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B.C. environment minister denies wrongdoing after giving heads-up to activists over bitumen

B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman, front, and Attorney General David Eby listen to a question during a news conference about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday August 10, 2017.
B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman, front, and Attorney General David Eby listen to a question during a news conference about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday August 10, 2017. Darryl Dyck/CP

B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said he did nothing wrong when he gave the heads up to a group of environmental activists the day before formally announcing his government was going to consult on restricting the flow of bitumen through the province.

The BC Liberals are questioning whether that meeting was against the rules.

“They are trying to create a story where there isn’t one,” Heyman said.

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“It’s normal practice. The only things that are not signalled are tax measures or regulatory decisions.”

Coverage of Trans Mountain on Globalnews.ca:

On Jan. 29, Heyman provided a heads up about the announcement to environmental groups as well as the Business Council of British Columbia and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). The information that was provided to those groups by the B.C. government included a summary of what Heyman described as information that was going to be made public the next day.

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The next day, on Jan. 30, the province sent out details that the province was consulting on limiting the transport of bitumen by rail or pipeline.

That night Heyman went to Bowen Island to meet with the “Kinder Morgan Strategy Group,” a group of environmentalists who are against the pipeline. Included at that dinner were well known  environmentalists Tzeporah Berman and Sven Biggs.

“Our ministry informed all relevant stakeholders about the content of the regulations we were going to bring out for consultation,” said Heyman. “We are not trying to pick a fight, we are trying to defend B.C.’s interests.”

The consultation on restricting bitumen flow has triggered a trade battle between B.C. and Alberta. Following the announcement, Alberta banned the shipment of B.C. wine into the province and has now taken out a full-page newspaper ad in B.C. papers.

READ MORE: Alberta government says B.C. breaking ‘rules of confederation’ in full page newspaper ad

The BC Liberals have also raised the issue of Kinder Morgan Ltd. Canada’s stock value; members of the party have accused the government of disrupting the markets by revealing information early.

The stock price on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) went from $17.37 on Jan. 29, the night of the meeting on Bowen Island, to $16.80 the next day when the release came out. Since then, the stock has risen, hitting a peak of $19,97 on Friday, Feb. 16.

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BC Liberal MLA Peter Milobar also raised the concern that stakeholders were told the changes would mean an end to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

One of the groups that met with Heyman was the Sierra Club, an organization the now-environment minister once headed.

“The minister’s former employer issued a news release within minutes of the announcement. Those news releases typically take longer than a few minutes before they’re properly distributed,” said Milobar.

“Their release said they knew about the new restrictions on the shipment of bitumen.”