Canada’s Justin Trudeau greets political opponent with awkward handshake

Tensions between Alberta and Canada’s federal government over taxation and environmental policies means there are few things prime minister Justin Trudeau can win favour for among western voters and the province’s leadership.

On Tuesday, those strains were clear as Alberta’s premier Danielle Smith and Trudeau tried and failed at the most basic of political customs: the posed handshake greeting.

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At their first official meeting, the prime minister seemed confident a handshake between the pair was imminent. Both leaders raised their hands, but at the last moment, Smith appeared to change her mind, leaving her palm down. Without flinching, Trudeau took her hand and held it in place, placing his thumb atop her hand as he grinned for the cameras and Smith managed a weak smile.

Smith, in Ottawa with other premiers for a major announcement on healthcare funding, has become one of the country’s most vocal critics of Trudeau and his government’s policies, recently channelling anger at him to win victory in the United Conservative party leadership race to become premier.

Smith’s government also recently passed controversial legislation, known as the Alberta sovereignty act, that would give her government the power to direct provincial agencies to ignore federal laws.

While Trudeau is no stranger to animosity in the country’s west, he’s also no stranger to awkward handshakes.

The Canadian prime minister was the first to effectively dodge former president Donald Trump’s forceful handshake strategy that left world leaders and political rivals looking bewildered. In their first meeting in 2017, Trudeau put a hand on Trump’s shoulder to brace himself.

And in 2016, Trudeau attempted to shake hands with former presidents Barack Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, awkwardly crossing his arms over and grabbing Peña Nieto’s wrong hand.

In a tweet, Canadian political journalist Jason Markusoff called the most recent failed handshake “an Alberta thing”, posting images of previous Alberta premiers all warily considering Trudeau’s outstretched hand.