One of Ujjal Dosanjh's friends says he's written a flattering biography of the former premier to set the record straight about his accomplishments in public and private life.
Doug Welbanks, former director of the now-defunct debtor assistance branch, told the Straight by phone that he feels the NDP didn't treat Dosanjh well after the party lost the 2001 election.
It came less than 15 months after Dosanjh was sworn in as premier.
"He was very hurt by that," Welbanks said. "I thought I'd like to correct some of the misinterpretations historically, but also remind the B.C. NDP, for example, of the 25 years of community work that Ujjal and [wife] Rummy did before he even got elected."
In Welbanks's new book, Unbreakable: The Ujjal Dosanjh Story (Chateau Lane Publishing), he reveals that he met Dosanjh and Rummy while they were all at Langara College in the early 1970s. Rummy worked in the library, but she didn't seem romantically interested in Dosanjh because she had a boyfriend living in India.
Eventually, Welbanks reports in his book, she was impressed by Dosanjh's intellect and his strong convictions about fighting exploitation of marginalized people.
They married despite their differences. Dosanjh had come from a village whereas she was more urban, having graduated with a bachelor's degree from a college in Agra and a bachelor's of education from Amritsar College.
"Rummy had the drive," Welbanks said with a chuckle. "She was the one who would get him out of bed and send him off to those meetings. She wouldn't take 'no' for an answer."
He added that whenever Dosanjh ran for public office, his wife organized supporters, raised money, and helped get voters to the polls. It finally paid off in his third attempt in 1991 when he became the NDP MLA for Vancouver-Kensington.
Dosanjh increased health-care funding
Dosanjh served as B.C.'s attorney general and minister of multiculturalism and human rights from 1995 until 2000. Welbanks praises Dosanjh in the book for modernizing legislation to make life a little easier for debtors. He was also a strong supporter of giving same-sex couples equal rights to child custody and access.
After becoming premier, Dosanjh oversaw the introduction of two surplus budgets while increasing health-care spending by 11.6 percent in his final year.
Later as health minister in the federal Liberal government, Dosanjh and Prime Minister Paul Martin reached agreement with the provinces to inject $41 billion into health care over 10 years, including $5.5-billion in transfers to address waitlists.
Welbanks linked Dosanjh's keen interest in this area to his family history. His mother, Surjit Kaur Dosanjh, died he was just six years old after cutting her finger with a vegetable knife. The wound became infected with tetanus.
"There seems to be a thread of consistency with his work with health and the premature death of his mother in India," Welbanks said.
Rivalry with Moe Sihota began 35 years ago
In the book, Welbanks reveals that a rivalry between Dosanjh and former NDP cabinet minister and ex–party president Moe Sihota dated back to the late 1970s.
Dosanjh was seeking the NDP nomination in the dual-member Vancouver South in 1979.
Sihota, then president of the B.C. Young New Democrats, convinced Vancouver writer Stan Persky to enter the fray.
"Moe needed a running mate for his friend Kehar Sekhon," Dosanjh told Welbanks in 2010. "Persky was told it would be an easy riding—a piece of cake."
In the end, Dosanjh and Jim Duvall won the nominations and both were subsequently defeated by Social Credit candidates.
Seven years later, Sihota became the first B.C. MLA of South Asian origin. In the late 1990s, he actively campaigned against Dosanjh as the latter sought the leadership of the B.C. NDP.
"Right from the beginning, there seemed to be a cleavage between Sihota and Ujjal," Welbanks said. The book doesn't elaborate on this.
However, Unbreakable covers Rummy's work with the India Mahila Association to stop violence against women and Dosanjh's efforts to organize farmworkers in the 1970s. The book also describes his unsuccessful run for the legislature in 1983 and offers a detailed account of a 1985 assassination attempt in a parkade outside his law office.
After speaking out against Sikh extremists, Dosanjh was struck repeatedly with an iron bar, suffering multiple head injuries and a fractured hand.
"The assault on Ujjal was not a random act but an intentional murder attempt, to silence a liberal-minded spokesperson for the Indo-Canadian community," Welbanks writes.
Unbreakable also reveals that former NDP leader Jack Layton tried without success to get Dosanjh to run federally for his party in 2004. Instead, Dosanjh chose to run as a Liberal in Vancouver South with then prime minister Paul Martin. Dosanjh was reelected in 2006 and 2008 before losing to Conservative Wai Young in 2011.
Welbanks said that there weren't great differences between the federal Liberals in 2004 and the provincial New Democrats of the 1990s. But many NDP members were outraged when Dosanjh bolted the party.
"They hated him for it," Welbanks said. "They still hate him."
Welbanks defends Dosanjh against Glen Clark supporters
Some New Democrats have blamed Dosanjh for undermining former premier Glen Clark by telling the media that he was under police investigation in the late 1990s. That led to Clark's resignation. Welbanks, however, said that Dosanjh didn't have any choice in the matter.
"Ujjal didn't do anything wrong," Welbanks maintained. "He was the AG. He had legal advice. I worked in government. You don't go into the public and make a statement like that without being told you have to do it to clear the air. And so I think they politicized what he was trying to do as an attorney general. That's why he wouldn't talk about it. It was his job to do this. And he didn't want to see it get political."
One thing that Welbanks emphasizes in the book is Dosanjh's humility and how much he was admired by his former staffers in provincial and federal politics.
"He's got this amazing ability to get along with people even if there's a great disagreement," Welbanks said.
The author dedicated Unbreakable to his nine-year-old daughter Kate and all other nine-year-olds to inspire them to try to improve their world.
"We need people to have integrity, to stand up for their beliefs," Welbanks says. "I think the world would be a much lesser place if it wasn't for Ujjal."