Vaughn Palmer: Raft of B.C. United MLAs eye jump to federal politics

Opinion: Ellis Ross is major loss to Kevin Falcon’s team as MLA announces run for federal Conservatives

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VICTORIA — B.C. United tried this week to put a happy face on the news that high-profile MLA Ellis Ross was bolting to the federal Conservatives.

“Ellis Ross to run federally, endorses Kevin Falcon and B.C. United,” was the headline in the news release atop a hopeful quote from Opposition leader Kevin Falcon:

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“I know Ellis is committed to our party’s success in the next election, and I look forward to working with him on our shared priorities when he becomes a member of Parliament.”

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Ross tried to sound supportive even as he prepared to move on: “Only Kevin Falcon and B C. United can defeat the NDP and fix B.C. Kevin Falcon has my unwavering support, and I will fight tooth and nail to make sure B.C. United wins the election in October.”

Yet there was no overlooking the huge loss to B.C. United.

Ross has been one of the strongest advocates in the legislature for resource development in general and the LNG sector in particular. The former chief councillor for the Haisla First Nation also brought a needed element of diversity to the B.C. United ranks.

Asked why the switch, Ross said he decided to go where he could make the biggest impact on resource development. He concluded that he could do more in Ottawa, given the tax-and-regulation-heavy approach of the current government.

He intends to stay as MLA for Skeena until the next provincial election, barring the unlikely event of a snap federal election before that date.

Ross wrested Skeena away from the New Democrats in the 2017 election, providing one of the few bright spots for the party then known as the B.C. Liberals who otherwise squandered their legislative majority.

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He held the seat in 2020 even as the New Democrats won a hefty majority in a snap election. No reason to doubt he could manage a third win this fall.

Instead, he’ll be running for the federal Conservatives in Skeena-Bulkley Valley, which the New Democrats have held for the past 20 years.

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre travelled all the way to Terrace this week to announce the acquisition of a prize catch.

“As Haisla Nation chief and MLA, Ellis Ross has been fighting for his people his entire life,” declared Poilievre by news release. “He fights for powerful paycheques by removing bureaucracy to harvest resources. He fights for the rights of hunters to keep their guns. He fights for lower taxes to reward work.”

Nor is Ross the only B.C. United member who could be added to the ranks of the federal Conservatives.

Dan Ashton, three-term MLA for Penticton, has already announced he is not running again provincially. In doing so, he half confirmed rumours that he will instead seek the federal Conservative nomination for South Okanagan—West Kootenay.

“I’ve been asked,” he told reporter Dan Walton of the Penticton Herald back in December. “I’m a Conservative — very fiscally responsible and financially accountable. But at this point in time I’m not making any decisions.”

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If Ashton does go for it, he’d also be seeking a seat currently held by the federal NDP, though incumbent MP Richard Cannings has announced his retirement.

There’s speculation, too, about Mike de Jong, the 30-year veteran MLA for Abbotsford and a cabinet minister in the last B.C. Liberal government.

De Jong has already endorsed Poilievre. That drew criticism from Falcon who has asked MLAs to avoid aligning with either the federal Conservatives or Liberals.

Then there’s Aaron Gunn, who sought to run for the B.C. Liberal leadership the last time it came open.

The party organizing committee blocked Gunn, saying his social media postings were “inconsistent with the B.C. Liberal party’s commitment to reconciliation, diversity, and acceptance of all British Columbians.”

The then front-running candidate and eventual winner of the leadership, Kevin Falcon, deferred to the decision by the party brass.

Not so Ellis Ross, who was also a leadership candidate and went on to finish second to Falcon.

“The issue is not whether or not I agree with Mr. Gunn’s views but whether or not he should have been permitted to run,” he told reporters.“ We must be a big tent party that is inclusive of views and opinions from across the political spectrum. Today’s decision is a step backward.”

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Ross was one of the few B.C. United MLAs who did not join the applause last fall when Premier David Eby denounced B.C. Conservative leader John Rustad for importing the U.S.-style “culture war” to the province.

Gunn is now the candidate for the federal Conservatives in North Island-Powell River, another NDP-held seat. The Conservatives must be calculating that in the next federal election a lot of B.C. seats, both Liberal and NDP, will be in play.

The election could be a long way off and Ross surely recognizes that he faces a tough fight in a longtime NDP stronghold like Skeena.

Still, judging from the current polls, he probably has a better chance of making it into government in Ottawa than if he’d chosen to stay provincial and run for a seat in the legislature in Victoria.

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