The first two candidates have been confirmed for the Skeena riding in the upcoming provincial election set for Oct. 24. Here are detailed profiles of those candidates, as seen in the Oct. 1 print editions of The Terrace Standard and The Kitimat Northern Sentinel.
Ellis Ross – BC Liberal Party
Incumbent BC Liberal candidate Ellis Ross has announced that he will be seeking re-election.
Ross said he wasn’t fully prepared for this election to be called, so he hasn’t prepared for it in the usual way.
“I was really thinking, without a doubt, that the Premier wouldn’t call an election during a pandemic. So I really didn’t do any preparation,” Ross said. “I just kept on doing the job.”
Ross said he’s had a lot of positive experiences in his past three years as MLA, but has also had some sadder experiences, too.
“I’ve got a lot of good, positive experiences, but I also have some really sad experiences because a lot of what comes into our offices are people that are experiencing hardships in their personal lives and they share what they’re going through,” Ross said. “You can’t help but have that affect you. You take that home with you.”
Ross believes he gets these personal stories from people because he was a leader in the community before he went into politics, as Chief Councillor for Haisla Nation, and because people don’t see him as a typical politician.
“What I think it is, is people see me as somebody they can confide in, because I’m not a politician. I come from a labour background. I lived my whole life on reserve, basically, apart from 15 years of renting inside the city of Kitimat, but I don’t think people see me as a polished, professional politician,” Ross said.
This was Ross’s approach when he was on the Haisla Nation council, as well, and it helped him understand the peoples’ problems because he knew, personally, what the issues felt like that they were facing. It’s also something he’s been able to take with him into provincial politics.
“I could understand what our people were longing for because I was one of those people that were unemployed. I was on welfare more times than I could count, I was on unemployment insurance, I was always looking for a job. So, I can understand that.”
Ross said his priorities haven’t really changed over the years, and his main goal is still building a strong province for the lives of British Columbians.
“I believe in people, community, economy, and good governance. Good governance is going to tie it all together,” Ross said.
Apart from building a strong province, the one thing Ross really tries to talk about is purposeful division of British Columbians and British Columbia when it comes to campaigning and dealing with issues.
“I don’t believe that division should be used as an element of a campaign. I don’t care if you’re talking about the economy, Aboriginal issues, habitat management. The idea that we should be ‘us versus them,’ I don’t believe in that. Never have, never will.”
Ross said he believes there is a way to campaign, as well as deal with issues, under good governance, where everyone is included and people get what the people need.
“I can see the seeds of division being planted when an issue pops up and I think the strength of what I learned as chief and councillor was, you know, you’ve got to do your best as a leader to keep your community together, regardless of issue,” Ross said.
“We can have differences of opinion, we can have really good, strong debates, we can even have off-colour debates if you want. But let’s not divide British Columbia against British Columbia.”
Going into the October election, Ross said one of the things he’d like to change about himself and his leadership, if re-elected, is his level of patience when dealing with rhetoric and unfounded accusations and information, especially in debates.
“I’m not a fan of politics, especially ugly politics, and if there’s anything I could change, I think it would be my attitude towards the rhetoric and misinformation. I’ve got to be a little more tolerant of that,” Ross said. “If unfounded accusations or rhetoric comes out, then I have a tough time keeping my patience, and it shows in my demeanour, my body language. If there’s one thing I can do better as a public face, it’s learn to control myself better in public.”
Overall, Ross said he’s very grateful for the past three years he’s had as MLA, and especially grateful for the people he’s had around him during that time.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do this on my own if I had got elected and went to legislature,” Ross said. “If anybody gets into this game, I really strongly recommend that you get a good group of people around you to kind of guide you through it. There’s a lot of things that happen in B.C. Legislature that it’ll take you a lifetime to figure out if somebody’s not there to teach you.”
Nicole Halbauer – BC NDP
Nicole Halbauer has been selected as the BC NDP candidate for the Skeena riding.
She most recently worked as the chair of Coast Mount College’s board of governors, before taking leave to enter the race.
Halbauer previously sought the BC NDP nomination for the Skeena riding leading up to the 2017 election, but she lost that vote to Bruce Bidgood.
She said she has been considering entering provincial politics since the early 2000s, when she was a trustee for School District 82 and the BC Liberal government at the time ordered school districts to tighten budgets.
“We were told to close schools in our riding. Balance the budget or they would close our schools,” she said. “That really transitioned me to, no, we can’t have a government in place that their goal is to close schools and uses those kinds of tactics. That isn’t how you treat people.”
But at that time four of her six children were still living at home, so she couldn’t commit to a big political run, and she wanted to build her résumé further.
“My first thought was, you can’t just walk in there and say ‘I have a better idea.’ You have to have some credentials behind you. You have to have some knowledge,” she said.
In 2010, Halbauer began four years of studying criminology through Coast Mountain College and Thompson Rivers University. She then earned an MBA from the University of Northern British Columbia, finishing her studies in 2017.
“I raised my kids, I raised my family, I went to school, I got the degree. I started looking at things a little differently and with more information, and now I’m here,” she said.
Prior to her studies, Halbauer worked in health services, first as a community services coordinator for the First Nations and Inuit health branch of Health Canada. She later held roles with Northern Health and the First Nations Health Authority.
Halbauer also previously served as an elected councillor for Kitsumkalum First Nation — her mother’s community. She said that role prepared her for the sort of public pressure she might face if elected MLA.
“I was first elected as a band council member in my twenties,” she said. “I’m prepared. I understand how people respond to women in leadership, and it’s not new for me. It’s not new at all. I didn’t have a — what’s the word? — genteel upbringing.”
Halbauer said she highly values her time as band councillor.
“I held the health and education portfolios for my community, which is how I transitioned into being a school board trustee, and I really enjoyed working with my community to build us up,” she said. “I hope they feel I served them well.”
Halbauer said her experiences as a mother and a grandmother in the Northwest also greatly influenced her desire to become involved in politics.
“As a mother, I was always thinking how can I make this system work better for the children,” she said. “Now as a grandmother I am incredibly passionate about making sure my granddaughter never has to leave this region unless she wants to. So I want to make sure there’s housing here for her. I want to make sure she can get a quality education here. I want to make sure her parents have jobs here.”
And many of her policy priorities are determined by her family life as well.
“One of the things I’m most passionate about, because I was a single mom for a long time, is affordable housing. I think it doesn’t matter how many jobs you have [in a region] if people can’t find a place to live,” she said. “As well as childcare for women. Childcare for me made the difference. Our community’s Head Start program allowed me to be able to go to work and school while raising a family, and the fact that I had access to that is the only reason I was able to accomplish anything, let alone something like this, and I think that should be available to everyone in our riding.”
Halbauer beams when she speaks of her two-year-old granddaughter, who is also named Nicole.
“If you start me on my granddaughter, we’re going to be here all day. She’s two, and she’s my whole world,” she said, adding she was speechless when she learned her daughter had named her granddaughter after her. “I was the first thing she ever saw in this world. When she opened her eyes, she looked right at me, and the whole universe just changed for me. And when my daughter said ‘Mom, meet Nicole.’ I didn’t have any words for that.”