EDMONTON -- Climate activist Greta Thunberg isn't surprised by Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage's view on pipeline protests.

During a podcast hosted by the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors on May 22, Savage said the public health restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic are a positive for the construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion project.

“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.”

"At least we are seeing some honesty for once," Thunberg tweeted. "Unfortunately this how large parts of the world are run."

Government House Leader Jason Nixon was asked about the comments on Tuesday.

"Albertans want pipelines built," Nixon said. "Minister Savage was not saying the Alberta government in any way would prevent someone from legally protesting. We believe that people have a democratic right to express their views within democracy but at the same time, will continue to dedicate ourselves to being able to get our product to market.”

Once complete, the TMX project will triple the capacity of the existing pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby, B.C. to about 890,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen, lighter crudes and refined products.

Both Savage and Nixon said the government respects legal protest. 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.

With files from the Canadian Press.