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Ralph Klein R.I.P.

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Ralph Klien, the former Premier of Alberta, has passed away after a long illness. More here at the National Post:

Don Martin: We may not see the likes of humble, honest Ralph Klein again

The man affectionately christened King Ralph of Alberta is gone.

Former Alberta premier and Calgary mayor Ralph Klein passed away Friday at age 70, suffering from pneumonia and dementia.

His reign has its genesis in the Calgary city council he covered as a CTV television journalist in the 1970s. He eavesdropped outside private meetings. He drank scoops out of inebriated contacts in seedy back-alley bars. His fraternity of sources included cops, accountants, hookers and bikers. He was a formidable, crusading journalist even though, as a hard-living and heavy drinker whom I once retrieved from the Calgary police drunk tank, he seemed headed for a hard fall at a young age.

But Klein was a survivor full of surprises, if not shocks, and never to be underestimated.

He ran and won the Calgary mayoralty in 1980. Far from being a one-term wonder, he went on to win three increasingly lopsided election victories during challenging economic times in the oil patch.

When he moved into provincial politics, pundits predicted instant doom for a loose cannon chaffing against the choke-chain of party discipline. Again he excelled, first as an environment minister and then as the anti-establishment leader to revive a Progressive Conservative dynasty which badly needed a reset button pushed at the top. Four majority government election wins followed.

Many politicians tried and failed to replicate Klein’s magnetic electoral and personal appeal as a common man with extraordinary abilities. Despite many missteps and chronic tongue-tripping, which forced him into quick backtracks and convincing apologies, he was invariably forgiven by voters for being one of them.

Being humble and human wasn’t an act. He bummed cigarettes, drove a Volkswagen Beetle as his last car, preferred pubs to clubs, lived in the same modest bungalow for four decades and demanded to be called “Ralph” by everyone.

As Klein described it, his political secret was simply figuring out which way the parade was going and get in front of it. And he had the telepathic gift of being able to see the route far in advance.

Being humble and human wasn’t an act

That’s why Klein knew he could swing a blunt axe at deficit spending in the mid-1990s, cutting deep and sparing no one, only to watch his government’s popularity soar ever higher. The prime minister back then, Jean Chrétien, was paying close attention and privately credits Klein for giving him the inspiration to act against federal overspending.

But Ralph Klein did more than cure a fiscal problem. He privatized liquor retailing and auto registration to wild public applause. He introduced a flat tax on income. He invested heavily in medical research.

While an ardent environmentalist in terms of protecting parks, fishing grounds and sensitive ecology, he laughed off greenhouse gases as a byproduct of farting cows.

He accepted only executive summaries and never tolerated thick reports cluttering his desk. He denounced his political opponents, but respected them enough to listen if they made a legitimate argument.

He conspired with chief of staff Rod Love to leak almost everything to grateful reporters, encounters he called document perusal opportunities, knowing they would become the political IOUs he could cash in when times got tough.

Sure he made mistakes. He cut health care too deeply, sending thousands of precious nurses and doctors out of the province before he blew up the Calgary hospital he was born in. He tried to cut down kindergarten hours, until the backlash prompted second thoughts. He announced a plan to invoke the constitutional notwithstanding clause to deny those who were wrongly sterilized all due process of law to seek compensation. Within 24 hours, he personally killed the idea for its horrific optics.

Of course, he had something a drinking problem. After a notorious appearance at a homeless shelter after a long night on the town, he took a vow of public temperance, but he never entirely stopped. He just didn’t drink in public.

Toward the end of his political life, he seemed bored. He privately complained to me that it was easier to govern in an era of restraint than in times of plenty. Too many people have their palms out now, he’d say. And he didn’t like to say no when the province could easily afford to say yes.

The last time we talked was in July 2010, I found him alone in a private box at the Calgary Stampede. We had a few drinks and then cheered on the last chuckwagon race of the season. Minutes later, as a tractor pulled the evening performance stage into place, he demanded to know what was happening because they had yet to run the last race featuring his favorite driver. I explained that they had just completed it and his driver had won. He refused to believe me and stormed off in a huff. That’s when I realized something was seriously wrong.

That set the stage for Ralph Klein’s sad final years suffering from the relentless clouding of dementia. One of Canada’s most gifted communicators, with an impeccable memory for names, passed away in a mental fog, struggling to talk or even recognize his family.

But long may the fond memory of Ralph Phillip Klein live on in the minds of Albertans and all Canadians. His King Ralph reign featured a blue-collar force of unique character who kept his campaign promises, admitted his personal mistakes, never strutted a swollen head or oversized ego and was rewarded with seven massive victories at the civic and provincial ballot box.

He once described his first victory as premier in 1993 as the Miracle on the Prairie. In fact, there was no bigger miracle than having a rough-and-tumble Calgary kid who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks morph into a phenomenon of political personality.

In this deteriorating age of chronic flip-flips, endless spin and robotic performances by our politicians, the true tragedy of Ralph Klein’s passing is that we may not see the likes of him again.

(CTV Power Play host Don Martin was author of the best-selling biography, King Ralph, published by Key Porter Books in 2003.)

National Post

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jollyjacktar

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I knew Ralph more as my mayor than my premier.  I liked him, my condolences to his family.  :salute:
 

ModlrMike

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Condolences to his family. We may not see his like again for some time.
 

kratz

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While doing my university studies I admired Ralph. I even have a letter from him in response to my research on amalgamation of cities and provinces (early to mid 1990s). My condolences to his friends and family.
 

larry Strong

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From a "eastern bums and creeps" I wish to extend my condolences to his family.  :salute: Things sure have changed in God's country since his day.......




larry
 
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jollyjacktar

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Larry Strong said:
From a "eastern bums and creeps" I wish to extend my condolences to his family.  :salute: Things sure have changed in God's country since his day.......




larry

From what I can see here in the east the place has gone to the dogs so to speak.  So much for all the work Peter Lougheed put into the Heritage Fund, they've blown it all.
 

garb811

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jollyjacktar

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What I've heard before down here was that the fund was gone or moans to that effect.  I'm glad I've been corrected then. 
 

Edward Campbell

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Tom Flanagan is out of favour right now but this tribute, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from the Globe and Mail is how I remember both Mayor and Premier Klein, as the original and complete "common sense revolutionary:"

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/tom-flanagan-deficit-and-debt-fighters-of-today-should-learn-from-ralph-klein/article10586347/
Deficit and debt fighters of today should learn from Ralph Klein

TOM FLANAGAN
Calgary — Special to The Globe and Mail

Published Saturday, Mar. 30 2013

All politicians say they went into public life “to make a difference.” Ralph Klein actually did make a difference. He showed Alberta – and Canada – how to deal with runaway deficits and public debt.

The Klein model was a steroidal version of short-term pain for long-term gain. Rather than just level off the growth in spending, he made deep actual reductions. He imposed a 5 per cent salary cut on all public servants in Alberta, including teachers, professors and nurses. By moving quickly, he got results. If you try to get rid of deficits over a long period of time, the unexpected will always happen. Tax revenues will decline, or interest rates will go up – maybe both of those, with lots of other contingencies, too.

Quick action also prevented the special interests from organizing against the provincial government. Actions were taken before you could say “general strike.” And by cutting everything, he prevented sympathy-seekers from claiming victimization. Everybody was sharing the short-lived but necessary hardship.

Mr. Klein was not content with just balancing the budget. After that was done, he proceeded to pay off all provincial debt, and started to reduce the draws against the Heritage Fund. He also took advantage of high oil and gas prices to build up a Stabilization Fund to carry Alberta through the next period of falling resource revenues. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but sadly it just encouraged his feckless successors to procrastinate to the point where Alberta is now in almost as bad a condition as it was in 1992 when Mr. Klein became premier.

All this, it should be noted, was done without raising taxes. Mr. Klein saw clearly that Alberta’s problem was unrestrained spending, not insufficiency of revenue. Indeed, once the budget was balanced, he proceeded to enact tax cuts, such as the 10 per cent single-rate provincial income tax that is one of the best features of government finance in this province. He also made a bargain with Jean Chrétien to kick start oil sands development. Alberta would reduce royalties while the federal government would reduce corporate income tax rates on producers in the oil sands.

Mr. Klein’s achievements in Alberta affected all of Canada. His quick action became the inspiration for budget-balancing measures undertaken by Mike Harris in Ontario and Mr. Chrétien at the federal level. It was particularly instructive to other politicians that Mr. Klein and his party were re-elected in 1997 with an even bigger majority than they had obtained in 1993. Re-election showed that voters would support prompt, decisive action in favour of fiscal responsibility.

Today’s politicians vie with each other to take credit for Canada’s relatively favourable performance during the Great Recession that started in 2008. Both Liberals and Conservatives deserve some recognition, but if you want to know when and where Canada’s success really started, think about the homely little guy from Alberta with the funny face and the crooked smile.

Tom Flanagan is professor of political science at the University of Calgary.


Ralph Klein was Premier from 1992 until 2006, he was always controversial, rarely boring and sometimes (often?) not on the right side of history - except in economics wherein he was a beacon to political leaders everywhere in the democratic, capitalist, Western world. He saw the problem - there's really only one - clearly: overspending, living beyond our means. He also saw the best solution: to reduce spending, not to raise taxes. And, as Prof Flanagan notes, he struck hard and fast and he never gave the "tax and spend" crowd a chance to respond; we, as military people, should admire and applaud both his strategy and his tactics.

Ralph Klein was a leader, and he gave a face to leadership guru Warren G Bennis' adage that: "Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right." Ralph Klein did the right things for Alberta and for Canada.

 

Dissident

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E.R. Campbell said:
Ralph Klein was Premier from 1992 until 2006, he was always controversial, rarely boring and sometimes (often?) not on the right side of history - except in economics wherein he was a beacon to political leaders everywhere in the democratic, capitalist, Western world. He saw the problem - there's really only one - clearly: overspending, living beyond our means. He also saw the best solution: to reduce spending, not to raise taxes. And, as Prof Flanagan notes, he struck hard and fast and he never gave the "tax and spend" crowd a chance to respond; we, as military people, should admire and applaud both his strategy and his tactics.

Ralph Klein was a leader, and he gave a face to leadership guru Warren G Bennis' adage that: "Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right." Ralph Klein did the right things for Alberta and for Canada.

Ralph Klein is a name I barely know, but if you were trying to win me over to his side, you could not have done better.
 

mosada881

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As a former Serving Canadian Army member and a native Albertan I am very proud to say I am able to protect a piece of his legacy.

I purchased Ralph's VW Beetle this past spring as a present or my wife but it end up being my daily driver for the summer. Its a fantastic piece of history that I hope to restore and cherish.

Its a real treat driving through downtown Calgary past City Hall from time to time dreaming of the stories that car would probably love to share.

Its a shame that Alberta has largely forgotten this very influential and successful leader already in so many ways.
I hope that I can restore the old VDub a bit more and enter her into the Stampede Parade this coming summer.

Pic is my wife and son enjoying the top down.
 
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