respective provinces, the need for more skilled workers and the ongoing positive working relationship between B.C. and Alberta.
“It was a very productive meeting,” said Redford. “This (meeting) focused on what unites us.”
According to Clark, first and foremost, that is the need for skilled workers, even if they are brought in from outside Canada.
The premiers announced they have agreed to create a ministerial working group to look at immigration, labour and skills training because both provinces recognize they need to increase skills training and find skilled workers if they are going to continue to grow economically.
Clark described B.C. and Alberta as the two provinces that have the most to offer Canada right now and called the two province’s the “the best of friends.”
Throughout the press conference they the two women referred to each other by their first names.
They said they plan to meet and talk again at the upcoming Western Canadian premier’s meeting scheduled for Winnipeg next week and then again at the Council Of The Federation meeting in July in Ontario.
Heading into her meeting with Redford, Clark said the best way to improve the relationship between the two was to sit down a talk. And she welcomed Redford’s acceptance of her invitation to come to Kelowna to do just that.