Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and new B.C. Premier John Horgan sidestepped the contentious debate surrounding the future of the planned Trans Mountain pipeline expansion as the two leaders held a first meeting in Ottawa.
Instead, the pair said they were focused on issues of common ground, including the economy, the opioid crisis, raging wildfires in B.C. and reconciliation with Indigenous people.
Trudeau said they were both "progressive politicians" who have plenty of areas for priority, and that disputes would be worked out.
"Difficult issues come up. We're going to work together to resolve them," Trudeau said.
Horgan said he has begun meeting with affected First Nations groups, but he has not yet had thorough briefings from government lawyers on the legal issues at play.
Pointing to the fact 1,400 people are expected to die from the opioid crisis this year, he said today's talks focused on urgent issues, including the wildfire evacuations.
"For today, our focus is on making sure we're helping those who need help, and building on the relationship we need to have on those critical issues about helping the middle class and making life more affordable for British Columbians," Horgan said.
The two leaders were dressed almost identically, in blue suits, polka-dotted ties and brown shoes. At an earlier photo opportunity, Trudeau quipped that they showed "a lot of compatibility," and Horgan joked that he was colour blind.
The witty banter continued when Horgan spilled a glass of water and noted, "Spills can happen anywhere," in reference to the potential for an oil spill with a pipeline.
"We'll get people to clean that up right away!" Trudeau rebutted, to which Horgan shot back: "There's a federal response for that."
Trudeau's government approved the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project last fall, but Horgan campaigned against it and has pledged to fight the project.
But there is little time for Horgan to waste if he wants to stop the project as pipeline-builder Kinder Morgan said just last week that construction is on schedule to begin in September.
Asked about NAFTA talks that are set to begin next month, Trudeau echoed last week's remarks from Canada's ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton.
"A fair dispute resolution mechanism system is essential for any trade deal that Canada signs on to," the prime minister said. "And we expect that will continue to have that in any renegotiated NAFTA."
An 18-page summary released by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last week said the U.S. hopes to eliminate NAFTA's Chapter 19 dispute resolution panels, which Canada uses to appeal duties on softwood lumber and other goods.
It is expected to be a thorny issue when talks begin as early as Aug. 17.
Horgan said NAFTA has served British Columbians well, but concurred with the prime minister on the critical need for a formal way to settle trade disputes.
"In order to resolve disagreements, you need a dispute mechanism," he said.
Softwood lumber dispute
Horgan was sworn into office last week after defeating former premier Christy Clark's short-lived minority Liberal government with the support of the Green party.
After leaving Ottawa, Horgan will fly on to Washington, D.C., for meetings with U.S. lawmakers and officials about the softwood lumber dispute.
Because softwood lumber is not included in NAFTA, Horgan said it is important to resolve that dispute before broader trade talks begin.
"We need to get it off the table so that Minister Freeland and federal officials can focus on the larger challenge of the broader trade agreement."