Ralph's My New MLA, Thank Goodness
By Paul Sullivan, "The West"
ŠThe Globe and Mail 
May 22, 2001

The answer to last week's column is in. B.C voters did not elect 79 Gordon Campbells. They went for 76 and now there are more than twice as many Liberal MLA's in British Columbia as there were this time last week, many of them rookies, heading for Victoria like spring salmon to the sea.

Ralph George Martin Sultan is one of them. The thing about Ralph is that he's my new MLA, representing West Vancouver and Not West Vancouver. That's my side.

Long before he declared his intention to become my MLA, he was my chief e-mail critic, remarkable for his literacy and learning, if not always his praise.

Ralph may be a rookie, but he's no spring salmon. Before the first session of the wall-to-wall Liberal legislature, he'll turn 68. When he was first approached to run, Ralph told the party official he was deaf because he'd had both ears removed. They said: "That's good. That'll hold you in good stead." They probably don't care about his age because Ralph Sultan has had a remarkable life. He spent 15 years at Harvard, rising to associate professor before returning to Canada as the chief economist for the Royal Bank. He went on to career No. 3 in various finance, mining, and energy firms. He has been the president, executive vice-president or chairman in 10 of them and a director of 27, one of which has come back to haunt him. More on that in a minute.

In July 1999, Shirley, his wife of 43 years, collapsed while they were working on their boat, and by the time the ambulance found an emergency ward that would take her, she was dead. Ralph was devastated and so angry he thought about returning to the United States and turning his back on B.C and it's deteriorating quality of life. But in January the Liberals asked him to run. And he asked himself, "Why should I be chased out of my home? I'm going to go and chase the NDP out of my home."

When he e-mailed me to announce that he was running-with no prior political experience-I thought he was nuts. But he somehow prevailed in a tough nomination battle. And so began a political baptism by fire.

Opponents spread rumours that he made up his Harvard experience, and wore a bad wig. Someone ordered a $9,000 shirt and tie from a Fifth Avenue boutique in New York City in his name, UPS presenting him with a bill for $1,353.65 in duties, PST and GST.

Then came the real blow. When you wonder why good people don't go into politics, this is why. The NDP found out that he was a director of Curragh Resources, the company that owned the Westray mine in Nova Scotia that exploded in 1992, killing 26 miners.

Perhaps to aid his tanking B.C comrades, Kevin Deveaux, a Nova Scotia NDP MA, moved to censure Ralph a week before the election. And on the day of the election, the North Shore News dedicated its front page to "Ralph Sultan's explosive past," a vast regurgitation of the Westray sorty, featuring more from Mr. Deveaux. "I don't know much about politics in British Columbia but I would hope that people like that would be kept far away from sitting in the government caucus."

Well, politics in B.C these days means that a qualified man like Ralph is very much part of the government caucus. The two e-mailed correspondents met face-to-face for the first time the evening of after the election. I wondered if career No.$ would be over before it began, my 68-year-old rookie MLA a victim of smash-mouth politics. But he's a quick study.

"You become a public figure; you're fair game and there's virtually no privacy. And you shouldn't be doing this if it worries you. I tell myself I don't give a damn. I probably do, but I tell myself I don't." Even if the Westray residue dissipates, he'll probably languish on the backbench, at least for the first round of cabinet selections, the spoils before they get to Ralph, despite his gaudy resume. 

But in 68 years, he's acquired philosophy. "I'm not interested in fame, power, money or influence; I'm only interested in making a difference in my province."

He is stopped , perhaps, by the skeptical look on a columnist's face. "My campaign manager, he's a political veteran of more than 30 years. He says to me, you know, I've met people like you before, but not one who actually won."

There's nothing like fresh meat. But we'll see what he's like at the end of this first term, when he's a sophomore of 72.

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