From an election high in May which saw the Liberals handing the NDP its lunch after that party held the Skeena riding for 12 years, to now sitting on the opposition benches, one might forgive B.C. Liberal MLA Ellis Ross for being more than a bit disappointed.
After all, Ross was one of the star candidates for the B.C. Liberals – a former Haisla Nation chief councillor and a strong proponent of responsible industrial development focussing on the prospect of liquefied natural gas.
That manifested itself for a brief period when Ross served as the natural gas development minister in the short-lived B.C. Liberal government which ended when the NDP-Green alliance took power.
While Ross may be disappointed, it’s not showing publicly. He’s become a fixture in the fall sitting of the legislature and is gaining a lot of exposure by sticking to his election campaign theme that people need a job, something Skeena residents are all too familiar with.
And he’s now focussing on something Skeena residents also know too well – the high cost of natural gas in the northwest. It’s caused not by the commodity itself, but by delivering it through Pacific Northern Gas’ distribution system.
Because large industrial users have disappeared over the years (eg. the Skeena Cellulose pulp mill in Prince Rupert and the Eurocan mill in Kitimat), the cost of maintaining the system has fallen to residents and small commercial users.
It means northwestern residents pay the highest overall natural gas costs in the province and this in a region where heat is not a luxury, but a necessity.
There’s also a double whammy, notes Ross, inasmuch as natural gas users are laden with the province’s carbon tax on the amount consumed.
“This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about,” notes Ross, and so he should for there’s not only the delivery cost compared to the rest of B.C. but with the carbon tax as well.
Brought in by the previous B.C. Liberal government in stages but frozen since 2012, the carbon tax under the NDP/Green government is now scheduled to rise, a core policy position of the government’s climate warrior action plan.
Ross further points out that an increase in the carbon tax will affect all users who will then pass that cost along to residents and small commercial enterprises.
“People will be hit twice,” he states.
The previous government did introduce tax credits for low-income earners, and homeowners are credited with an additional $200 on their homeowner grant to ease the tax burden. However, the point Ross raised remains firm – there’s a disparity here compared to other parts of the province when the overall cost of natural gas is considered.
There are tools the government can use to correct the natural gas cost disparity in the northwest – increasing the homeowner grant some more comes to mind.
In the big world of climate change policy, focussing on the carbon tax as a cost item affecting pocketbooks may not be popular but when it comes to representing the people in the Skeena riding, Ellis Ross is doing exactly what he needs to do.