Debate during Question Period in the B.C. Legislature on Feb. 21, 2018 between BC Liberal environment critic Peter Milobar and Environment Minister George Heyman on the minister’s meeting with environmentalists before the government announced its bitumen policy.
P. Milobar: The day before his announcement, which directly triggered the trade war with Alberta, the Minister of Environment selectively disclosed information to a group of professional activists committed to shutting down Canada’s natural resource industries.
I’d like the minister to be very clear to this House. Precisely what information did he disclose to members of the Bowen Island group on January 29 ahead of the January 30 announcement?
Hon. G. Heyman: Well, the opposition started this question period by pointing out that they didn’t want to give British Columbians relief from a regressive Medical Services Plan premium.
Now they’ve moved on to demonstrate that they don’t really want to stand with 3,400 workers in the primary seafood sector on coastal communities. They don’t want to stand with the over 42,000 workers in B.C.’s film and television industry. They don’t want to stand with sport fishery tourism operators throughout all of the interior of British Columbia. They would rather just focus on exactly what I did in my role as minister.
If they want to know what I did in my role as minister, they should ask the Opposition House Leader, who set the pattern of consulting and informing stakeholders the day before a significant announcement.
What I told business leaders in British Columbia, what I told industry associations and what I told environmental organizations was no more and no less than a simple summary of what was public information the next day.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Kamloops–North Thompson on a supplemental.
P. Milobar: I think it’s safe to say that the minister has quickly forgotten their 16 years of opposition in terms of when something doesn’t seem quite right, you keep asking when you don’t get an actual proper answer.
So the minister’s former employer, the Sierra Club, issued a news release within minutes of the government announcement on January 30. Those releases typically take a little bit longer than a couple of minutes to get properly crafted and properly distributed on the wire. Yet, clearly, their release said they knew about the new restrictions on the shipment of bitumen within that release.
Did the minister reveal this market-sensitive information to the Sierra Club on January 29 — yes or no?
Hon. G. Heyman: I believe I’ve answered this question ten, 12, perhaps 13 times, so let me make it simple and clear for the member opposite. I’ve had nothing to do with Sierra Club press releases for well over four years.
Let me simply say that industry associations, other stakeholders, certain environmental organizations involved in this project, got notification on January 29 of the general content of the announcement that we were going to make. This is standard practice. Perhaps the member would like to consult with some of the business organizations about why they didn’t write their press releases earlier but they had exactly the same information.
As the member should know — and if the member doesn’t know, he could check with the Opposition House Leader — tax measures, regulatory decision-makers, like approvals of permits, can be market-influencing decisions. Intention to consult with British Columbians is hardly, hardly, in that category and certainly is appropriate to share with interested parties.
M. Polak: It is well-established practice within the Ministry of Environment not to share the content of regulatory announcements. In fact, they are kept confidential until after markets close, when announcements are then made.
Did the minister ignore the advice of his officials?
Hon. G. Heyman: What we announced on January 30 was the intention to consult with British Columbians about proposals that we might make as regulations. We followed standard practice of the ministry, and in fact, I took the advice of ministry officials to follow exactly the practice that was carried out when the Opposition House Leader was Minister of the Environment
Mr. Speaker: The House Leader for the Opposition on a supplemental.
M. Polak: In this case, it is obvious from the news releases that were generated from the Bowen Island group that they did have knowledge of the detail with respect to the regulatory announcement. Since the minister is claiming that he followed established protocol, will he then provide this House with any scripts or materials that were used in orderr to share the heads-up information with organizations?
Hon. G. Heyman: There was no regulatory announcement because there was no regulation. We announced the intention to consult with British Columbians on an intentions paper. We gave people a summary of what was public information in a news release the next day. That’s it. Full stop. Period. We gave the same information to the business council. We gave the same information to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. This is standard practice.
Members of the opposition can spend their time, if they wish, trying to make an issue where none exists. But British Columbians want to know when members of the opposition will stand up for tens of thousands of jobs spread throughout British Columbia and protect B.C.’s jurisdiction to defend its coast and its environment? When will they do that?
Source: BC Hansard (transcript)