Limits on gatherings make it a 'great time to be building a pipeline,' says Alberta energy minister

Alberta's energy minister says it's a good time to build a pipeline because public health restrictions limit protests against them.

Sonya Savage discusses pipeline protests on a podcast hosted by oil well drilling contractors association

Pipe for the Trans Mountain pipeline is unloaded in Edson, Alta. on Tuesday June 18, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Alberta's energy minister says it's a good time to build a pipeline because public health restrictions limit protests against them.

Sonya Savage made the comment on the May 20 episode of a Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors podcast. 

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," Savage said in the podcast, posted five days after the Alberta government relaxed rules to allow outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people. 

"Let's get it built."

While the interviewer laughs, Savage does not.

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Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage says the restrictions on the size of public gatherings, including protests, make it a good time to build a pipeline. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

Unprompted, Savage goes on to suggest the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic favours pipeline construction.

"People are not going to have tolerance and patience for protests that get in the way of people working," she said on the podcast, which was posted on the association's website.

"People need jobs, and those types of ideological protests that get in the way are not going to be tolerated by ordinary Canadians."

Savage's spokesperson acknowledged in an email that she was on the podcast.

"We respect the right to lawful protests," said Kavi Bal.

"I would note that the limitations to public gatherings ... have benefited no one — including project proponents and any opposition groups."

Both Alberta and B.C. have increased their limits to 50 people for outdoor gatherings.

Irfan Sabir, the Alberta NDP's energy critic, called Savage's comments more of the same from the government.

"These comments do not come as a shock," he said.

"The UCP have already used the pandemic as an excuse to suspend environmental monitoring. When combined with the minister's latest comments, this will harm the reputation of Alberta's energy industry and inhibit our ability to attract investment and get our product to market."

A tweet from teen climate activist Greta Thunberg shared a news story about the podcast and noted, "Well, at least we are seeing some honesty for once... Unfortunately this how large parts of the world are run."

Government's record on protests and civil disobedience

United Conservative Premier Jason Kenney defended the right to protest in the case of a man recently arrested at the legislature as he was protesting public health lockdown orders. Kenney said at the time he would modify such orders to ensure they didn't interfere with that right, as long as guidelines were being respected.

The government has shown less tolerance for civil disobedience.

In February, it introduced legislation imposing stiff fines and possible jail terms for protesters who damage or interfere with the operation of a wide range of energy infrastructure — although such acts are already illegal.

The bill has passed and awaits royal assent to come into force.

A similar bill carrying increased trespassing punishments for animal rights protesters at agricultural facilities came into force in December.