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BC Liberal leadership race: A Q&A with candidate Ellis Ross

Elis Ross is among six people seeking to succeed Andrew Wilkinson as leader of the party.
Ellis Ross
Ellis Ross is a two-term MLA for Skeena and one of six people seeking the BC Liberal leadership. Party members will elect a new leader in February 2022.

Ellis Ross was elected MLA for Skeena in 2017 and again in 2020. He currently serves as the Official Opposition critic for Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

Before running for MLA, he worked full-time as a taxi boat operator until the Haisla Nation Council asked him to be its first full-time councillor, which he was from 2003 to 2011, when he was elected chief of the Haisla Nation.

As councillor in 2006, Ross signed a $50-million agreement with Kitimat LNG to build a liquid natural gas plant on one of the Haisla Nation reserves.

In 2012, Ellis was appointed the inaugural chair of the Aboriginal Business and Investment Council. In 2014, he was the only First Nations leader among 25 Canadians invited by then-Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to a public policy and budget retreat.

His leadership website is at ellisrosscampaign.ca.

KTW:
Why do you think you’d be a better leader than your five opponents to lead the BC Liberals?

ROSS:
I’m basing that on what the BC Liberal members are saying and what British Columbians in general are saying — that we need change, not only from the BC Liberal perspective, but also British Columbians in the way we handle politics. That’s what I am. I am change. That’s where I came from. I came from change, I came from a community that changed in terms of our outlook on economic development, so I’ve done it before.

KTW:
What sort of change can you provide?

ROSS:
There’ a lot of change, especially when we talk about forestry management or forestry response in terms of wildfires, but ultimately what we’re really talking about is the BC Liberals going back to the grassroots people and actually listening and taking their perspective and incorporating it into the vision of B.C. that we all have in terms of our families and our communities.

KTW:
What is it you’ve heard at the grassroots level? What do the BC Liberals need to get back to doing?

ROSS:
Listening. And I made that commitment not only here in Kamloops, but in Maple Ridge, Abbotsford and Richmond that that change, in terms of getting back to listening to people, I’ll commit to that change.

KTW:
In 2005, on behalf of the Haisla Nation, you signed a $50-million deal to build an LNG plant on Haisla land. Should B.C. still be investing in fossil fuel projects considering climate change challenges such as the wildfire seasons we’re seeing now?

ROSS:
Well, what we were told when we first got in to the LNG subject almost 16 years ago was that it was a transitional fuel and we should be looking at all the initiatives coming up. I agreed with it then, but the thing about B.C. is we’re always striving to do better. There’s a lot more innovation coming up in terms of carbon capture, electric cars, but we’ve also got to deal with infrastructure to handle that, so I think we’re on a good track so far and we’re actually doing above and beyond what the rest of the globe is doing if you compare us to the United States or other countries around the world.

KTW:
The BC Liberals have lost a lot of support from British Columbians. We saw them with 77 of 79 seats when they were given a mandate in 2002. In 2017, they won just 28 of 85 seats. Why do you think that happened?

ROSS:
What I’ve heard from the people is we didn’t change with the times. We didn’t keep up with the demographics changing, for example, or the idea that more people were moving out of the Lower Mainland from Vancouver to the surrounding communities. We didn’t keep up with the idea that 50, 000 people were coming in to B.C. on an annual basis and we didn’t keep up with the idea that every single community was asking to be heard.

KTW:
What would you do as leader to turn those numbers around?

ROSS:
Get back into every community that I can possibly get in to, get in to every constituency and listen to them because we’re a diverse province. If you go from town to city, or even the small villages, we are very diverse. Our interests are different, but at the end of the day, we all want the same thing. We want a better future for our kids than what we had or maybe what our parents and grandparents had. That’s the success we had in Skeena and that’s what I plan to bring to the rest of British Columbia.

KTW:
B.C. is facing myriad challenges right now between COVID-19, wildfires, the opioid crisis and mental health and homelessness issues. What are your priorities for B.C.?

ROSS:
Number one, get rid of divisive politics. I’ve never agreed with politics that pit British Columbians against British Columbians. I don’t believe in that — never have. I’ve seen the example amongst my community and how it divided us to the point where we couldn’t even think about the future, let alone the present. This current government, practising a policy of dividing us, is one of the things I think has to go. It’s part of the recipe for a good, strong province.

KTW:
Turning to the pandemic, what’s your opinion on mandatory vaccinations for health-care workers?

ROSS:
I support the idea. My mother was actually in care during COVID-19 and she was trying to recover from cancer. There’s a number of reasons why I supported it. If we weren’t allowed to look after her and visit her, then I expected her not to get COVID-19 at the same time. I’ve heard many stories at the same time from people who’ve lived out similar circumstances. Personally, I don’t want to get COVID-19 and I don’t want to spread COVID-19 to anybody.

KTW:
Are you double vaccinated?

ROSS:
Pfizer. Two shots.

KTW:
What about hospital employees, and university students and faculty? Do you think there should be mandatory vaccination for those groups?

ROSS:
The government right now has to make a decision. This is a live issue right now and our leadership race isn’t on until Feb. 5 (2022) — and even then, we’ve got to campaign as a party for the next election in 2024. So, I’m really interested in what this government is going to do because this is historic in terms of global crisis, so I’m keeping a close eye on what both levels of government are doing — the NDP government as well as the federal.

KTW:
Do you support mandatory vaccination for students and faculty at universities?

ROSS:
Well, that’s really up to universities. From what I understand, each level of institution here is having different ideas and it’s really dividing them. I’ve really got to get into these institutions and actually hear what their opinions are and what they’re basing it on. There’s different rationales out there, so I’m not the kind of leader who directs from the top down. I take my direction from grassroots people.

KTW:
It’s been a particularly bad wildfire season. The province started taking a harder look at wildfires after bad years in 2017 and 2018, yet we’re right back at it. What do you see as the solution and how would you tackle the wildfire situation in B.C.?

ROSS:
First of all, I’d show up as a leader — in any type of crisis, doesn’t matter what it is. It does the people good to see their leader on the ground looking at some of these issues. I was invited by many people to visit Monte Lake and listen to the people versus what the NDP government was saying about them. That’s number one. Number two, if forest fires are going to be our future, as everybody says, then we’ve got to change our strategy. We’ve got to collaborate with communities, we’ve got to collaborate with ranchers and loggers and we’ve got to look at technology and innovations and actually become a world-class leader in fighting fires. That’s why I committed to creating an institute on forest fire prevention, mitigation and response. And listening to these people, it’s badly needed.

KTW:
One thing we’ve heard from people in Monte Lake is they’re being told to move off the fire and there’s too much red tape getting in the way of being able to action a fire before it explodes. How could you cut the red tape they’re saying is an issue?

ROSS:
Well, that works hand in hand with the institute we’re proposing, but I’ll say one thing in terms of the hypocrisy here. Trans Mountain pipeline construction workers reported a fire and put it out and there was no criticism, yet these ranchers and loggers I’ve talked to, especially the old-timers, they’ve had experience putting out fires, and yet they get criticized. I didn’t understand the difference. I don’t understand why we’re not working with communities and the members, especially those who’ve had experience fighting fires. All we really would have to do is ensure the training is there, at a higher level, and address the liability issues.

KTW:
In the last election, NDP Leader John Horgan came to Kamloops and promised a full cancer clinic within his current mandate. It was also a promise of the NDP in the 1990s. Would you commit to building a full cancer clinic here in your first mandate if you were leader and won the next election? If so, how could you go about building it?

ROSS:
Definitely, because it’s been promised twice now and this is what I don’t like about politics — the outrageous promises. It’s similar to what they promised in Surrey in terms of the schools. They said they’d get rid of modulars because the BC Liberals didn’t get rid of modulars, so what did the NDP do right after they got elected? They brought in more modulars. With cancer treatment centres being needed, especially in a regional centre like Kamloops, I believe if it’s promised, especially in two campaigns, it’s got to be delivered, and that’s one thing we already committed to.

KTW:
How would you get one here?

ROSS:
It’s a budget question. That’s what it is. I know there’s a lot of process in place, I know there’s a lot of policy you’ve got to address, but if this is delivered as a campaign promise, that’s got to be translated into reality, especially when there’s a need for this.

KTW:
Ellis, for people who don’t know you, what do you like to do for fun?

ROSS:
(Laughs) I like biking, long-distance biking. I like golfing, but I can’t currently because I’m recovering from a broken thumb. I like playing soccer and I like watching and reading about history, especially global conflicts. I like reading up on those and I like reading up on governments and how it affects regular people.