The Post Millennial interviewed Ellis Ross, the B.C. Liberal MLA for the riding of Skeena to discuss Indigenous involvement, welfare, and public-private partnerships as it relates to British Columbia’s $40 billion LNG pipeline and terminal.
As an Indigenous man himself, Ross has been a long-time proponent of Indigenous involvement in developing pipelines. Advocating for LNG projects became an opportunity for employment and self-improvement amongst struggling bands, like Haisla First Nation.
Born and raised in Kitimat, Ross has seen the modernization and environmental improvement in his community firsthand. With more significant investment into energy resources in the area, he believes the community can continue to grow and flourish.
TPM: As someone who has encouraged responsible resource development for over a decade, what do LNG Canada’s approval of a new $40 billion terminal and pipeline in the region signify to you?
Ross: God, it addresses so many issues I dealt with as Chief Counsel, for my people, for my community, as well as for the region. I could see that the social problems my people were facing were mainly in part because they really couldn’t see a future for themselves. And in that, I could see why they couldn’t see anything worthwhile in life, so they just resorted to the wrong side of things like drugs and alcohol and suicide, and welfare, poverty.
There’s solutions out there to address these issues, and stating it’s solely the “white man’s fault” is a false narrative. We need to come together and uplift our communities. It was very eye-opening for me to think that this has got nothing to do a race, it’s got nothing to do with government. It’s got nothing to do with any of that.
It’s got to do with an individual’s opportunity to go and get a job and support themselves and support the people they love. That means that my dreams of this region prospering and all the people benefiting is starting to become a reality as we speak.
TPM: In a recent interview, you had mentioned this notion of an “Indian Act mentality,” which sort of suggests that, because of what happened in the past that everybody who was a victim of past transgressions will remain in that state. Does this new project help the process of reconciliation?
Ross: I’ve never tackled that, in a practical sense, because I could never define it.
I never really got in too deep on that subject. I just thought, look, if we want to address the native issues in Canada, an excellent place to start is getting the Aboriginals to a place where they can help themselves, and that means getting them a good job so they can become independent.
If we can do that, we can start talking about Reconciliation.
TPM: Coming from the only band in Canada to sign a tripartite agreement with the federal and provincial governments, allowing B.C. on reserve land to enforce their regulations on natural gas, does this exemplify the sort of relations you would like to see more of when it comes to resource development?
Ross: That agreement we’re talking about is called the Commercial Industry Development. And it was more of a jurisdictional agreement between Canada, the company to enforce regulations on reserve land.
That agreement highlighted something that I think needs to be addressed in terms of Reconciliation, because a lot of advisors and leaders didn’t understand that agreement, including provincial and national leaders who believed that I had found a way to giveaway land rights.
I sent a very scathing, critical letter back to one of these leaders that said, ‘look, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, maybe you shouldn’t even talk about it at all.’
What people don’t understand about communities like mine, is in terms of where we came from, and what we’re trying to accomplish. That agreement today still stands. It’s doing exactly what it was intended to do, and it’s seamless.
Let’s face it, my band does not have the capacity to enforce regulations on reserve or off reserve in terms of standards, or regulations set up by B.C. and Canada, but alone our policies and bylaws don’t really match up to what something like the B.C. oil and gas commission is actually set up to do. So this is very complimentary, it’s perfect.
A lot of synergy between Canada and private industry occurred because of my band. It helped [open] the door. Other corporations say, yeah, we can come in. And we could do business with a band like Haisla because they get larger issues at play here.
TPM: Canada’s federal regulator, the National Energy Board, will not subject the project to additional scrutiny. Is this due to better consultations with Indigenous communities in B.C.?
Ross: No, it was expected. When you look at the argument, I thought [the National Energy Board] was saying that federal jurisdiction applied to pipelines. It is a feeble argument to make in terms of pipelines. I do agree, yes, some of those pipelines, actually crossing the Alberta and other provinces, and those that cross into the United States require that added oversight. In terms of what we’re talking about here, everybody understood that the gas that was going to come from the northeast B.C., and therefore the pipeline situation was going to be entirely in B.C.
When I first saw this argument, I was hoping that the NDP would see through this and say, look, this is just another tactic to stall the project. If you control a project, that’s as good as killing a project, so I had a strong suspicion they would rule in favour only because B.C. has adequate jurisdiction over pipelines in B.C.
TPM: The 670-kilometre long pipeline is going to be entirely in B.C. Do you foresee the Horgan administration, making any additional attempts to delay the project, as we’ve seen with TMX?
Ross: I don’t see them encouraging any new pipelines or any new LNG plants in B.C. They’ve got a fundamental need to keep their junior Green partners happy. And the Green Party does not like the idea of large scale energy projects in B.C. Even though it’s all understood that we want to displace coal in India and China, and therefore they need a cleaner-burning fuel.
The Green Party refuses to acknowledge [pipelines] as one of the solutions to global warming. So I hope that the NDP government sees that getting LNG off the ground [to markets] like those in Asia. That’s the next step. I’m hoping our NDP government will get aggressive in getting these other LNG projects off the ground.
TPM: What would be your message to those from the Green Party or those who are firmly against any additional responsible resource development projects? What is your message to them to convince them that a pragmatic solution is needed rather than an ideological one?
Ross: The NDP has been very hypocritical. They say they want to protect the killer whale from increased traffic, but at the same time, they increase traffic. The cruise ship traffic is going to rise for Vancouver this year. And they have said nothing about the American tankers coming from Alaska to Washington State Park right across from Victoria. They said nothing about that.
Why are we listening to politicians who have no experience in oil and gas economics talking about how it’s a ‘dying industry’ when we know for a fact that China, India and other Asian markets are all screaming for our energy products?
Some of these contracts we’re talking about going to Asia, they’re like 20, 30, 40-year long term contracts. By the way, every time an LNG project gets shut down in B.C., the United States opens up another facility take advantage of us not being there in Asia.
This is why I don’t believe that politicians should be making decisions for the future because we politicians are not experts.
TPM: Do you think that encouraging private industry to invest in greener technologies to reduce the impacts of carbon emissions is more effective than instituting a carbon levy or a carbon tax?
Ross: Here in B.C., we’ve got many new taxes, we’ve taken the Medical Services Plan from the individual thing, and we put that on to the corporate, business community. We’re putting all these costs on the industry at the same time, and we think ‘Oh, yeah, and invest in clean technology.’
All these companies are so busy trying to look at their bottom line and figure out how much money is left over after they pay taxes. [Clean technology] seems to be the lesser priority when they’re just trying to stay solvent. The biggest victim is smaller businesses, and they can’t sustain this.
So if we’re going to have a climate change discussion, in terms of what the private sector is doing great, but let’s have the public sector do the same thing.
The public sector is travelling all over the place in their planes and cars, just like the regular private sector, private citizens. The solution has got to be all hands on deck if we want to tackle this problem. It can’t be just tax, tax, tax, where you take the revenues for everything under the sun, but fail to reduce our emissions, which is what is happening right now.
TPM: What would be something that needs to happen to sort of bridge the divide between the private sector and the public sector?
Ross: The one glaring problem that I can see is misinformation, and it’s intentional. It’s this idea that somehow Canadians are evil people, and we’re destroying the planet, and all we’re thinking about is money and energy, and blah, blah, blah.
So, I find that one of the biggest problems for me as a politician is how I am supposed to determine what the truth is and what the facts are? Even when I have all these resources at my disposal, I still can’t figure out who’s telling the truth. How is the ordinary citizen supposed to sift through all this?
There’s got to be a way for the average person to look at unbiased, non-political information in terms of what’s happening globally, nationally, potentially, regionally. At the very least we need to capture information together so that we’re not being misled.
TPM: Is this something that the B.C. Liberals need to do in terms of taking back the narrative on environmental conservation rather than preservation?
Ross: Conservation versus preservation? You know, we’ve had that discussion here in Kitimat for quite some time. I had this argument with one little lady, and she said we have ‘very few’ trees and can’t afford to cut down them all down. I said: do you know how many trees are in B.C.? Do you know how much land that cannot be touched? Just because of accessibility, or those trees are not commercially viable?
There are frickin billions upon billions upon billions of trees in B.C. There are so many different narratives that can be talked about reasonably if people came to the table with an open mind. The [higher standard of] living and the comfort that we have is because of resource development. We shouldn’t close the door on the energy debate.
Without discussing how you got that standard of living, how the electricity comes in the house, how that work comes into your home, how you tell the community, and how the hospital services are resources, it’s hard to have a discussion.
Nobody talks about business development, the benefits when you want to say no, but then enjoy the benefits of research development as we speak. So I think a narrative, yes, but definitely, we have to have a mature conversation about the realities of business.
TPM: With pipelines a deciding issue for the upcoming federal election, what would be the take-home message to those on the fence, regarding responsible resource development?
Ross: We are faced with a problem that cannot be solved solely with taxpayer dollars. There’s not enough money in the world to address the average listener in Canada.
At the very least, we should understand the rationale for First Nations’ of oil and gas projects. They want to be in a position financially where they can address their issues, on their terms, without heavy-handed governments behind the funding agreement telling them what to do with every nickel and dime.
This has been proven all across Canada and B.C. Right now, our First Nations are benefiting from revenues generated from natural resource development. They’re investing these monies into social programs that help people directly.
The results speak for themselves when you see less Aboriginal people going to prison and fewer kids going into government care. When we see less of our people sign up for welfare, it’s a sign of better, more hopeful days ahead.
It’s got nothing to do with being Aboriginal or our respective culture; the onus is on the individual. I’m grateful to have a job where I can put food on the table and provide my kids with a future worth believing in. It’s for that reason that many Aboriginals support responsible business development.