Ellis Ross was elected the B.C. Liberal MLA for Skeena last year, after many years as councillor and chief councillor of the Haisla Nation at Kitimat. He has long been an advocate for resource development to provide employment and lift his community out of poverty and substance abuse. Ross spent two weeks as minister for natural gas development before the NDP and B.C. Green Party combined forces to defeat the B.C. Liberal government last summer.
Black Press legislature reporter Tom Fletcher spoke with him this week about his participation in a pro-resource development rally in Vancouver today, timed to coincide with the latest protest rally in Burnaby against Kinder Morgan Canada’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
ER: I was invited. Some people were talking about it and someone mentioned my name as someone who might be interested in speaking.
A lot of people were watching my videos on Facebook, and I went to the Manning Conference (in February) and talked about it there. Everywhere I’ve gone to, people have been asking me about what I was talking about. Other speakers (in Vancouver today) will be talking about specific industries, which is great, but I’ll be talking about the overall impact on our society, our elections, our government, and the economy of Canada.
TF: We’ve seen a lot of organized protests here in B.C. You’ve talked about outside influences and people in your community being recruited to oppose energy development.
ER: It’s like a really bad Hollywood movie. Canadians being recruited as actors, and it says it right on the application form: we’ll show you how to be an actor.
TF: There’s an application form?
ER: There is. There’s a number of different organizations involved, but it seems to me it branches out from the American funded organizations, like the Tides Foundation. But [the money] comes from the Hewletts, the Packards, those kinds of organizations.
Just on the surface, there’s been indications that the money that’s been influencing our elections has been manipulating people who have good intentions about looking at environmental standards, and overall trying to stop our resource development from reaching Asia. And after reading about all this, I wonder how deep does this go into our society? How ingrained is it in all levels of leadership, right down to First Nations leadership. Because it seems to me it’s all over the place, everywhere I look.
TF: It’s been going on for a long time, and some of it’s legitimate. Nobody likes oil spills. Do you think kids are getting a balanced view in school?
ER: No. In the campaign to become an MLA last year, I got beat up at high schools. I was told to expect it, about education and how the B.C. Liberals and teachers don’t get along. I was shocked to see that NDP buttons were handed out in high schools.
TF: You talked about resource development there?
ER: Yes. And some of the questions that students asked me were so detailed and so technical and so professionally written, I remarked to one student, ‘you know, when I was in high school, all I thought about was basketball and girls. I’ve got to commend you for coming up with such a brilliant question. Even most adults couldn’t come up with that kind of a question.’ And there was some awkward silence.
What struck me about it all was a student body, under 18, were actually so focused on exposing me as an enemy of education. I tried to explain to them that without these resource projects, and the revenues that come with it, you don’t have the resources to pay for schools and teachers.
TF: Another LNG project quietly closed its office in Prince Rupert recently, and this leaves Kitimat, in your consituency, as the most likely to be developed?
TF: That was pretty well orchestrated too, with Lelu Island the focus.
ER: I questioned [Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP] Nathan Cullen about that. I wanted to know if he’s going to support that type of initiative, but he does support LNG, why doesn’t he come and support Kitimat projects? That was when I was Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation.
TF: You go back to working for an LNG import terminal at Kitimat, before the shale gas boom in the mid-2000s?
ER: [Laughs] Yes.
TF: There was a Bloomberg News story this week about the next big shale gas development, in Saudi Arabia. They’ve got big shale gas deposits too, and that’s a dictatorship, so there won’t be any protests there.
ER: There will be no human rights, workers’ rights, no environmental standards. They’ll save so much money just on environmental standards.
TF: Are you still optimistic about the Kitimat area LNG projects? We’re starting to see reports in the business press about a projected shortage of LNG by 2020.
ER: I’ve been trying for the last 13 years to be optimistic. But the more I learn about Canadian politics, B.C. politics, the U.S. interference and competing countries, it’s hard to be optimistic. There’s a perfect storm of all these different initiatives at the same time, to stop LNG, Kinder Morgan, mining, forestry, increased corporate taxes, revamped environmental assessments, for one of the most difficult environmental assessments in Canada already.
It just seems like B.C. is hell-bent on keeping our resources from reaching Asia, but we’re OK with sending it to the U.S. at a discount. This doesn’t make any sense to me.