Saturday, May 1, 2021

Approach to Economic Recovery, Lack of Support for Kitimat/Terrace Health Care workers on racism accusations among themes for Ellis Ross in Budget debate

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross tackled a number of topics in his opportunity to speak to the NDP Budget this week in the BC Legislature, the BC Liberal MLA providing for a Wednesday afternoon review of how he views the NDP's plans for governance coming out of their financial plan.

The BC Liberal MLA made note of the Government's roll out of travel restrictions, as well as a lack of focus on the economy and the NDP's plans for expanding deficits.

Mr. Ross also addressed the NDP government's handling of the issue of racism in the Health Care System, particularly the recent controversial situations found at both the Kitimat and Terrace hospitals. 

His opening notes were related to travel themes, a topic he would explore further in Question Period the same day, the MLA made note of the confusion of the last week since the plan was announced.

I understand the anxiety, the stress, of what British Columbians are going through. 

Not only in terms of the isolation that we've all strived to actually achieve, but also the anxiety of losing an income, of losing a job, of not being able to visit our loved ones in hospital or even being able to visit our loved ones down the street, much less across the borders. 

And now, given this, that we're where we can't actually interact — and we understand the reasoning why we can't interact — this B.C. government comes up with vague, confusing rules on travel restrictions in B.C. — currently, as we speak, right now.

Towards the Economic themes, the MLA called for some focus from the government towards planning for an economic recovery.

Whereas other governments are actually planning for their recovery, this government is actually going the opposite way, with spend, spend, spend. Yet everybody understands, at least on this side of the House. We understand what it means to get an economy back on track and how important it is to get that economy back on track. 

And I've heard a lot about it here today: "For the people." Well, what does that mean, apart from the job losses, apart from the revenues that are not coming into government? What does that mean? 

Ultimately, it means: how do we get our society back on track at the same time? Because that's what an economy does. A large part of our society, here in Canada and B.C., is actually based on a good, strong economy. 

And I know a lot of the members in here have never mentioned this before, because you've had the privilege of having an economy — took it for granted. 

Well, talk to any First Nation in B.C. or Canada that has no economy. Come to my village. We have no shopping malls. We have no car sales. We have a small, little gas station, but the biggest employer on our reserve is the chief and council. And it's not enough. It's not enough to depend on a job under chief and council. It's limiting. 

That's why you see so many First Nations branching out of their reserves and trying to engage in the external economy outside of their communities. 

And their reward is actually some of the answers that any level of government has not been able to address in the last 50 to 100 years. We're talking about the social issues — substance abuse, suicides, kids going into government care, people going into prison. 

This is what a strong economy does. This is why so many First Nations signed on to LNG, from Prince George to Kitimat. They were trying to use the economy to address their social issues. 

That's why it was so disappointing, for the whole time I was working on the LNG, from 2004 to 2017, to find out that the NDP were actually opposing it. 

Nobody came to my office to talk about: what did LNG mean to my community?  What did forestry mean to my community? What did mining mean to my community? 

And No thanks to this NDP government, things have turned around in my village. We're not talking about those social issues anymore. We're talking about what's next. 

We're talking about the $20 million condominium that we built right in the heart of the city of Kitimat. We're talking about how that's going to be the future for our people, our kids and our grandkids.

Of note for the Kitimat/Terrae region was some of his focus on LNG, with the Skeena MLA noting how a lack of support for LNG by the NDP government has seen a limited footprint for the LNG Canada project. 

He also explored how that lack of support for the industry has resulted in lack of progress for a number of other proposals for LNG development both in the region and across the province.

Meanwhile, our competitors will take advantage of that. They already are, given the politics of B.C. B.C. could only get one approved LNG project: LNG Canada. A $40 billion project — could only get one approved. 

So what happens in the United States? The United States admits that B.C. has some of the cleanest LNG in North America. So their proposal is to take B.C. LNG and export that same product off United States' shores. 

If there's one ask for a shovel-ready project that I'd ask the government to look into, it's doing an investigation on why Chevron cannot sell their 50 percent stake in the Kitimat LNG project. 

There's got to be a reason. It's been a year. It's fully permitted. The pipeline is permitted. The supply is there. The market is there. The terminal is permitted. You've got First Nations support from Prince George to Kitimat. 

Why can't they sell that project in a world hungry for energy? 

There's got to be a reason. If there's anything in terms of what could actually help the economy of B.C. recover, there it is. It's ready. Good to go. All we need is to understand why it can't be sold. 

And while we're at it, why can't Cedar LNG get off the ground? Cedar LNG in Kitimat. That's actually owned by the Haisla Nation. 

These are billion-dollar questions. I don't see this government anxious to answer them. Woodfibre, out of Squamish. These are all shovel-ready. 

Yes, I understand that there are no PST revenues that are going to come to B.C., because the B.C. NDP actually got rid of that. They gave LNG Canada a PST tax holiday. Understandable. So, you know, we can't get that in terms of revenues. 

We also understand that the 3.5 percent LNG tax is gone, thanks to the NDP. 

So we can't depend on those kinds of revenues, and we can't really depend on the revenues coming from the carbon tax above and beyond 30 bucks a tonne, thanks to LNG. 

We always hear the NDP talking about how the B.C. Liberals are always playing to the elite and their friends, and yet they gave the biggest tax breaks in B.C. history to LNG Canada, to the amount of billions and billions of dollars. 

I think those revenues would've really come in handy today. 

And Yet we're only talking about two trains for LNG Canada. That's all we're talking about. We still have two more trains, because LNG Canada expects to export 6.5 million tonnes annually. But with the additional two trains, they're actually talking about exporting 26 million tonnes annually. 

Can you imagine what it'll do to the economy of B.C. if Chevron gets off the ground? 

Why are we not talking about this? I mean, the hard work that was done by First Nations from 2004 to 2017, in partnership with the B.C. Liberals, is actually what made LNG possible. It could've made us one of the wealthiest, successful provinces in B.C. 

We still have an opportunity, given that there are more projects ready to go.

On the theme of Health Care, Mr. Ross stated that the current government has undermined the health care workers of the Terrace, Kitimat region. 

That in the wake of charges of racism  earlier this year, with the Skeena MLA calling into question the approach the NDP government has taken towards a blanket accusation of systemic racism across the health field and the impact that has had on doctors, nurses and other front line health care workers.

In one case, you're praising them, but on the other hand, you've undermined them. And for what? For a racism charge. 

To call the whole health care system…. Putting them under the category of being systematically racist. How can you, on one hand, praise our doctors and nurses and, on the other hand, accuse them of being racist? 

It's just a blanket accusation. This is not fair. This is not right. 

The doctors and nurses all across B.C. can't defend themselves. 

And yes, you say the health care system is systematically racist, but what does that even mean? The system for health care in B.C. is not just the hospitals. There's a number of different organizations associated with health care in B.C. There are committees. 

There's the doctors college, the nurses association. There are health authorities. Even us, as legislators, we're part of the health care system. We actually lay down the rules. 

Are you saying all these organizations and all these people associated with health care are racist? 

That is unfair, because the face of health care in B.C. are the doctors and nurses. They're the ones that are taking the brunt of these accusations. 

And for what? For politics. 

A good portion of the Skeena MLA's commentary was directed towards the current situation in both Kitimat and Terrace, with Mr. Ross noting of the impact that the issue has had on those working in health care in both communities. 

The doctors and nurses, especially in the hospitals in Kitimat and Terrace, have actually become the focal point of the racism charge in B.C. And the doctors and nurses there, in Kitimat and Terrace, chose to be there. They wanted to be there.

Now, after an eight-hour shift or a ten-hour shift of trying to deal with COVID, they have to go straight home because they're afraid for their safety. They go home to cry. 

Male doctors and female doctors, male nurses and female nurse go home to cry because they've been labelled as racists and they can't defend themselves. 

That is wrong. 

For this government to simply agree, to say, "Oh, yes, the whole system is racist," and not even deal with any of the specific allegations, not even deal with that…. 

Even the report that's going to come out of Kitimat, we're not going to see the results of that. It's not going to vindicate Terrace and Kitimat hospitals or the doctors and nurses.

And if the report is released, it'll be redacted, meaning key information will be left out. Mostly what we'll have to rely on is if any of these cases go to court. 

And That's going to take a couple years and that's what most politicians rely on, of course — the amount of time that it takes a case to go through the courts. And for what?

And we're seeing this not only in the health care system but other organizations where a blanket statement has been made in terms of racism, and then it's just left. Yeah, we'll set up committees. Yeah, maybe we'll tour the province. 

But it will not help those doctors and nurses who now want to leave Kitimat and Terrace, because not only do they feel bad for being labelled as racists; they fear for their safety. 

But they also fear for their family. They fear for their kids going out on the playground or going to school or their spouses going to work.

Nobody has made an apology to the doctors and nurses of B.C. — nobody. 

For the doctors and nurses that I have talked to in Kitimat and Terrace, who cried, saying that they're not racists, have also said that they have actually suffered along with their patients for the last ten, 20 years. 

They've sat beside the beds of patients, no matter what their race is, and cried with the families and patients. They didn't look at skin colour. They didn't look at anything. 

They were following the policies and procedures, but at the end of the day, they're human. When they witness suffering, they suffer too. They have feelings just like everybody else. 

So be careful with the politics. Be careful with the accusations, no matter what it is, but be extra careful when you're accusing an entire profession of being racist. 

If you do find incidents of racism, deal with it. Have an investigation. Get the witnesses on record. Deal with it, and make sure you put in some kind of policy where it doesn't happen again. 

I'm not naive to think that racism doesn't exist, but I don't think it exists in a system. Most likely, it could be in individuals, but I haven't seen it yet. In my whole lifetime of being a public leader, I have actually been called to three or four racism incidents. Out of those four, two of them came back that I could say, yes, that was based on racism — two of them. 

But I didn't condemn a whole system. I didn't condemn a whole organization. I just pointed out that it was a specific incident, and that was an individual responsibility.

The MLA's full budget response can be explored from the Hansard Archive, the full video presentation of his presentation to the Legislature is available here.

Both reviews begin at the 4:25 mark of the Wednesday afternoon session

For more notes on the Skeena MLA's work in the Legislature see our archive page here.

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