Appeared in the North Shore News – June 7, 2013
I predict backwards as well as forwards. So stand by for a prophecy for the past.
I predict that Ralph Sultan played a much bigger role in the B.C. Liberals’ election victory May 14 than he’s been given credit for. And this is not just parish-pump flattery for little old West Vancouver.
First, though, Sultan has been in the news since the election. First, rumoured to step aside for a Christy Clark byelection in West Vancouver-Capilano where his ownership is engraved in stone. He didn’t, gladdening supporters. Also, influential Tex Enemark, Gordon Gibson and Harry Swain mused in the Vancouver Sun that he could be the man to lead the glacial treaty negotiations with B.C.’s First Nations. That’s now a non-starter.
Sultan was the most strangely under-utilized talent in the Gordon Campbell caucus. First elected in 2001, aged 68 – which sounds youthful compared with his present 80 – and with a wealth of high-level business experience in banking and as a Harvard professor, this son of a modest East Vancouver background looked custom-made for finance minister.
Or was it so strange that Campbell passed over him? Often the big boss is nervous about giving a portfolio to someone who actually knows a lot about the territory – like, infinitely more than he/she does. Above all in finance. Might do dangerous things that make economic rather than political sense.
David Schreck, then North Vancouver-Lonsdale’s New Democratic Party MLA, hit a similar wall in the 1990s when, notwithstanding or because of a career in health matters, he never made health minister.
Yet there could hardly have been a more cautionary tale than that of New Democrat finance minister and later MP Dave Stupich – who knew plenty about figures.
Too much. In the scandal called Bingogate, Stupich, a professional accountant, was hit with 64 charges concerning the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society, an NDP piggy bank he devised. He pleaded guilty to fraud involving $1 million and running an illegal lottery. Blameless Mike Harcourt took the political fall, while arithmetic-challenged party people explained they’d left the numbers to Stupich because he was so adept.
Forward to Sultan. He finally made cabinet last September in the much less onerous role of minister of state for seniors. A brilliant choice. He is one of nature’s gentlemen, a rare intellectual patrician without airs who easily but rather shyly meets “ordinary” people and can relate to their situations.
Sultan soon put the Liberal show on the road for old people, as I prefer to call without euphemism those like my good self. I ran into him in April, crisply turned out with suit and tie and apparently fresh from political business. Aided by ministerial assistant Barb Ewens, he said he’d visited “50 or 60” B.C. communities (Terry Oaken in his office gave the final number: 68). In all, he said he talked to about 1,000 people.
He was surprised. Some told poignant stories. But few were angry or discontented. Most radiated what’s called “happiness economics,” pioneered by psychologist Abraham Maslow, whose work 50 years ago excited me. Maslow had the outrageous habit of studying happy people, an approach threatening to his Freudian peers, psychiatrists, pharmacists, scholars, social workers, journalists – hell, to Western civilization as we know it.
Levity aside, Sultan brought the Liberal message to an underestimated part of the electorate: Not the courted young, not the chattering political class, not the various parties’ phone-in squads and letter writers who distorted public perception, not the Twits and Internuts. No – old people who vote. Actually vote. Simple as that.
It would be entirely speculative to declare that Ralph Sultan single-handedly drew decisive votes to the party. Well, that’s the nice thing about it: It’s speculative. You can speculate right back, disagreeing. But I say that if anyone may have played a bigger role than met the eye, it would be well-respected Ralph Sultan.
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Note: My dastardly election prophecy in no way was shaped by inside knowledge. I knew nothing of top-secret Liberal polls that predicted victory for Christy “Well, That Was Easy” Clark, and I didn’t chat up candidates. Both Clark and NDP leader Adrian Dix’s aides (hello, Jan O’Brien) ignored my requests for lunch, and at Victoria’s Union Club at that. Their loss. My table talk can be wittily delightful.
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Mayor Mike Smith backs Grosvenor’s West Van development. Fair enough. Here’s a radical idea: Why didn’t this huge company just follow WV’s community plan about building height and such? Would have won acceptance with a chic, smaller proposal.
Answer: Because the Grosvenor family, its scion the Duke Of Westminster who owns big, choice parts of central London, is fabulously, I mean fabulously rich, impresses and intimidates hell out of lousy little grateful councils, and with British charm is used to getting its own way. They don’t do small.
© Trevor Lautens, 2013