He was a native of Amherst, Nova Scotia, a veteran of the First World War and had served as Minister of Defence from 1926-1930 in the Liberal government of W.L. Mackenzie King. Almost immediately after war was declared, Prime Minister King asked Ralston to leave his Montreal law practice to accept an appointment as Minister of Finance.
In November 1939, the PEI East and West Prince Liberal Association extended a unanimous invitation to Hon. Colonel J. L. Ralston to accept the nomination for Prince County. A by-election had been made necessary by the death of the Hon. A. E. MacLean, one of Ralston's personal friends. He accepted the opportunity to represent the western area of PEI, after having been asked by four other constituencies. It was considered to be very important to have the Island represented in Cabinet and thus he was elected by acclamation in January 1940. He occupied his seat for only 2 ½ hours before Parliament was dissolved, but was returned as the Prince County representative in late March.
He suddenly found himself with a new portfolio when Defence Minister Norman Rogers was killed in an airplane crash in Ontario in June 1940. When Ralston had held that position ten years earlier, he had represented Shelburne-Yarmouth. An editorial reprinted from the Yarmouth Herald stated, "No other man in Canada is more eminently suited for the job than Col. Ralston. Everyone admits that. He is a soldier, a scholar, a statesman, a worker, a vigorous personality." His positive attributes were later outlined in an article reprinted from the Amherst Daily News in November 1940. An "exchange" printed in the Summerside Journal in September 1941 referred to him as a Man of Action. "He has the best radio personality in the Government … . People listen and … thank God we have such a man on hand to direct the armed forces."
In September and October of 1940, he came to Summerside to inspect the airforce training facility being built under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. The following April he returned for its official opening. Colonel Ralston visited Summerside whenever possible and often sent messages of congratulations for the response of the local people to various fundraising efforts. He was also aware of the good work being accomplished by the service clubs.
When he was in the constituency he usually delivered a speech or address that subsequently appeared in a local newspaper. It wasn't just his oratory skills or his ability to get things done that appealed to people. The reports of his interest in individual soldiers earned him sincere respect.
Prior to his visit in October 1943, the Journal praised Ralston's attention to the citizens he represented. Part of the article on October 21 stated, "It is fortunate, indeed, for Prince Edward Island and Prince County in particular that we have as our representative at Ottawa a man of the calibre and tremendous energy of Hon. Colonel Ralston, without whom this county would undoubtedly have been without many of the splendid assets which it possesses today. It is not only a matter of inestimable advantage to the province and county to have the Minister of National Defence as the statesman looking after our affairs, but it is a distinct honor as well."
Even when Defence Minister Ralston resigned from Cabinet on November 1, 1944 over the question of reinforcements for overseas service, the community still praised him. A local editorial considered his position to be a "Courageous Action." He visited Summerside shortly afterwards to outline his reasons for resigning and during an informal luncheon at the Olympia restaurant paid tribute to the men fighting overseas. He was viewed as a man of great principle and his constituents were proud of his stand in support of the active troops. He remained as the member for Prince County for the rest of the session after which he resumed his Montreal law practice.
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