Interim BC Liberal Leader Shirley Bond announced the party’s critic assignments Monday, including making Skeena MLA Ellis Ross, a strong supporter of an expanded fossil fuel industry, responsible for environment and climate change.
When Ross, a former elected chief councillor of the Haisla Nation, entered provincial politics in 2017, he told The Tyee he had supported developing a liquefied natural gas industry since at least 2005, long before then-premier Christy Clark and the provincial government got on board.
Two years earlier he’d written a Vancouver Sun opinion article calling for more natural gas development.
“We have seen that natural gas is the cleanest of all fossil fuels, and that it can improve the global environment by offsetting dirtier fuels in Asia,” Ross wrote.
“Even the scientists and experts can’t agree what’s really going on, so how are we,” Ross says, before he’s drowned out by audience members yelling “bullshit” and “that’s a lie.”
On Twitter he clarified. “I said if the experts can’t agree, what are we supposed to believe as average citizens. I was going to add that we need impartial and rational discussions about this, but a few people started screaming out obscenities.”
The BC Liberal caucus didn’t respond to a request for an interview with Ross.
Bond said Ross has been clear he believes climate change is real.
“Ellis responded to those comments by being very clear and straightforward about the fact he recognizes the need to deal with climate change,” Bond said. “I think our party’s been very clear on that as well. I certainly have been. We’ve recognized the importance of taking strong and bold action on climate change.”
She said before appointing Ross she’d had a long conversation with him and that he’s passionate about clean air and clean water.
“He recognizes that we need to take bold and decisive action on climate change and he also has spent a lot of time in his role as chief of the Haisla dealing with issues like mitigation, permitting and all of those things.”
Both Ross and the party see the need to balance environmental protection with a strong natural resource sector, she said. “It’s not about the economy or the environment, it’s about both.”
Peter McCartney, climate campaigner for the Wilderness Committee, said “I’m a little surprised that Mr. Ross would be put into environment and climate change critic.”
Ross’s comments on global warming and his long promotion of the fossil fuel industry and LNG suggest the party should have had better options to fill the role, McCartney said.
“It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence,” he said. “I would certainly take it as a signal of the direction the party is planning to head.”
Any climate critic or minister responsible for the issue needs to recognize that addressing climate change means thinking about a world where the fossil fuel industry doesn’t exist, McCartney said.
The NDP government’s support for the LNG Canada project and the gaps in its climate plan should provide opportunities for a critical opposition, he said.
“It certainly appears that the current provincial government is relying on sort of magical thinking around innovation to get to B.C.’s climate targets, and that’s just not acceptable in the position that we’re in where we’ve already missed every target we’ve set.”
Instead, Ross’s appointment suggests the BC Liberals will continue their support for LNG and cozying up to the fossil fuel industry, he said.
Another notable appointment was Renee Merrifield as the health critic, making the rookie Kelowna-Mission MLA responsible for holding the largest ministry to account as the COVID-19 pandemic remains the government’s top priority.
Bond said that Merrifield, a developer and former Interior Health Authority board member, comes to the job with lots of related experience and will be well supported.
“We are going to respond to the COVID crisis in British Columbia in an integrated way,” she said. “I have said to all of the other critics that this will be a cross-critic portfolio in essence dealing with COVID.”
Here’s the complete list of appointments:
Advanced Education, Skills Training and Sport: Coralee Oakes
Agriculture and Food: Ian Paton
Attorney General: Mike de Jong
Citizens’ Services: Bruce Banman
Children, Family Development and Child Care: Karin Kirkpatrick
Columbia Basin Initiatives: Doug Clovechok
Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation: Tom Shypitka
Education: Jackie Tegart
Environment and Climate Change Strategy: Ellis Ross
Finance: Mike Bernier
Fisheries, Aquaculture and BC Ferries: Jordan Sturdy
Forests, Lands and Natural Resources: John Rustad
Gender Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion: Stephanie Cadieux
Health: Renee Merrifield
Housing: Ben Stewart
Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation: Peter Milobar
Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation: Todd Stone
Labour: Greg Kyllo
Mental Health and Addictions: Trevor Halford
Municipal Affairs: Dan Ashton
Public Safety and Solicitor General: Mike Morris
Rural Development: Lorne Doerkson
Seniors Services and Long-Term Care: Shirley Bond
Social Development and Poverty Reduction: Dan Davies
Tourism, Arts and Culture, and Anti-Racism Initiatives: Teresa Wat
Transportation, Infrastructure and TransLink: Michael Lee
Interim Leader: Shirley Bond
House Leader: Peter Milobar
Caucus Chair: Stephanie Cadieux
Caucus Whip: Doug Clovechok
Deputy Caucus Whip: Greg Kyllo
Assistant Deputy Speaker: Norm Letnick