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Ralph Forsyth

Families first

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What's one thing people would be surprised to learn about you? That I'm the youngest of eight children in my family. I have 28 first cousins.

What world leader would you most like to go for dinner/drinks with and why? Abraham Lincoln. He's the greatest politician who ever lived. Obama obviously took a page out of his book because of all the things he did in his campaign. He announced in Springfield (Illinois). He used Lincoln's bible (when he was sworn in). Lincoln was truly an amazing person. When Lincoln sought the Republican nomination in 1851, he was a nobody ... and Lincoln won after three days of voting, and when he emerged as the presidential candidate he took all of his opponents and put them in his cabinet.

What book do you recommend everyone read and why? For Canadians, it's The Last Spike by Pierre Berton. It's a real insight into the character of the people who made Canada what it is, and how the railroad really united the country.

Give an example of a difficult situation you have overcome. It's not my proudest moment. I was 13 and I had a kid bullying me at school. We were on the football team and he stole my jersey. And he's bigger than me and stronger than me. I said, "Give me my jersey back," and he said, "What are you going to do about it?" So I punched him in the face as hard as I could. He quickly got the better of me, and the teacher broke it up. We're both suspended and I know bad things are going to happen when I get home. And I go out to the bus stop and the whole football team is waiting there for me. I thought, "the beating is really going to come now," and one of them asked, "is it true you punched Dino?" and I said, "yeah." They put me on their shoulders and carried me onto the bus. It's not the best story, and I would never promote fighting, but since then I've always wanted to confront bullies.

"Next kid who drops a ball that hits them in their stomach, we're all running laps!"

It turns out to be an empty threat, though the kids get the message. They still drop balls - they are between the ages of six and nine after all, and footballs are hard to throw and catch - but they have their heads in the game now.

Ralph Forsyth is not a tall man, but he towers over the Whistler Saints flag football team, running them through drills leading up to a practice scrimmage. Like any good coach he focuses on the little things, instead of trying to overload his players with too much advice.

"Pull the ball in like I showed you, and nobody can take it away.

"Run forward with the ball. I liked what you did in the end, but at the beginning you were running backwards, backwards, backwards.

"Keep running, no stopping and starting. You keep going until you hear the whistle."

Before the practice got underway on the wet fields at Spring Creek he bantered with kids and parents while helping some of the younger players lace up their cleats, including his youngest son (his oldest son hopped in a car to Squamish moments earlier to practice with the full contact pee wee Sea to Sky Broncos). They are all excited about the Grey Cup. One kid wants to skip out on a family trip to catch the game with his teammates.

"You can stay at my house," Forsyth told him. "I won't make you go to Hawaii."

The municipal election was just over a week away, but Forsyth was at ease. In a few days after this is printed he will either be Whistler's mayor or relegated to a spot on the sidelines - though he will never really be out of the game. He thrives on politics.

He first ran for council in 2002 where he placed 13th on a list of 19 candidates. He was elected in 2005 and re-elected in 2008, largely on the strength of his pro-family platform.

The decision to run for mayor was a big one, but once his mind was made up he hit the ground running. He was first out of the gate and declared his intention to run way back in August, regardless of who else would be in the race.

"It feels so compelling, so right to me, that now is the time, that it's of little consequence who the other candidates are," he told Pique when he declared. "I have my plan. I have a vision for Whistler that I want to create and I'm moving forward with that."

Ralph had hoped for a spirited race, but has been dismayed somewhat by the process. Over three months in, he feels he is still being misrepresented when he has been running on transparency and his record on council - everything spelled out including the way he voted on issues available on his website at www.ralphforsyth.com.

"I thought it would be fun to run to be honest, and with Ken (Melamed) it has been fun - he and I joke and I think our relationship has been better since I announced. But the rumours I hear about me..." He shakes his head.

"It's really disheartening. How do you combat people saying, 'Ralph is an alcoholic,' or 'Ralph didn't finish high school,' or Ralph hired a bus to bring in drunks from Merlin's to vote in the last election?' It's ridiculous. The people who know me, know who I am."

Who is he?

He's a father of two boys and a husband - "All the kids' athletic ability comes from their mother (Stephanie). I liked to play sports but other than skiing there was nothing I was really good at growing up."

He's a Level 4 ski instructor and a Whistler Spirit Program trainer. For five years he managed Whistler's Fire and Ice shows that welcome visitors to the resort. He's written features for Pique over the years on a diverse range of subjects. He's served on the Whistler Advisory Planning Commission, the Whistler 2020 Advisory Committee, a resident housing task force, the Chamber of Commerce Service Strategy Committee and the Catholic Parish Finance Committee. He's the VP of public relations for the Whistler Toastmasters Club. He's a Freedom Writer for Amnesty International, writing letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience.

Since he was elected to council, he's served on committees including the Chamber of Commerce, Whistler Public Library Board, Lower Mainland Treaty Advisory Committee, Athletes Village Development Corporation, Whistler for Youth, Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), and the Council Standing Committee on Human Resources.

His biggest concern is that people are listening to the off-side chatter, and ignoring the facts and his record. However, while he's been battling a strong offence online, he's also gaining big yardage in the social media battle. He now claims more Facebook friends than any other candidate by a long margin, as well as a larger following on Twitter, and endorsements are starting to come in from around the community.

"There are lots of good things (in my campaign), and I try to focus on them," he said. "The support I've gotten from my campaign team has been unbelievable, they're the coolest, smartest, hippest campaign team going. So that's been fantastic, and despite how negative everything seems to be getting my support continues to grow."

When asked who he sees as his political base, Forsyth doesn't miss a beat.

"If you've pushed a baby stroller in the last 10 years, or you going to in the next 10 years, I'm your guy," he said. "Families here are literally grinding it out. I think we're absolutely neglected.

"I hate to bring it up again, but it all comes down to that incident (at council) with me slamming my computer shut and walking out. If I hadn't done that, the (Teddy Bear) Daycare would have been closed by now."

He feels as passionately about that moment now. And while others have said otherwise, he believes his action drew public attention to the issue and forced council to change plans that would have closed the daycare facility.

But despite the reputation he earned as a fighter - he voted against the budget and tax increases the last five years, for example - Forsyth said he really  wants to work with others to solve Whistler's problems in a positive way.

"We have to confront these issues, but if you want to talk about wages and the size of city hall then you can't go into city hall with a wrecking ball. There needs to be a plan," he said. "I get it, (municipal hall) is too big, and I've talked to people at municipal hall that are as annoyed by this as the public.

"We need leadership and direction, which is something we have had in the last six years with the Olympics and Paralympics taking over. (Municipal workers) are doing a good job, we just need to focus on priority areas and come up with business plans for each department to meet our objectives."

As the leader of council, he said he would start by making a list of the things each candidate pledged to accomplish. The "A" priorities would be the issues where there is unanimous agreement, the "B" priorities would be majority agreement and the "C" issues would be goals held by the minority.

The other side of being mayor is representing Whistler to the rest of the world. Forsyth said he's up for that challenge as well.

"I can play that booster role - I have played it. I've actually sold the resort. Part of my job with Whistler Blackcomb was being a media liaison and selling the resort, like going down to Seattle and selling the ski clubs down there on why they should come to Whistler," he said. He also pointed to his other roles, including his consulting agency and all the spirit courses that he's run for the Whistler Chamber of Commerce.

And while he's had his moments, he said he's never made it personal.

"I don't slag people or the town in the media," he said. "If you read the articles I've written, I don't slag people in them, I talk about how we can come up with solutions to community issues or post some of my own ideas. In fact, being a spokesperson for the resort is one of the things that really differentiates me from the other candidates."

The whistle blows. One player has just run the ball from end to end of the field, using his blockers to get open, before getting his flag pulled a yard from the endzone by another defensive player making a desperate dive. Forsyth laughs.

"Do that this weekend and I guarantee we're going to win!" he said.

That's one promise Forsyth delivered on Sunday - Whistler Saints 16, West Vancouver 49ers 0.

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