‘It’s A Fight We Continue’: Ellis Ross On The Importance Of Clean Air And Water

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The start of the week at the British Columbia Legislature saw some focus put on themes of Earth Day, which is being observed with a range of activities and educational options towards the message of the environment.

Monday found Skeena MLA Ellis Ross as one of the BC Liberal participants in the debate. Ross recalled his days as Chief Councillor for the Haisla Nation to share some of his observations on climate themes.

My council had started an environmental agenda in other areas, but mainly around the cleanup of the Kitimat valley as far back as the 1970s, when the eulachon run in the Kitimat River was decimated and anything left was tainted so badly it was rendered unfit for human consumption. 

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So it wasn’t a difficult transition for me to carry on that fight that my ancestors had started. Fortunately at the time, a decision by the court confirmed the obligation of the Crown to consult First Nations and an obligation to investigate infringements that came into existence in 2004. 

I was also fortunate to be part of a very progressive council that not only wanted to engage in the economy, but wanted to engage in environmental and permitting processes, firstly to learn, and then, in turn, to help higher those standards for projects like LNG Canada’s $40 billion LNG project and Chevron’s $32 billion LNG project. 

Beyond the work on LNG, the Skeena MLA tackled a few other areas where the Haisla were engaged on environmental themes, sharing some background on their efforts with Rio Tinto Alcan, shipping concerns through the Douglas Channel and the issue of raw sewage. 

Our approach to anything that came across our table was, and still is, quite simple: answer and approve on environmental questions before you talk economics. It was my band that opted for an environmental agenda with Rio Tinto Alcan for their $4.8 billion upgrade for their 60-year-old aluminum smelter, mainly because we just wanted a cleaner operation. 

We also viewed environmental impacts in all forms that included air, land and water. And water, to this day, is an especially difficult topic to address, whether it be our fresh or salt waters. 

Our collaboration with Canada’s TERMPOL process ensured that shipping in and out of Douglas Channel would be done safely, would avoid sensitive areas and confirm that no bilge or ballast waters would be dumped in our regions. 

As for rivers, we tried to stop all contaminants, including sewage, from being dumped into our rivers and oceans without primary, secondary and tertiary treatment. It’s a fight we continue with today. I think that the issues around raw sewage being dumped into our waters is turning into a provincial, national and international fight. 

The notion that it is somehow okay to dump raw sewage because the currents sweep it out to sea is delusional. The mere fact that Vancouver beaches have to close due to high E. coli levels should be worrying enough for all of us to pay attention and look for cost-effective solutions. 

In all these cases, we point out that these standards are only the floor and not the ceiling in terms of addressing environmental impacts, mainly because bands like mine, a long time ago, reaffirmed their commitment to rise to the challenge of climate change and protect our shared environment for future generations.

The full presentation to the Legislature can be reviewed from the minutes of the session.

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Written by Skeena Strong

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