Monday, September 18, 2017

Hopes for LNG, concerns over hospital replacement among themes for Skeena MLA Ellis Ross

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross provided his Budget update response
for the Legislature on Thursday

As we noted over the weekend, part of last week's debate and discussion on the newly introduced Financial update from Finance Minister Carole James was turned over to individual MLA's who offered up their comments related to the plan for the future from Premier John Horgan.

Last Thursday afternoon, North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice provided her positive look at the path being blazed by her party as they settle into governing the province, earlier in the day, another voice from the Northwest had been heard, as Liberal Skeena MLA Ellis Ross made his first major speech to the Legislature for the fall session.

Mr. Ross speaking in the morning session, made note of the people that had elected him to office and what they hoped to see him achieve as their representative in Victoria, particularly when it comes to the economic development for the riding that spans the southern part of the Highway 37 corridor.

 I met a lot of people during the election at the door-knocking, and I heard a lot of different views about which direction we should head. Despite all the different opinions, everyone agreed on the final destination. The common denominator always came down to economic development and specifically the jobs that come from economic development. Kitimat being an industrial town, Terrace as a service hub and Nisga'a trying to implement their historic treaty — all wanted jobs for their members. There was a common desire to see all of the abundant resources that we have in the north used to directly benefit the people in the region.

On that theme of development he provided some personal reflection, particular when it comes to LNG in the Northwest, noting that originally he had been opposed to the concept of developing LNG terminals in the region, but after consultation with his fellow councillors on the Haisla Council of the time he came to shift those opinions.

I want to provide this House with a northern perspective. In 2003, I opposed any development of any kind, including forestry and LNG, but a few of my fellow wise councillors encouraged me to first look at my people's social and economic situation before deciding my mandates, which I did. I explored it.

In turn, I was discouraged by the high unemployment, the drug and alcohol abuse, the poverty and no future. I was more discouraged by politicians over the decades who promised a better future but never delivered anything over those decades. It was then I decided to take on a new approach and path to self-reliance, independence and self-determination. The success of our council is still being felt today, although not as strong as a few years ago.

Our engagement, which facilitated — not blocked, not stalled, but facilitated — the optimism of LNG exports and port development, positively impacted the region and the province of B.C. and, dare I say, Canada. Businesses flourished, hired more people, and workers came in from all over the province and Canada. There were lineups in restaurants, mortgages acquired, and dreams came true for the people in Skeena.

Mr. Ross also observed that while some of the high profile projects proposed for the Prince Rupert area have since been cancelled, the Kitimat plans remain active for now, however for the Legislature the MLA for Skeena had some cautionary words on how he views the NDP approach for the industry.

The PNW cancellation was a huge blow to northeast and northwest B.C. Now Aurora LNG in Prince Rupert has ended their feasibility study and will cease all investigation activity. My sincere condolences to those projects and the people affected. But Kitimat projects are trying to hang on. The billions of dollars of investment that are proposed for my riding are still there. In fact, in thinking about this overall approach, none of this makes sense to me when we're talking about LNG. 

While the rest of the world is looking to LNG to reduce emissions, forces in B.C. want to keep B.C. LNG out of the solution for global warming. Everybody else sees it as a solution, as a clean-burning fuel source — China, the United States. Everybody sees it. Even Germany is going to start looking to LNG to reduce emissions. 

B.C. wants to stay out of that game. 

They do not want LNG to help with the global warming issues all over this world. So we can pat ourselves on the back to say, "We're doing our part," but in effect, we're not doing our part because we're not helping China."

Taking further to the theme of the Budget document of Monday, Mr. Ross called attention to one particular absence from the narrative of the Finance Minister.

I've heard that this government supports LNG, but it wasn't even mentioned in the Finance Minister's budget update speech. That concerns me honourable speaker. I haven't seen anything in this budget that reflects the incredible opportunity that LNG export offers to the growth of B.C. and to reduce China's emissions, or to lift First Nations out of dependence and the Indian Act. I can't tell you how disappointing that is to the people of the Skeena riding.

Mr. Ross also explored some interesting themes on the nature of relations between the provincial government and First Nations communities, particularly when it comes to some of the recent NDP commentary on how to further engagement and how he has some concerns over some of their proposed initiatives.

Another local concern for the MLA is the fate of the new Terrace hospital project proposed in the Spring, with Mr. Ross noting that it was not part of the information flow from Monday's budget update.

In terms of the hospitals in B.C., it's well known that Terrace residents have been waiting a long time for a new hospital. In fact, everybody in the region that uses the Terrace hospital and uses Terrace overall as a hub have been waiting for a new hospital.

One of the reasons that we can't attract new doctors and nurses to the north is because they come to see the poor facilities that we currently have, and they see no future for themselves or their families. We have a strong population up there that needs medical services like everybody else — just like everybody else in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island ... 

Both parties, leading up to this election, agreed that the Terrace hospital would be replaced. In fact, it was in the February budget. It's not in this current budget.

People in the north know that without economic development, facilities like a new hospital just won't happen for people in the north. 

It's a shame, because there are many people and organizations who spent years advocating for a replacement of their hospital 

If this government and the Green Party do not support LNG, then hopefully, you'll agree that the region needs to be prepared with an up-to-date hospital and infrastructure. I just don't see the Terrace hospital being replaced. If not in this budget, hopefully the next budget will cover it.

The theme of transportation also made for a portion of the wide range of topics introduced to the Legislature on Thursday, with Mr. Ross reviewing the recent application by Greyhound to suspend service across the Highway 16 corridor and beyond, issuing a call for action from the new Transportation Minister.

I also mentioned earlier that we have to travel greater distances in the north just to get around. So you can imagine that people in my riding of Skeena and, in fact, all over northern B.C. are devastated with the news that Greyhound wants to pull out of its northern routes. 

If Greyhound does get approval to end its bus runs in northern British Columbia, there will be a major gap for those who want to travel Highway 16 on the corridor west of Prince George. Greyhound says that the new B.C. Transit bus service along Highway 16 that the former Liberal government brought in poses too much competition. 

Just when we had the combination of services finally covering local needs, we now have a potential pullout by Greyhound, and it is a safety issue honourable speaker. We are hearing from the relatives of people who lost family members along Highway 16, and they are extremely upset about this. 

So we are waiting to hear how the provincial government is going to respond, and we'd like to hear soon. I've seen previous applications for other regions for the same kind of reasons, but other regions don't have the same safety concerns that we have. 

Our highway has been named the Highway of Tears. So I am calling on the government and the Minister of Transportation to act fast before we lose this invaluable service.

The concerns over health care and the service provided by Greyhound made for part of the larger ten minute overview of Thursday that highlighted what the Liberal MLA called the divide he currently sees in the province and the need for a bridge between rural and urban British Columbia.

You can review the full text of the speech from the Legislature Archive and view Mr. Ross's presentation to the Legislature from Thursday Mornings Chamber video archive.

The Skeena MLA begins his budget response at just after the 11 AM mark.

For more items related to the work of the Skeena MLA in Victoria see our archive page here, while our archive of notes for North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice can be found here.

A wider overview of the political scene in Victoria is available on our political portal D'Arcy McGee.

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