On a recent podcast appearance, Alberta’s energy minister decided to say the quiet part loud.
“Now is a great time to be building a pipeline because you can’t have protests of more than 15 people,” Sonya Savage said to the hosts of the CAODC Podcast. “Let’s get it built.”
Climate activist Greta Thunberg commented on the statements on Twitter Tuesday morning, writing, “well, at least we are seeing some honesty for once… Unfortunately this (is) how large parts of the world are run.”
Savage was speaking of the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The pipeline is currently under construction despite much pushback by Indigenous groups and climate activists. It is set to run from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C. After she made the comments the hosts laughed, but Savage continued with the notion that COVID-19 will help pipeline construction undeterred.
“As we go on and we get out of the more immediate phases of COVID, people across Canada 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.”
Alberta has a public gathering ban for events featuring more than 50 people outside and 15 people indoors. A spokesperson for the minister told the Globe and Mail, that Savage respects “the right to lawful protests.”
The podcast, which has an oddly metal intro, is run by the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors. Savage appeared on the May 20 episode and her comments came during a conversation about the dramatic drop in oil prices.
The relationship between the ruling United Conservative Party and environmental protesters is a strenuous one to say the least. One of the first things Alberta Premier Jason Kenney did after coming into power was plug $30 million into a much-derided "energy war room" that worked to combat "misinformation" about the oil industry. The war-room's efforts have so far consisted mainly of spicy tweets and angry op-eds. After crippling rail blockades popped up country-wide in support of the Wet'suwet'en Nation’s resistance to a natural gas pipeline running through their land, Kenney announced beefed-up punishments for environmental protestors for similar actions.
Alberta, who has an economy based on oil and gas, is in the midst of tremendous turmoil. The collapse of the price of oil paired with the COVID-19 pandemic has created one of the highest unemployment rates in Canada at 13.4% in April—only Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec have higher rates of unemployment. In the interview, Savage said she believes Alberta will be at 20% unemployment before the end of the summer.
The province has a bit of a history with Thunberg. She has received vicious backlash for her work which many Albertans feel target the province unfairly. In October 2019, Thunberg led a march of 4,000 through Edmonton onto the legislature who faced counter-protestors in trucks revving their engines and honking their horns.
The anger against Thunberg’s activism remained after she left the province. A graffiti mural painted of her face in Edmonton was quickly defaced with “this is oil country” and “petite salope”—a sexist French insult. In the most extreme case, people associated with X-Site Energy Services, an oil company in Red Deer, even made explicit stickers showing someone having sex with a woman who bore a likeness to Thunberg and the name “Greta” tattooed across her back.
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