B.C.’s oldest MLA gets bipartisan birthday bash

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Brent Richter, North Shore News — June 6, 2018

B.C.’s youngest MLA reached across the aisle Wednesday to wish a happy birthday to B.C.’s oldest (ever) MLA.

North Vancouver-Lonsdale’s NDP MLA Bowinn Ma used her time in the legislature May 30 to wish a happy birthday to West Vancouver-Capilano B.C. Liberal Ralph Sultan, who turns 85 on June 6.

In her two-minute member’s statement, Ma gave a short bio of Sultan from his growing up in a family of 10 to becoming a Harvard professor, engineer, chief economist for the Royal Bank of Canada, and following the death of his wife, entering politics in 2001.

“He probably doesn’t remember this, but I actually first met this man in 2007. As a student politician, I had come to Victoria to advocate for students on a variety of issues. Well, we didn’t agree on much then and we certainly don’t agree on much today, but you don’t have to agree with someone to respect them … even if they’re on the record slamming your Twitter feed,” Ma said. “From the youngest to the oldest, I ask that the house please join me in wishing our colleague, the MLA for West Vancouver-Capilano, a very happy, though slightly early, 85th birthday.”

Sultan was brought to tears as the whole legislature gave him a standing ovation. But he nearly missed the tribute.

“As a survival technique in the legislature listening to hours and hours of speeches, you generally tend to sort of half tune out,” Sultan said in a later interview. “Then it drifted into my conscience that she was talking about somebody who is probably me.”

For his part, Sultan doesn’t make much of being the “oldest MLA,” but said he hopes his example causes others to let go of stereotypes they have about seniors.

“It’s not something I dwell on particularly. I search my soul from time to time. Am I doing my job as well as anybody could? Of course I say, generally, ‘I think you are, Ralph. Keep going,’” he said. “As we become healthier and lead lives much longer, society is going to have to change its impressions of aging because there are going to be a lot of Ralph Sultans.”

Sultan said he finds people who talk of retiring at 65 “quite quaint.”

Ma’s tribute from across the aisle was a welcome interruption from blunt invective you often hear in the legislature, Sultan said, particularly during question period, which amounts to 30 minutes of sparring that people in the gallery find “generally appalling.”

“There are some people who really take this political contest seriously at the personal level. Maybe hatred is too strong a word but they really do not like people across the aisle for various reasons. I find that unfortunate because the reality is that on an individual basis, I really very, very seldom have met any of them that I did not rather enjoy,” he said.

And outside question period, MLAs from other parties find themselves working together amicably, Sultan added.

Locally, the Liberal MLAs (Sultan, North Vancouver-Seymour MLA Jane Thornthwaite and West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy) meet regularly with Ma on the Integrated North Shore Transportation Planning Project, which is aiming to get all three municipalities and the province in lock-step on finding solutions to transportation problems.

“It’s her project, her idea, and it’s a good one. We’re smart enough to realize that and try and be helpful,” he said.

For his actual birthday on Wednesday, Sultan said he has “very little” planned other than going to lunch with his two constituency assistants.