Thursday, February 27, 2020

In Budget debate, MLA Ross notes economic impact of changes in Skeena and work still to be done

MLA Ellis Ross took part in the Legislature Debate on the
2020 budget, speaking Tuesday in the House

A good portion of much of the debate in the British Columbia Legislature this week has been turned over to the discussion of last week's British Columbia Budget, with MLA's from all three parties speaking to some of the themes delivered in the NDP government's financial plan of last week.

Tuesday afternoon made for the opportunity for Ellis Ross, the MLA for Skeena to take to the Legislature Floor, offering some of his views on Finance Minister Carole James document as well as to offer up some background on the economic foundation found in his constituency.

He opened his review with thanks to those across the riding, from both the urban areas and First Nation communities for the support that brought him to Victoria, his presentation making for a snap shot of his time on the Haisla Band council and then his shift to the Legislature stage as MLA for Skeena.

I was honoured when I was asked to run for my own village council and was elected and found out that there is a whole pile of Aboriginal issues that have to be addressed. I was also honoured when I got asked to run for chief councillor and then got elected — surprised, but still honoured.

But taking on the bigger role to represent the riding of Skeena has been surreal. It goes beyond being an honour, because now 30,000 to 40,000 people want me to represent Skeena and put Skeena on the map and actually address some of the issues that are happening in Skeena right now.

So it's with great pride that I take my place in response to the 2020 B.C. budget. 

We're going through great change in Skeena due to the growth in our local economy. It's been steady over the years, especially when you talk about the mining outside of our riding that affects Terrace, and we're talking about the forest and range agreements that actually included First Nations in the forestry industry 12 years ago.

That actually helped it. But it's LNG that really has made our economy explode, and it has provided opportunity for all walks of life, not just Aboriginals. Everybody from all across B.C. and Canada are coming to Skeena for a job, whether it's directly with the LNG project, or some of the businesses that are popping up that are servicing the LNG project.

His overview traced much of the development of the LNG industry in the North, including the work that the Haisla put in towards attracting the LNG Canada terminal currently under development in the Kitimat area.

He also made note of the partnerships that were built during his time as Chief Councillor in Kitamaat, hailing the efforts of the then Liberal government on issues of housing, health care and economic development not just for the Haisla Nation, but for the larger Kitimat and Terrace communities.

Of note from his commentary, the recent success found towards the Mills Memorial Hospital rebuild project.

When I was chief councillor, I was asked if I could join the effort to lobby to replace the Mills Memorial Hospital, so I did. I went and toured the hospital three times. I actually used to go to that hospital at times. 

My family used that hospital a few times. I was surprised at how run-down it was. When the B.C. Liberals came to town one year, and they said, "Yes, we're going to make a commitment to replace the hospital," I thought: "We're on a great path. We're on a good road. We've got to keep it up." It wasn't me. I didn't do it. It was actually the people of Skeena that relentlessly kept up the lobbying effort. It was them. 

They actually brought in First Nation chief councillors to come in and tour it and join the fight. So all the First Nation leaders came in from all the surrounding areas, toured the hospital and said: "Yes, we need this." 

So After 2017, when the B.C. Liberals won the election but lost the Legislature, it only made sense to keep up the fight. 

Because given what was coming to Skeena in terms of LNG, a lot of different areas were going to have impacts that would need assistance — from corporations, provincial government, federal government. 

So it was very gratifying for me to go back and congratulate all of those people back home when we saw Mills Memorial Hospital in the five-year capital plan of this 2020 budget. 

I congratulated all of those leaders for all of their work. Some of those leaders aren't even with us today.

Other themes addressed in the MLA"s expansive review of political themes were Reconciliation efforts, Revenue sharing options including the work of the Resource Benefits Alliance in the Northwest, He  also called attention to the need for attention to the Transportation infrastructure and the need expanded health programs.

He also made note of the need to continue to build up First Nation communities through economic opportunity and address social issues around British Columbia.

Noting how Skeena has become a major economic force for the province, Ross weighed in on the current level of protest found not only in the Northwest but across BC and Canada.

Skeena is now becoming one of the major economic drivers behind B.C.'s economy, just because of the LNG initiatives. I mean, a $40 billion investment. Then right behind that, you're talking about a $20 billion investment for KLNG. 

You're talking about a $1 billion investment for Cedar LNG. You're talking about a $1 billion investment for PTE, which is basically propane. 

But It took a lot of work to get here — 15 years of hard work, of consultations and accommodation, which actually equates to reconciliation. 

That's the goal: reconciliation. Every community from Prince George to Kitimat, including one community down channel, the Gitga'at, participated in these processes. 

So it's quite disturbing to find out that the member for Nanaimo said that she supports the protests. 

I support protests, as long as you don't obstruct anybody's way of life. It actually defeats the purpose of reconciliation when you block ports, when you block railways. 

And then the people that depend on those goods and services, who have no idea about rights and title and have no idea about LNG, can't get to the hospital. 

This is not the way to get to reconciliation. If anything, it's setting us back 20 years, because there's going to be a lot of animosity, only because 99 percent of the story isn't being told.

Mr. Ross's closing comments  made for a call to continue forward and to build on the achievements found across the Northwest so far.

We definitely do not want to go back in time. We do not want to force out the private sector. They're the ones that are keeping our communities together. The private sector is the one that allows us to have the opportunity to keep our kids from leaving our towns. 

In search of jobs, in search of a life. You give them a choice to stay home close to their family, and we get to visit our grandkids. That's part of my selfish motive in that equation. 

But a lot of people in Skeena like this idea, Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal. In fact, if anything, for the LNG project happening right now, I get a lot of non-Aboriginal grandparents coming up to me, thanking me because their kids moved home with their grandkids. 

 It's a tough choice, and that's what these leaders of our municipalities and our First Nation communities had to balance. 

How much do we do this in terms of the environment versus the economy, in terms of the future of our communities? It's a very tough choice to make. 

But it's getting tougher, and this budget is making it even tougher, not just for Aboriginals but for our communities and the private sector.

The full transcript of his comments of Tuesday can be found here.

The presentation to the Legislature can be viewed from the Chamber Video here, starting at the 4:56 PM mark.

For more notes on Mr. Ross's work at the Legislature see our archive page here.

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