Prime Minister Justin Trudeau literally rubbed elbows with Alberta’s premier and Calgary’s mayor Wednesday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic before making a major transit announcement and downplaying some of the premier’s concerns.
Trudeau and Jason Kenney met in a small room at the Fairmont Palliser Hotel. They bumped elbows instead of shaking hands before sitting down, a short distance apart, in large leather chairs.
Kenney said it was good to meet with Trudeau in person “after 16 tough months.”
“It’s nice to be able to welcome you back to Alberta as we start to get some more domestic travel going,” Kenney said.
“I do hope to talk to you about that, about how we can help the 800,000 workers in the travel and tourism industries get back to work.”
The premier suggested that Alberta is “crushing COVID.”
There were 67 new cases Wednesday for a total of 745 active infections. Some 140 people were in hospital, 30 of them in intensive care. Two more people died for a total of 2,307.
Kenney noted that things have been particularly difficult in Alberta during the pandemic.
“We were hit harder than any province because of the energy crisis collapse on top of everything else last year … but a lot of projections suggest we’re going to lead the country in growth,” he said.
Kenney also raised concerns about equalization payments. Trudeau dismissed his argument that Alberta is not getting a fair deal.
“He was part of the very government that negotiated and put in place the actual equalization formula that is there now,” Trudeau said at an afternoon announcement.
“When time came for renewal, we just rolled over the very things that he had negotiated as part of Stephen Harper’s cabinet. The fact that he’s now railing against it means he can probably explain better what it is he disagrees with his younger self on.”
Trudeau said all governments have worked together well during the pandemic, but now that things are returning to normal some disagreements are to be expected.
“There’s going to be different perspectives in how to do it and yes sometimes elbows will come up,” he said.
“Canadians expect that, but they also expect there be a level of shared commitment to do what’s right for Canadians.”
Trudeau also held a private meeting with Mayor Naheed Nenshi before announcing that his government had signed off on Calgary’s Green Line light-rail transit expansion. He said shovels should be in the ground this fall in the first phase of the $5.5-billion project.
“No one wants to waste time and money in traffic. This will help you get home to the kids sooner,” Trudeau said at a transit maintenance yard.
Nenshi said the federal approval combined with a green light from the Alberta government is a relief and will be something that his replacement will get to see to fruition. Nenshi is not running again in the fall’s municipal election.
Earlier in the day, Trudeau stopped at a door supply business that received federal COVID-19 pandemic support.
He was given a tour of the AAA Doors Ltd. facility and asked how the business managed during the health crisis. An employee said the federal cash helped the company survive.
Some protesters stood outside all of Trudeau’s stops and yelled. One woman held a flag with an upside down Maple Leaf and the word “freedom.” Another woman called Trudeau a “treasonous leader,” while a man told him “to go back to Toronto.”
City police, RCMP and security were on site.
—Bill Graveland and Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press