By Rod Link
SPEAK to Skeena Liberal candidate Ellis Ross on any issue and the conversation quickly comes down to providing jobs.
It was the focus of his eight years as a Haisla Nation councillor followed by five years as chief councillor before resigning last fall after Premier Christy Clark appointed him as her candidate for Skeena.
Although Ross does say it took some persuading by Clark to be her candidate, two key factors stood out.
“Economic development that provides jobs and also good fiscal management. We’re in total agreement on those two issues,” said Ross of Clark.
For Ross, who has just turned 52, the matter of jobs hits close to home.
A father of two daughters and soon to be a grandfather for the second time, he wants one daughter now living away to return home.
But that won’t happen unless there’s more employment here.
“You know I was speaking to the Sikh community [in Terrace] and that’s what they said: ‘We want our kids to come home. We just want them to come home to a job,’” Ross said of what he’s encountering during the campaign.
Ross is, however, quick to point out that it is not a government that can actually provide or create a job.
“It’s really up to yourselves. It’s your dream, your vision, your wish list and when you are ready to display it, that’s when you call in your government.”
It’s a position he honed during his years with the Haisla Nation.
Because Haisla Nation traditional territory takes in the Douglas Channel with its access to the Pacific Ocean, many companies appeared with a myriad of proposals, seeking approval for development.
Most lacked the essential elements of having a market for their proposal or in having adequate financing or obtaining environmental clearance from senior governments, Ross said.
“There were run-of-river [hydroelectric] projects, coal export projects, smaller natural gas projects – the list goes on and on,” he said.
But one industry did stand out and that was liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the Haisla Nation was quick to leverage its territory with companies who wanted to build LNG plants in the region to take advantage of the Douglas Channel’s access to the Pacific.
It struck a number of deals with both LNG producers and the companies that would build the pipelines to those companies.
The result was a temporary employment and financial boom which has now stalled because of poor markets for LNG.
One project that was shelved was particularly disappointing to Ross – Douglas Channel LNG. At less than $1 billion, it would have been a very small development as LNG projects go.
Douglas Channel’s main backer was AltaGas of Calgary, the parent company of Pacific Northern Gas whose existing natural gas pipeline would have fed the LNG plant.
The Haisla were supporters of Douglas Channel through an equity stake in the project that along with other benefits.
It was as close to a perfect package as one could expect but poor market prices brought its development to a halt in early 2016.
“We were so close,” recalls Ross. “After 12 years of working on LNG, we were so close. But I can’t quit. Just can’t quit,” he added of continuing efforts to find a way of creating employment.
One event during Ross’s years on the Haisla Nation council helped solidify his appreciation of the BC Liberal government and Clark and its philosophy that aboriginal progress depended upon economic success.
That was the acquisition by the Haisla of a substantial amount of land, essentially enlarging its reserve lands, so it could benefit from LNG and other companies seeking to set up shop in and around Kitimat.
“No other government had done that. Hers was the first,” Ross said of Clark.
Ross’s chance of electoral success rests on taking enough of the aboriginal vote away from its traditional home, the NDP.
He has the backing of Kitselas First Nation chief councillor Joe Bevan. “We have the same vision for economic development,” said Ross.
He admits it’s a tough job convincing aboriginal voters to switch to him.
“I don’t know why they vote [for the NDP],” said Ross.“I can’t get a good answer. It’s just that historically they’ve voted NDP. If they can see that resource industries are key to their future, they are actually in-line with the BC Liberals.”