Social distancing will limit pipeline protests, says Alberta’s Energy Minister – “Let’s get it built”

UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Philip.

by Jake Cardinal 

(ANNews) – On May 22, 2020 Alberta’s Energy Minister Sonya Savage spoke about the COVID-19 pandemic’s positive effect on Alberta’s Energy Sector; the positive being the limited amount of people able to protest.

Minister Sonya Savage’s comments

“Now is a great time to be building a pipeline because you can’t have protests of more than 15 people,” Savage said. “Let’s get it built.”

Savage’s comments came after she appeared on a podcast hosted by the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors. Her comments were in response to questions raised about the progress of the Trans Mountain Pipeline; the pipeline itself will run from Edmonton to Vancouver when completed and will triple the oil capacity of Trans Mountain, creating an additional 590,000 barrels of crude oil each day.

“As we go on and we get out of 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,” Savage is quoted saying.

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

As expected, Savage’s comments sparked a flurry of responses.

The Responses

Irfan Sabir, the Opposition New Democrat energy critic, said in a Global News article: “These comments do not come as a shock.” Sabir continues,

“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.”

Climate Activist Greta Thunberg referred to Savage’s comments in a Twitter post, saying “at least she’s being honest.” Thunberg’s comments are most likely in reference to the Alberta Government being named “most secretive provincial government in Canada,” which was an award bestowed upon the government by The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) earlier this year.

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) also responded to Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage’s troubling comments in which she attributed the sluggish construction schedule to protest that was more effective than industry.

“Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage should resign over Trans Mountain comments,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the UBCIC.

“Minister Savage’s remarks should worry anyone who values the democratic values of free speech and assembly. Effective protest and land defence isn’t dependent on large groups of people. Sometimes a small group of determined people can change the world, as we saw earlier this year.

“At the end of the day, TMX simply does not have consent of all impacted Indigenous Nations, and that is not going to change because of COVID-19.”

“While Minister Savage and the Albertan provincial government have canceled all environmental monitoring under the cover of COVID-19, they push for accelerated construction on Trans Mountain,” added Chief Don Tom, Vice-President of the UBCIC.

“Either both monitoring and construction are safe and reliable or neither are. We can’t just go back to business as usual after the pandemic emergency and ignore the climate emergency. We need a just recovery for all.”

Judy Wilson, Secretary-Treasurer of the UBCIC stated, “Alberta has now suspended all environmental reporting and monitoring in the tar sands with few timelines to resume. Recently, some of the world’s largest investment funds have announced they won’t invest in the province because of concerns around Indigenous rights, climate change and the environment. This isn’t something that is going away, and it is not an opportunity for Alberta Ministers to try to sneak through the pipeline.”

On the UBCIC website, from a page published over two years ago, it was reported: Over 20 Indigenous and environmental organizations delivered an open letter to 28 major banks, calling on them to “back away from funding the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (TMEP).”

The warning letter urges banks to “avoid the reputational and financial risk of supporting this destructive project, which is incompatible with realizing the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and respecting human rights, especially those detailed in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

“Mark my words, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project will never see the light of day,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of the BC Indian Chiefs.

The Double Standard

Minister Savage has yet to comment on the issue, however, her spokesperson, Kavi Bal acknowledged that the Minister was indeed on the podcast.

Bal also stated: “We respect the right to lawful protests.” The spokesperson continued, “I would note that the limitations to public gatherings… have benefited no one – including project proponents and any opposition groups.”

Government House leader Jason Nixon jumped to Minister Savage’s defence at a morning press conference. “Pipelines remain a priority of the people of Alberta and necessary for our prosperity and our future and we will continue as a government to do everything possible to get our product to market,” Nixon said. “Minister Savage was not saying that the Alberta Government in any way would prevent somebody from legally protesting. We believe in a democratic right to be able to express their views inside democracy.”

Premier Jason Kenney hasn’t commented on the issue so far either; however he is quoted in a Global News article as saying that “The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental right that includes both the freedoms of speech and assembly.”

Kenney’s statement is not in reference to energy sector protests however, it is instead in regards to the arrest of a Caucasian quarantine-protester, which happened in front of the Alberta Legislature earlier this month.

Some Reassurance?

But Kenney’s, Bal’s, and Nixon’s reassuring comments appear hollow, or at the very least “questionable.”

In June 2019, the Kenney Government created an “energy war room” to counter what he called a “conspiracy by foreign-funded interest to attack the province’s energy industry.”

“Critics say the theory behind that conspiracy has been debunked,” says the CAJ. “Instead, they say the war room, which has a $30-million annual budget, is an attempt to silence those who would tell the truth about Alberta’s oil patch and its contribution to the existential threat of global climate change.”

Also, earlier this month, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) lifted environmental monitoring restrictions for all oil and gas companies in the province. The lifted restrictions allow for Alberta oil and gas to suspend the monitoring of air, water, and wildlife around worksites.

Jake Cardinal is a Local Initiatives Reporter for Alberta Native News.

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