Ellis Ross Contests BC Liberal Leadership

By Aaron Ekman

Aired March 13th, 2021: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndr91ZdO2Z4

With positioning around the BC Liberal Leadership question well underway and many names circulating as possibilities, the MLA from Skeena: former Haisla chief councillor, Ellis Ross emerged yesterday as the first to formally declare his intention to seek the office.

Ross is a unique character to say the least. Contrary to what one might assume, he's pro-development, pro-pipeline, and in particular - Pro LNG. Ross views the federal Indian Act as more "irrelevant" than oppressive, he disputes interpretations of the 1997 Delgamuukw decision which elevate the territorial authority of hereditary chiefs over that of elected band councils, restricting jursidiction of the latter to Reserve-land only, and he regards UNDRIP as not only unnecessary, but inferior to previous agreements reached locally between many Nations in Northern British Columbia and the Crown. Perhaps most controversially, Ross has described "Reconcilliation" as mostly theatrical, regarding it to have been largely accomplished through previous land and title negotiations.

Ross is additionally unique in that he managed his first 2017 win in what had been considered a BCNDP stronghold, in the same year his government lost government. Despite his BCNDP opponent pulling more votes than his party had traditionally needed to win, Ross held the riding convincingly again in the 2020 election, while his own party went on to suffer a significant reduction of seats in the legislature.

So he's demonstrated he can win in enemy territory, and he's established it wasn't just a fluke by reconfirming that win under even more difficult provincial circumstances, but does Ellis Ross have a chance at winning the Party Leadership, or is he simply playing to old game of raising his own profile in hopes of a senior cabinet post down the road? Well, while no one can ever truly rule out the latter motivation entirely, it's my firm belief that "writing" Ross out would indeed be a mistake. Kevin Falcon, who hasn't officially confirmed his candidacy, but whom many consider the presumptive front-runner is likely the preferred candidate of the governing BCNDP, given the amount of baggage they appear to think they can assign to him. For now at least, Todd Stone has ruled out his own entry, possibly owing to some acknowledgement of his own baggage, the likes of which appears lost on Falcon. This leaves only relative unknown, Tom Shypitka from the East Kootenays, Kelowna newcomer Renee Merrifield, and another former leadership contender, Michael Lee.

Should Shypitka throw his hat in the ring, it's difficult to view his effort as anything other than an attempt to raise his own profile. The sheer amount of mud the BCNDP have thrown Merrifield's direction recently, however, betrays a fear that not only is she a possibility, but potentially a threat, though it remains to be seen whether the rookie MLA is even interested.

I always thought, and indeed said, that Michael Lee was the best bet the Liberals had going in to the 2017 Election. He's smart, articulate, Chinese (for those who cast their vote based on the shade of another's epidermis) and experienced, but having held no senior cabinet post... carries virtually no political baggage.

But all of these potential candidates lack two vital features displayed brilliantly by Ellis Ross, first, an ability to bridge the growing divide within the BC Liberal Party, and second, a genuine populist bent.

On the first point, the BC Liberal Party has always been a tenuous coalition of Socreds and Liberals, held loosely together by the same mutual hatred of the "Socialists-hoardes" that drove the provincial Conservative and Liberal parties into formal coalition back in 1952. The expulsion of Laurie Thronness from the BC Liberal fold in the middle of the 2020 election, a man widely-regarded as an articulate, (if not controversial) voice of the party's sizable social-conservative wing demonstrated the degree to which, (not unlike most other mainstream parties today) liberal-identitarianism has infiltrated and established influence over the leadership. Surely some have already their membership lapse over the schism, but undoubtedly, the prospect of a new leader has cause most social conservatives to wait and see how this thing plays out. Whereas BC has no shortage of smaller Conservative parties to which disaffected social-conservatives may flee, liberal identitarians under the BC Liberal tent really have only the equally unpalatable options of the BCNDP and the Green party to entertain. With this in mind, and considering that objectively speaking, no candidate aside from Ross can be seen to have the minerals or the cultural fortitude to stand up to the kind of liberal-identitarianism that social conservatives loathe.

On the second point, despite the age-old case against populism from liberal politicians and media alike, British Columbians decidedly favour populist leaders, and always have. As we're fond of pointing out on this show, just because British Columbians lack a coherent and unified cultural identity, doesn't mean we don't respond favourably to leaders who most passionately articulate a course for the future. The story of Ellis Ross is one that British Columbians across the spectrum should find interesting. A man who describes himself having "light skin and green eyes" being treated as "non-native" on reserve growing up, then suddenly regarded as a representative of first nations people off reserve, ultimately getting elected as Chief councillor of the Haisla nation, and participating in what he describes today as fruitful and meaningful negotiations with the crown that will benefit generations of Haisla people. Today he articulates a clear and confident, pro-development vision for British Columbia. By chance of birth, he should check enough boxes to satisfy liberal identitarians who would otherwise disqualify Falcon and Shyptika, and yet quite ironically, If at the first leadership debate, the question is asked: "as leader, would you have expelled Laurie Throness?" it's conceivable that Ross would be the only candidate to answer in the negative. And that... right there, is why I think despite Ross's difficulty's in surmounting the electoral machine of Falcon and other better resourced candidates, Ellis Ross is the BC Liberal's best hope of holding their coalition together.

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