Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, weighing in on a limp hand clasp with the prime minister that went viral, says she never expected she would have to shake hands with him at a media photo opportunity.
Smith says she and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had previously grasped hands backstage and she was caught by surprise when he reached out again as the cameras clicked and whirred Tuesday before their meeting in Ottawa.
“I’d already shaken his hand. So we already said our hellos,” Smith told reporters in Calgary on Thursday.
“I was taken a bit by surprise that he wanted to shake hands again, so we kind of missed the landing. It was a little bit awkward, but we ended up having a really good discussion after that.”
The cameras caught images of a smiling Trudeau reaching down, clutching and pinning with his thumb the limp, palm-down hand of a hesitant, uncomfortable Smith.
The images spread on the internet and prompted reaction stories on what it implied or might portend for Alberta-federal relations.
The meeting came just before Smith and Trudeau discussed proposed federal legislation, dubbed “just transition,” aimed at helping workers adapt to a world increasingly reliant on renewable energy.
Smith has said she wants to work with Trudeau on that but also wants assurances there will be consultation and that the new rules won’t gut Alberta’s wellspring oil and gas industry while helping it expand markets for products such as liquefied natural gas.
She said the onus is on Trudeau to make it work and she remains cautious, adding that previous Trudeau government policies and rules have hampered Alberta’s energy development.
“The prime minister has not yet shown himself to be a friend of Alberta,” said Smith.
“I’m opening the door, but I also have to be pretty clear: if the prime minister chooses to slam this door in our face and moves unilaterally forward with ‘just transition’ or other impossible and arbitrary (GHG) emissions targets or policies without Alberta’s involvement and agreement, Alberta will be relentless in our opposition.
“We will use every tool at our disposal to protect Albertans, their jobs and their future.”
Smith faces a provincial election this spring after successfully harnessing party anger with Trudeau to win the United Conservative Party leadership race last year to become premier.
She has disparaged Trudeau’s government as not a truly national government and passed controversial legislation granting Alberta the power to direct provincial agencies to ignore federal laws.
Smith was in Ottawa this week with other premiers as Trudeau introduced a new long-term health funding deal proposal.
It calls for $196 billion over the next decade, with $46 billion of that new money.
There would be an immediate injection of $2 billion to the provinces through the Canada Health Transfer to address pressing needs such as overcrowded emergency wards, with hikes to the transfer in the years following.
The provinces said the money is welcome but is a far cry from what they need. They want the feds to hike their share of overall health funding from 22 per cent to 35 per cent.
Smith said Alberta will use the immediate funding to further reduce emergency room wait times, ambulance response times and surgery waits while also recruiting more health professionals.
She said the overall funding number was disappointing but she was pleased to see that much of the money will be through the Canada Health Transfer, which is delivered on a per-capita basis without strings attached.