Friday, February 16, 2018

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross returns to familiar themes in new session debate

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross was one of the featured speakers for the Liberals this
week providing a review of the NDP Government's Speech from the Throne
(From the BC Legislature Video Feed)

The fate of LNG development in Northern British Columbia was once again on the mind of Skeena MLA Ellis Ross this week, as he took up a prominent spot in the line up of speakers in the opening week of the new session of the Legislature.

The Liberals dedicated a good portion of their week towards energy issues and how the NDP government is handling the challenging elements of the energy sector, with Mr. Ross returning to his review of how the BC Liberals are letting LNG opportunity fade for many communities across the north.

Mr. Ross comments came as part of the Liberals response to the NDP government's Speech from the Throne, which the Skeena MLA observed was a presentation that is overshadowed by uncertainty for the province.

Among some of the areas of concern that the MLA noted was the nature of protectionism building in the United States and the impact it could have on many of the province's resources, with Mr. Ross calling attention to the current state of relations between BC and Alberta, where the province is involved in what he called an escalating trade war.

The MLA observed that much of that uncertainty has come as part of the NDP's desire to stay in good favour with their Green partners,  noting that the current dispute with Alberta has in a short period of time, begun to tear apart a long lasting relationship with that province.

The members opposite are very fond of demonizing the previous government over the course of 16 years, but it took this minority government little more than six months to ignite a trade dispute within our Confederation. They have turned a prosperous trade relationship between B.C. and Alberta into a dumpster fire. The B.C. wine industry is the first smoldering victim of this trade dispute. Our natural gas will be the next.

When it comes to the prospect of development of Natural Gas the MLA reviewed what has become a significant issue for him recent months, that of the engagement of environmental activism funded from American sources,

The throne speech talked about jobs, but given the attack on Kinder Morgan, the threats toward the fish farm industry and now what's happening in the wine industry, the only jobs being created here are environmental activisms that are being funded by the United States.

We don't need to fund those. They've already got funding coming from outside Canada. Their sole goal is being accomplished. They don't want Canadian oil and gas products traded to Asia, where they can fetch a higher price.

Towards development of LNG in the Northwest, Mr. Ross asked why the NDP government was not pushing to support projects that would provide for thousands of jobs across Northern British Columbia and deliver at least one LNG facility for the Kitimat region.

So why isn't this NDP government willing to stand up to fight for these jobs, fight for the 4,000 jobs to build one LNG facility in Kitimat, fight for the additional 3,000 jobs to build an LNG pipeline from the northeast to the coast?

Why can't this be a priority for the government? According to the Green Party, LNG should in no way be a part of the future of British Columbia. As a matter of fact, the leader of the Green Party interrupted the Premier's efforts to promote trade in Asia with a simple tweet.

The MLA also turned to how LNG development had support in many First Nations communities and the moves of the coalition of the NDP/Greens is telling those communities that the status quo is going to continue to exist for a long time.

There were almost 500 agreements signed between the government of British Columbia and First Nations. In fact, the number of agreements signed between British Columbia and First Nations is unprecedented in our common history — more than 190 agreements since the 2014 Supreme Court decision regarding the Tsilhqot'in.

These agreements range from everything from clean energy agreements to mine-related revenue-sharing agreements, LNG agreements and, specifically, pipeline benefit agreements for those First Nations along the rights-of-way. All of these can make a major difference in the future of a First Nation.

When the NDP and the Green Party start telling the world that pipelines will never go through, that LNG is not part of the future, you're basically telling the First Nations that the status quo is going to exist for a long time: "You'll have to live with your unemployment.

You're going to have to live with your poverty." And why? Because the NDP and the Green Party are more concerned with preserving their fragile minority government at the expense of people like Aboriginals or wine producers in this province. You have to wonder whose side this government is on.

The topic of the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples Rights also made for some of the background to the twenty five minute address to the Legislature, with Mr. Ross noting that while he does not oppose the declaration that has come from the United Nations, he does have concerns over how it will be implemented, outlining a number of areas where he still has questions about how it will be rolled out.

To bring in UNDRIP, undefined, and not to explain what it means in the context of rights and title is setting up First Nations for failure. Even when you talk about the United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples as being a human rights document…. I don't understand that either. Are we saying that a single person that doesn't represent First Nations interests or is not a leader or is not elected…? Can they stop resource development projects? Do they have to be consulted?

When we're also talking about UNDRIP, I question what it means in terms of strength of claim. Given the case law around rights and title now — especially strength of claim, specifically strength of claim — does this mean that I, as an Aboriginal, can claim Vancouver Island because my ancestors used to canoe there? This is what rights and title case law says. Your claim is based on your evidence so there are no frivolous overlap disputes between First Nations.

This is my fear — that First Nations will end off fighting each other because of frivolous claims over each other's territories that they have no right to claim. Current case law in B.C. and Canada speaks to this. If this does happen and UNDRIP does get implemented and First Nations do end up in court to dispute this, First Nations will spend all their money going to court instead of spending their time trying to build a better life for their members and their future members.

The Skeena MLA also tackled some of the poverty reduction plans that the NDP have outlined in recent weeks, observing that for the most part, those are themes that have been approached before and in his opinion, programs that haven't had much in the way of success.

If you want to talk about a good anti-poverty reduction plan, come to my community. A good anti-poverty reduction plan, the simplest one, is a job. Give them a job. Don't make them unemployed just to prove that your poverty reduction plan works. Support resource development. 

 By the way, the education…. That's a good point. Come to my reserve. Our plan for education failed, because what's the point of educating people if there are no jobs? Come see the unemployment level in Kitimat. See how discouraged people get when you educate them and they find out that they've got to leave the territory. So they don't leave the territory. 

 What you guys are trying to do here has been tried across reserves all across Canada: spend, spend, spend, but let's not build an economy. Let's not provide jobs. If you're talking about sustainable jobs through government, that's what the Indian Act provides. 

That's only sustainable under taxes, and any government that gets in can take those taxes away. Indian Act funding is what put First Nations in the awful position that they're in today. You guys are speaking like you know what these issues are. Come live in a reserve for a few years. Come try to govern at the council level and see how frustrating it is.

His commentary for the House wrapped up with a look ahead towards next week's Budget presentation set for February 20th, with a reminder of the perils of ignoring fiscal responsibility and the need to ensure that all options for revenue streams are explored, including those of resource development.

You can review the full transcript of his remarks from the Hansard archive page here see the index at 18:10.

The video presentation to the House is also available through the  Chamber Video Archive listing for Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Ross begins his remarks at the 6:10 PM point of the session.

We have two archives of note related to provincial politics in the Northwest, one each for the North Coast and Skeena ridings, you can review those below:

North Coast


For a larger overview of the provincial scene see our political blog D'Arcy McGee.

To return to the most recent blog posting of the day, click here

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