06/14/2013 04:05 EDT | Updated 08/13/2013 05:12 EDT

Christy Clark, Alison Redford Meeting Begins On Conciliatory Note

Flickr: PremierofAlberta
KELOWNA, B.C. - The premiers of British Columbia and Alberta attempted to patch up — or at least patch over — their once "frosty" relationship Friday, with a meeting in B.C. that avoided the contentious issue of pipelines that has divided them in the past.

B.C.'s Christy Clark and Alberta's Alison Redford posed for the cameras in Kelowna, where Clark is currently running in a provincial byelection, before an hour-long meeting they said was focused on economic issues.

A year ago, Clark and Redford were in a public dispute over the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline — specifically, Clark's demand for a "fair share" of the economic benefits from the project.

Pundits were busy keeping track of how far apart they sat from one another at last year's gathering of the Council of the Federation, and Clark famously described a meeting between the two in October as "frosty."

But on Friday, the two premiers used a tried-and-true method for calming any heated dispute: avoid talking about the problem.

"No, I didn't actually discuss that," Redford told reporters when asked whether the Northern Gateway pipeline came up during the meeting.

Clark suggested all is well between Canada's two westernmost provinces.

"British Columbia and Alberta have been friends for a long time — we are the best friends in this country that you'll find between provinces," said Clark, after giving Redford a bottle of wine and a hug.

Redford and Clark downplayed repeated questions about the Northern Gateway project, which Clark's government formally opposed at review hearings last month.

Redford said there were other important economic issues to occupy the hour, while Clark cast the dispute as little more than two premiers standing up for their respective provinces.

Clark did, however, suggest all hope is not lost that British Columbia could one day change its mind when it comes to Northern Gateway.

"Between the closing arguments (at the National Energy Board's joint-review panel) and the decision, there are a few more months," said Clark.

"So we'll see what happens with that."

The 1,600-kilometre Northern Gateway project would transport 550,000 barrels per day of oilsands crude from just outside Edmonton to a port in Kitimat, on the northern B.C. coast. Once at the coast, bituman would be loaded onto hundreds of tankers a year for transport to Asian markets.

The premiers spoke of a shared interest in skills training, immigration and economic growth, and they announced a "ministerial working group" to tackle those issues.

However, there were few specifics about what exactly each premier wants to see done in those areas, and the official news release following their meeting didn't even mention — much less explain — the working group.

Clark and Redford also complimented each other on their come-from-behind election wins. Both were counted out by pollsters and pundits, but each pulled off victories.

B.C.'s Opposition NDP dismissed the meeting as little more than a campaign event.

Clark lost her own Vancouver-area riding in the May 14 election, prompting one of her caucus members to step aside in a safe Kelowna-area riding to allow her to try again.

The New Democrats were so unconcerned about Clark's meeting with her Alberta counterpart that the party didn't offer up its leader or any of its legislature critics to comment.

Instead, the NDP left the reaction to Clark's byelection opponent, Carole Gordon, who ran, and lost, in the May election.

"She said she was coming to Kelowna to campaign, so she has invited Alison Redford to come and meet her in this constituency," Gordon said in an interview.

Gordon said she had yet to hear about the planned working group or what was said at the post-meeting news conference, but she said she was disappointed Clark ignored the issue of pipelines during the meeting. She said the issue is especially important in the area in light of a small spill earlier in the week near Merritt, where just under 1,000 litres of oil leaked from Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline.

Clark and Redford will meet again later this weekend at the annual conference of Western premiers and territorial leaders conference in Winnipeg.

Their next meeting after that will be the annual Council of the Federation meeting, which is scheduled for Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in July.

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