When Ellis Ross first considered a life in politics outside the Haisla Nation, he saw himself at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, fighting to have the voice of his people heard at the highest level. He may soon get that chance, after accepting federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre’s offer this week to become the candidate for Skeena-Bulkely Valley in the next election.
“It’s an idea that never really went away,” Ross said in an interview.
“Six or seven years ago, the idea was to run for MP because I was looking for a way to make sure governments understood LNG was real, it was a reality we need to accomplish. But it just so happened the provincial election came first.”
Ross went from chief of the Haisla Nation to Skeena’s MLA in 2017, and then won re-election in 2020.
“The Conservatives never gave up on me, they kept asking me every election to run,” he said.
“I just thought, you know what, I think it’s time.”
Poilievre travelled all the way to Terrace this week to announce Ross’s candidacy, a sign the federal party views him as a superstar candidate to knock off current NDP MP Taylor Bachrach.
“We’re very blessed to have someone of his calibre,” Poilievre told the Terrace crowd.
“We want him on Parliament Hill so he can fight for the people here, and stand up for your values and your interests in Ottawa.”
The Feds’ gain is loss for BC United
It also represents a huge loss for BC United, just nine months before the provincial election. Ross was the party’s voice on Indigenous reconciliation and natural resource development, giving United credibility in arguing about economic opportunities for First Nations communities on pipelines, mining, natural gas projects and LNG.
“Mixed feelings, because I have a huge amount of time and respect for Ellis and he’s been a great part of our team,” said BC United leader Kevin Falcon.
“I also recognize he’s going to make a great contribution federally, and frankly we need his voice in the federal government, whether it’s opposition or government, because he speaks with clarity around Indigenous issues and he really understands how important natural resources, especially LNG, are to the future of this province and country.”
‘Quirky dream’ of LNG became reality
Former B.C. premier Christy Clark, who recruited Ross into politics, took to social media to praise the move.
“He was the only guy talking about LNG when the rules wouldn’t allow it,” she posted.
“Back then, Canadians and B.C. leaders all thought it was just a quirky dream. But Ellis was right.”
She said Ross “won’t be co-opted by the established order out there” in Ottawa.
Ross said his foray into federal politics completes for him a journey to understand the issues of governance and self-governance, which he started two decades ago.
“I never did stop my research on what true governance actually is,” he said.
“I matched it up with what I was seeing in the news and figured out who promotes the values of good governance, fiscal responsibility, law and order, and the more I found out the more I aligned with the Conservatives.”
Despite offers, Ross remains loyal to BC United
Some might interpret Ross leaving BC United on the eve of a provincial election as a vote of non-confidence, especially considering United’s dismal showing in current polls and the fact Ross lost to Falcon in the party’s leadership race in 2022.
Read our candid profile of Ross:
[Photo Chad Hipolito]
“I don’t want people to think this is me leaving because of a lack of confidence in our party,” said Ross.
“If that was the case I would have left after the leadership race. Because I’ve had offers. Even requests to go back to being a chief counsellor in our band.
“I said I’d stick around regardless of the outcome of the leadership race and to be honest Kevin Falcon has been really good to me. He sat down and listened to everything I had to say and I think the caucus now has taken a different direction and path under his leadership. I think people are underestimating him.”
Ross said Falcon didn’t get enough credit for adjusting the party’s shift to cut the carbon tax from fuels, considering the party’s history as creating the tax.
“I think he took an incredible risk for it, and I don’t think people are giving him enough credit.”
‘It’s time for another challenge’
Another factor in the move has been Ross’s recovery from memory loss suffered after he incurred a severe concussion falling off his bike last August.
Ross spent last fall’s legislature session keeping a daily diary to remind him of what he’d done and the people he’d met. For awhile, he thought every day was Friday.
“It’s gotten way better,” he said. “But I still don’t remember a thing that happened.”
Ross described the next phase of his career as a “challenge” he intends to rise and meet.
“It’s time for another challenge. It’s always scary, a challenge. It was scary to be chief counsellor, and MLA. But you have to try.”