The Alberta government isn’t backing away from a cabinet minister’s comments that public heath rules and economic fears caused by COVID-19 favour pipeline construction.
House leader and Environment Minister Jason Nixon told reporters Tuesday that Sonya Savage was stating the obvious when she said public health rules limiting the size of public gatherings makes the pandemic “a great time” to be building pipelines.
“Minister Savage is rightly pointing out that there are people, unfortunately, both within this province and across the country and the world, who have dedicated themselves to stopping Alberta’s clean natural resources from being able to enter the market,” Nixon said.
“She was quite rightly just pointing out the obvious that at this moment, because of COVID, there is probably less people taking the opportunity to go out and protest pipelines.”
Savage made the comment last Friday on a podcast hosted by the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC). She was asked about progress of the Trans Mountain Expansion project, which is under construction on its route between Edmonton and Vancouver.
“Now is a great time to be building a pipeline because you can’t have protests of more than 15 people,” the energy minister said.
“Let’s get it built.”
The interviewer laughs. Savage does not.
Savage goes on to say that economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic will trump other concerns.
“People are not going to have tolerance and patience for protests that get in the way of people working,” she said.
“People need jobs and those types of ideological protests that get in the way are not going to be tolerated by ordinary Canadians.”
Premier Jason Kenney declined to comment, but Nixon echoed Savage’s theme.
“Pipelines remain a priority of the people of Alberta and necessary for our prosperity and our future,” he said. “We will continue as a government … to stand up for our largest industry and the people that work within (it).”
Savage’s comments made worldwide headlines.
Both the Independent newspaper and the BBC in the United Kingdom published her remarks, as did Fox News in the United States. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg also put them on her Twitter feed.
“At least we are seeing some honesty for once,” she wrote. “Unfortunately this (is) how large parts of the world are run.”
Savage’s remarks come as the Alberta industry’s reputation faces increasing pressure.
Some of the world’s largest investment funds have restricted their activity in the province because of environmental concerns. In February, Teck Resources pulled out of a multi-billion-dollar oilsands project because of what it called a regulatory environment unable to reconcile resource development and climate concerns.
Both Savage and Nixon said the government respects legal protest. Kenney defended that right in the case of a man who was recently arrested at the legislature as he was protesting public health lockdown orders.
However, the United Conservative government has introduced legislation imposing stiff fines and possible jail terms for protesters who damage or even interfere with the operation of a wide range of energy infrastructure, although such acts are already illegal. The bill remains before the legislature.
A similar bill carrying increased trespassing punishments for animal rights protesters at agricultural facilities came into force in December.
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