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Energy Minister Sonya Savage poses in front of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa in May, 2019. Alberta's energy minister says it's a good time to build a pipeline because public health restrictions limit protests against them.

The Canadian Press

Alberta’s Energy Minister isn’t backing away from her comments that COVID-19’s public health rules and economic fears favour pipeline construction.

“I don’t think anybody should be surprised that Alberta is pro-pipeline,” Sonya Savage said Tuesday in an interview.

On Friday, Ms. Savage spoke on a podcast held by an industry group.

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“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.”

In the podcast, Ms. Savage goes on to say that economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic will trump other concerns. She echoed those remarks Tuesday in reference to rail blockades earlier this year held to protest the Coastal GasLink pipeline expansion.

“Coming out of this situation, we need jobs,” she said. “Albertans want to get back to work and they’re not going to have a lot of tolerance for illegal blockades and civil insurrection. Civil insurrection is not going to be tolerated.”

Ms. Savage’s original comments made worldwide headlines.

Both the Independent newspaper and the BBC in Britain 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.”

Ms. Savage was backed by Alberta government House leader and Environment Minister Jason Nixon.

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“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,” Mr. Nixon said Tuesday.

Premier Jason Kenney declined to comment.

The Alberta energy 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 Ltd. pulled out of a multibillion-dollar oil sands project because of what it said was a regulatory environment unable to reconcile resource development and climate concerns.

Ms. Savage’s remarks don’t help, said Duane Bratt, political scientist at Calgary’s Mount Royal University.

“This is going to contribute to it,” he said.

Still, the comments are consistent with everything Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government has been saying, Mr. Bratt said.

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“They want to fight with environmental groups. They want to fight with investors pulling out.

“It’s a very narrow interest. It’s an appeal to people in Alberta that want somebody fighting for them. I didn’t think [when it began] that this type of approach would work, but they’re going ahead with it.”

The Opposition NDP’s energy critic, Irfan Sabir, also suggested that Ms. Savage’s comments, combined with the province suspending environmental monitoring in the oil patch, will make it harder to attract international investors to the industry.

Ms. Savage’s remarks express how the government views people who disagree with it as wrong, corrupt and hypocritical, Mr. Bratt said.

Alberta has 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 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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