Ralph Phillip Klein, OC AOE (November 1, 1942 – March 29,
2013) was a Canadian politician who served as the 12th Premier of
Alberta and leader of the Progressive Conservative Association of
Alberta from 1992 until his retirement in 2006. Klein's tenure as
premier ended when the
Alberta Progressive Conservatives' new leader,
Ed Stelmach, assumed office December 14, 2006, exactly fourteen
years after Klein first became Premier. His nickname was "King
Ralph", a reference to his political longevity and his management
style. Klein continued the PC dynasty, winning four consecutive
1 Early years
2 Mayor of Calgary
3 National Energy Program
4 Entry into provincial politics
Alberta Advantage: Klein's austerity campaign
5.2 Prosperity Bonus
5.3 Health Care
Ralph Klein and the oil sands
5.5 Beef ban
5.6 Same-sex marriage
5.7 Forestry industries
5.8 Law Enforcement
5.10 Memorable moments and controversies
Leadership review and retirement
6 Later life
7 Illness and death
9 See also
11 Further reading
Klein was born in Calgary, to Phillip Andrew Klein (1917-2014) and
Florence Harper (1924–2004). His paternal grandparents were
immigrants, from Germany and England, respectively. His parents
separated when he was 6 and he lived with his maternal grandparents in
the city's north end. His father, Phil, was born in Rocky Mountain
House, Alberta, grew up poor and rode the rails during the Great
Depression in search of work. In the early 1940s he married Florence
Harper, a waitress, and lived in her parents' basement in Calgary
while trying to make ends meet working in construction. After
separating from his mother, Klein's father worked as a professional
wrestler in the
Alberta circuit for most of the 1950s using the name
Phil "The Killer" Klein and later became a businessman.
Ralph Klein grew up in a working-class part of
Calgary and dropped out
of high school, joined the
RCAF reserves, then completed high
school later in life. Klein attended
Calgary Business College, and
later served as president of that institution. He later studied at
Athabasca University. He was public relations official at the Red
Cross and United Way's offices in
Calgary from 1963 to 1969. From
1969 to 1980 he was a television reporter.
Mayor of Calgary
Klein rose to public prominence in
Calgary as a radio and television
personality. He was the Senior Civic Affairs reporter with CFCN-TV and
CFCN radio. Klein gained his first political experience when he was
elected 32nd mayor of Calgary, Alberta, on 15 October 1980, one of two
mayors born in Calgary. He was re-elected in 1983 and 1986. During
his tenure he presided over the 1988 Winter Olympics, the first
Canadian city to host the games. The
Calgary bid proposed by the
Canadian Olympic Association (COA), would spend nearly three times
what the rival Vancouver group proposed.
Ralph Klein and other
civic leaders crisscrossed the world attempting to woo International
Olympic Committee (IOC) delegates.
He also oversaw the development of the Calgary's Light Rail Transit
System and protection of the Bow River.
National Energy Program
Main article: National Energy Program
The federal government introduced the
National Energy Program
National Energy Program (NEP)
which "effectively imposed revenue-sharing burdens on oil and gas
revenues in Alberta, shortly after Klein took office as mayor of
While he was mayor, the city was enjoying an economic boom, attracting
many unskilled labourers from all over the country. Klein gained
unfavourable national attention by blaming eastern "creeps and bums"
for straining the city's social services and police. Prior to
entering provincial politics, Klein considered himself a Liberal Party
supporter, although he did support the federal Progressive
Conservative Party of
Brian Mulroney in the 1988 federal election.
Entry into provincial politics
Klein made the transition from municipal to provincial politics,
becoming a member of the legislative assembly for the riding of
Calgary-Elbow in the 1989 general election. He was named the minister
of environment in Don Getty's government. Klein retained the title
"the Honourable" for the duration of his membership in the Executive
Council of Alberta.
Getty knew that the Tories faced a statutory general election in 1993.
With polls showing the Liberals far ahead, Getty decided to retire
from politics. Under former
Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore, the
Liberals had made major gains by criticizing the Progressive
Conservatives' fiscal responsibility, the province's rapidly rising
debt, and the government's involvement in the private sector which
resulted in some companies defaulting on government loans. Klein
campaigned for the leadership in part by making arguments similar to
Decore's. He favoured a near-immediate balancing of the provincial
budget and rapid debt repayment thereafter, and declared his
government "out of the business of business". Klein was elected leader
Alberta Progressive Conservative Party on December 5, 1992, and
Premier of Alberta
Premier of Alberta on December 14, 1992. He led the party
to victory in the 1993 election, winning 51 of the 83 seats in the
legislature, and almost 45% of the popular vote. The 32 opposition
MLAs—all Liberals—would be the most opposition that Klein would
face during his 12 years as premier.
He was re-elected in 1997, this time with 51% of the popular vote and
winning 63 of the 83 seats in the legislature. He got his highest
amount of support ever in the 2001 election, winning 62% of the
popular vote and 74 of the 83 seats—the biggest majority that the
PCs had held since the
Peter Lougheed era.
Alberta Advantage: Klein's austerity campaign
By the mid-1980s there was a worldwide oil glut, a serious surplus of
crude oil, with the world price of oil dropping from over US$35 per
barrel to below $10. The glut began in the early 1980s as a
result of slowed economic activity in industrial countries (due to the
crises of the 1970s, especially in 1973 and 1979) and the energy
conservation spurred by high fuel prices. Time Magazine
stated, "the world temporarily floats in a glut of oil." By
1993, when Klein took office, Alberta's debt had reached C$23
The repayment of the debt was one of the most significant long-term
goals of Klein's premiership. During Klein's austerity campaign, the
"Klein Revolution", or The
Alberta Advantage, as Klein called it,
Klein slashed government spending by deep cuts – more than 20 per
cent – in public spending resulting in massive job losses in the
public sector. The Klein government initiated the sale of the
provincial public telephone company, AGT to private interests.
At the 2004
Calgary Stampede, Klein announced that the province had
set aside the necessary funds to repay its public debt in 2005. Klein
was re-elected for a fourth term in the 2004 provincial election held
on November 22, 2004 with a reduced majority, as he only won 47% of
the vote, and only 62 out of the 83 ridings.
"Never again will this government or the people of this province have
to set aside another tax dollar on debt..."Those days are over and
they're over for good, as far as my government is concerned, and if
need be we will put in place legislation to make sure that we never
have a debt again."
Ralph Klein 2004
Ralph Klein and sculptor
Ryan McCourt at the unveiling of "A Modern
Outlook" in Edmonton, Alberta.
From the mid-1980s to September 2003, the inflation adjusted price of
a barrel of crude oil on NYMEX was generally under $25/barrel. A
rebound in the price of oil worldwide led to big provincial surpluses
Alberta since the mid-1990. During 2004, the price of oil rose
above $40, and then $50. A series of events led the price to exceed
$60 by August 11, 2005, leading to a record-speed hike that reached
$75 by the middle of 2006.
Political analyst David Taras of
Mount Royal University
Mount Royal University argued that
although Klein was popular, he failed at public policy. His focus on
paying down Alberta's fiscal debt during an oil boom - a time when
interest rates on debt were low - was done "at the expense of
hospitals, roads, light rail transit lines, and investing in better
health-care services or education." Rich Vivone, who was involved
Alberta politics from 1980-2005, claimed Klein "had the trust and
popularity to do almost anything he wanted and survive" and his
"fiscal achievements early in his career were significant, but he
"utterly failed at health reform and economic diversification" and he
did "little for culture, recreation or the arts."
Main article: Prosperity Bonus
As the global price of oil increased Klein created the Prosperity
Bonus, known locally as "Ralph Bucks," in which the
sent a $400 cheque to each
Alberta resident not in prison, at a cost
of $1.4 billion. ATB Financial's Todd Hirsch observed,
"At the same time, the University of
Calgary was looking at expanding.
It had great plans for a downtown campus that was going to cost around
$1 billion. I think we missed some great opportunities to invest in
our post-secondary education systems; instead, we frittered away our
money. People got a couple of dinners and put some gas in their
Hummer, and that was about it."
— Todd Hirsch, Senior Economist
In October 1998 Klein had the old
Calgary General Hospital demolished
In July 2005 Klein delivered a speech on the "third way" of health
care which would lie between the American system and the Canadian
system. He proposed a series of provincial health care reforms
that would potentially violate the
Canada Health Act. Klein's reforms
Alberta would have permitted for-profit care and made it possible
to jump queues, to "allow patients to pay cash for some surgery and
let doctors practice in both the public and private health
systems." Public outcry forced the government to listen to
Albertans and the third way was not legislated.
Klein responded by exclaiming, "I don't need this crap" and throwing
the Liberal health care policy book at a seventeen-year-old page who
had delivered the book during question period in the Alberta
legislature. The same booklet later sold on eBay for a reported
$1,400, signed by Alberta's Liberal Leader Kevin Taft, with the
caption, "Policy on the fly". Earlier in the question period he
also had to apologize for calling Liberal leader
Kevin Taft a liar on
the floor of the legislature, which is considered unparliamentary
language. His apology consisted of saying, "Sorry, Mr. Speaker. I
won't use the word 'fib.' I'll say that he doesn't tell the whole
truth all the time - most of the time." Reacting to comments
made in March 2006 by Ontario Premier
Dalton McGuinty opposing any
two-tiered health care system in Ontario that Klein has proposed in
Alberta which would allow quicker access to surgery for those who pay,
Klein stated "I'm no doctor, but I think that Mr. McGuinty's got a
case of premature speculation".
"This was matched by the elimination of or reduction of hours for
14,753 positions in health care. Regionalization of Alberta’s health
care was intended to rationalize health services."
Ralph Klein and the oil sands
Ralph Klein serving as Marshal at the 2005
Calgary Stampede Parade
Calgary's economy was so closely tied to the oil industry that the
city's boom peaked with the average annual price of oil in 1981.
As the price of oil rose Alberta's budget surplus stood at $4 billion
in 2004. The province used this surplus to eliminate its $3-billion
The subsequent drops in oil prices were cited by industry as reasons
for a collapse in the oil industry and consequently the overall
Calgary economy. Low oil prices prevented a full recovery until the
1990s. Federal and provincial and federal major
investment incentives for oil sands companies were introduced by both
the federal government under Prime Minister
Jean Chrétien and the
provincial government under Klein. The Liberal federal government
"reformed and streamlined the tax write-offs it allowed for oil sands
firms." Klein "scrapped a welter of one-off royalty deals to create a
generic royalty – one that demanded only token payments in the first
years of the megaprojects." This facilitated oil sands development.
According to the
"Ralph Klein’s legacy is inextricably linked to his government’s
role in encouraging the province’s energy industry – particularly
his role in presiding over the province as development in northern
Alberta’s oil sands flourished."
— Kelly Cryderman
Klein changed Alberta's royalty system so that oil companies paid only
one per cent of their profits to
Alberta until they recovered the cost
of the project. The royalty rose to 25 per cent once the recovery cost
was reached. Canadian Association of
Petroleum Producers (CAPP)
claimed there was almost $4 billion coming from oil sands royalties in
In late June 2003, Klein and U.S. Vice President
Dick Cheney met to
discuss the route of an Alaskan oil pipeline, which Klein argued had
to be integrated with the extensive
Alberta pipeline system. This was
popular with Cheney and other advocates of North American energy
independence in the oil industry.
At the end of Klein's term one of the most common concerns "was that
Albertans were not getting enough money for their resources."
Cheney had met with Klein to discuss the American ban on Albertan beef
that was in place following discovery of mad cow disease in a cow in
Alberta in 2003. The cow was inspected, found to be substandard and
removed so that it would not be fed to animals or humans. The carcass
was processed into oils and the head sent to the
United Kingdom where
the case of mad cow was confirmed. Klein said, "I guess any
self-respecting rancher would have shot, shovelled and shut up, but he
didn't do that," referring to the farmer in northern
animal was found to have the disease when it was taken to a
slaughterhouse. Exports of Canadian beef cattle had
already been stopped at the U.S. border, with other countries already
following suit. Japan had been a key stumbling block to getting the
U.S. border reopened because it made clear it might rethink taking
U.S. beef if it had Canadian beef mixed in with it. Klein called on
the federal government of
Canada for support, citing the response to
SARS crisis in previous months.
In June 2003, an Ontario Superior Court Charter ruling removed federal
restrictions on same-sex unions being recognized legally as marriage.
Klein repeated a promise to use the Notwithstanding Clause in the
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to veto any requirement that
the province register same-sex marriages. Contrary to
many media reports which annoyed Klein, this was a
position of the
Alberta legislature itself, passed five years earlier,
and not a new position of his own. In December 2004, Klein called for
a national referendum on the issue of same-sex marriage.[citation
needed] This plan was quickly rejected by the government of Paul
Martin and by federal Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper.
Following the federal Parliament's approval of same-sex marriage in
2005 via Bill C-38, Klein announced initially that his government
would fight the distribution of same-sex marriage licences.[citation
needed] However, he later recanted, stating publicly that there was no
legal route to oppose the federal act (neither via the notwithstanding
clause nor the province's power over civil marriage), and the
government reluctantly acknowledged the marriages.
Economic diversification was one of Klein's goals. In December 1990
Klein announced the final approval for the construction of "North
America’s newest and largest pulp mill" by Alberta-Pacific Forest
Industries Inc. (Al-Pac). It was the "first in a new generation of
pulp mills constructed to meet higher environmental standards put in
place in the late 1980s." Al-Pac received a loan of $264 million
from Klein from the
Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund in what Klein
called a "sweetheart deal." Against the advice of the Auditor General
and the Provincial Treasurer on March 31, 1997 Klein wrote off the
$140 million loan to the Alpac Joint Venture with
Mitsubishi/Crestbrook/OJI et al. when prices were low for pulp.
It was under Klein's government that the
Alberta Sheriffs Branch, was
re-organized into its current state. The Klein government increasingly
utilized CAPS, the precursor to the Sheriffs Branch, for special
provincial law enforcement duties instead of the RCMP. In 2006, CAPS
was renamed and the newly christened Sheriffs Branch was expanded
rapidly to take on assignments that previously were the purview of the
RCMP, the provincial policing authority.
It was at this time that the
Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams
were created as well.
Klein's social and environmental views were seen by opponents as
uncaring. Supporters argued in response that Klein was merely choosing
appropriate priorities for limited government funding.
Klein was opposed to the Kyoto Accord, since
Alberta was a major
producer of oil and natural gas, and he felt that environmental
measures would hurt the economy. The successive government initiated a
massive carbon-capture project.
Klein made national headlines again as environment minister when he
flipped off an environmental activist who was protesting the
government's decision to allow the Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries
Inc. (Al-Pac) pulp mill to be constructed near Athabasca.[citation
needed] Klein defended his actions by noting that it was the protester
who made the offensive gesture first.
At a 2002 fund-raiser Klein joked,
"You know, my science is limited to the fact that I know that eons ago
there was an ice age. I know that for sure. I know that at one time,
the Arctic was the tropics. And I guess I wonder what caused that? Was
it dinosaur farts? I don’t know."
— Ralph Klein
Memorable moments and controversies
In the late 1980s Klein was photographed in a
Calgary bar drinking
with two members of the Grim Reapers Motorcycle Club, later to be
patched over to the Hells Angels. Years later, this photo was used
against him by the
Hells Angels when he objected to them patching over
two motorcycle clubs in
Alberta in 1997.
After an embarrassing incident in 2001, where a drunken Klein berated
people in an
Edmonton homeless shelter for being unemployed, Klein
held a press conference to discuss his alcoholism. Albertans continued
to support him for many more years.
After the incident, Klein pledged to either severely curb or stop
drinking, and did not acknowledge having another drink for the balance
of his premiership. Klein resisted calls to acknowledge his drinking
problem as alcoholism.
One comment Klein made on the radio, that a youth court judge (who had
suggested he would not sit in order to protest about judges' salary)
should be "very, very quickly fired," was brought before the Supreme
Canada in the
Provincial Judges Reference
Provincial Judges Reference (1997) for raising
concerns about judicial independence. The court merely said the
comment was "unfortunate."
In February 2006, the
Western Standard magazine came under fire for
printing comments about Klein's wife Colleen Klein, who is Métis. A
column by Ric Dolphin, arguing that Colleen Klein has too much
influence over her husband, quoted an unnamed source who said "Once
she stops being the premier's wife, she goes back to being just
Wikinews has related news:
Ralph Klein joke outrages
Liberal MP Belinda Stronach
During a charity roast on November 9, 2006 Klein made a lewd joke at
the expense of former Conservative Member of Parliament Belinda
Stronach: "Belinda roasted me as a Conservative, but of course now
she's a Liberal.. and I wasn't surprised that she crossed over; I
don't think she ever did have a Conservative bone in her body.. well,
except for one." (Referring to Peter MacKay, her former boyfriend, who
is a member of the Conservative Party of Canada.) Klein refused to
apologize for the remark stating that "a roast is a roast is a roast
is a roast", while his spokesman pointed out that "Ms. Stronach
roasted the premier two years ago and made remarks about his weight,
his clothing and even his flatulence".
Leadership review and retirement
Further information: Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta
leadership election, 2006
Prior to the 2004 election, Klein stated his intention to serve only
one more term in office. Pressure mounted on Klein to set a firm date
and, following such a request from party executive director Peter
Elzinga, Klein announced on March 14, 2006, that he would be tendering
his resignation on 31 October 2007. He subsequently stated that
his resignation would take effect in early 2008 after a successor is
chosen at the party's leadership election.
Klein announced his timetable days before party delegates were to vote
in a review of his leadership on March 31, 2006. The drawn-out
schedule for his retirement, along with his announcement that any
cabinet minister who wished to run for leader must resign by June
2006, generated a large degree of controversy, including criticism
from cabinet minister
Lyle Oberg who was subsequently fired from
cabinet and suspended from caucus.
When the leadership review ballot was held, Klein won the support of
only 55% of delegates, down from the 90% level of support he had won
at previous reviews and far lower than the 75% Klein felt he needed in
order to continue. The result was described as a "crushing blow" to
Klein's leadership. In 2006,
Alberta Progressive Conservative Premier
Ralph Klein agreed to step down as party leader that year after he
received the endorsement of only 55% of delegates in a leadership
review. In the weeks prior to the vote, Klein had said he would
resign immediately if he did not win the leadership review by a
"substantial" margin. In the hours following the vote, Klein released
a statement thanking delegates for their support and saying he would
take several days to consider his future.
Given the results of this vote, I intend to meet with party officials
and my staff to discuss my next step. I will do this as quickly as
possible and announce a decision about my future shortly.
— Ralph Klein
At a press conference on April 4, 2006, Klein announced that as a
result of the lukewarm vote for his continued leadership he would
submit a letter in September to Alberta's Progressive Conservative
Party urging them to convene a leadership contest. Klein said he would
resign as party leader and Premier after a successor was named, and
would assist the new leader in their transition to Premier.
Klein officially handed in his resignation as party leader on
September 20, 2006, officially kicking off the
Conservative Party leadership race. However, Klein remained premier
until the new PC Leader, Ed Stelmach, assumed office on December 14,
2006. He resigned his seat in the legislature on January 15, 2007.
On January 18, 2007, the law firm
Borden Ladner Gervais announced that
Klein, who is not a lawyer, would join their firm as a senior business
adviser who would bring "valuable insights to our clients as they look
to do business in Alberta, in Canada, and in North America".
In a July 9, 2007, interview on Business News Network, Klein
criticized Conservative PM
Stephen Harper and Federal Finance Minister
Jim Flaherty for their mishandling of the Income Trust issue and for
not keeping their word on Income Trust taxation. According to the
Canadian Association of Income Trust Investors, the change in tax
rules cost investors $35 billion in market value. Stephen Harper
specifically promised "not to raid seniors' nest eggs" during the 2006
On March 27, 2008, Klein was created an Officer of the Order of the
Legion of Honour by the Government of France. The creation had
been approved by the Government of
Canada on November 24, 2007.
On March 20, 2010, Klein appeared on his own television game show
called On the Clock on the Crossroads Television System network.
Klein, shown perched on a golden throne, evaluates the responses and
awards "Ralph Bucks" to the contestants whose answers he found the
best. The person who has the most Ralph Bucks at the end of the game
is declared the winner.
Illness and death
On December 15, 2010, it was reported that Klein was suffering from
COPD, a lung disease. His long-time friend Hal Walker commented that
Klein was "not well."
On April 8, 2011, it was reported that Klein was suffering from Pick's
disease, a form of progressive dementia.[full citation
Klein was hospitalized in September 2011 due to complications from
COPD and dementia. He died in
Calgary on March 29, 2013.
Klein held the
Order of La Pléiade
Order of La Pléiade from the Assembly of La
He received the Queen
Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in
2002, the
Alberta Centennial Medal in 2005,[citation
needed], The Queen
Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 and
was appointed to the
Alberta Order of Excellence
Alberta Order of Excellence in 2010.
Klein was made an Officer of the Legion of Honour by France in
Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from University of
2011. and a member of the Order of
Canada in late
Klein was made an honorary member of the Blackfoot Siksika Nation, one
of only two to be honoured as such.
Ralph Klein Park in
Calgary is the first park to be named for a former
mayor during his lifetime. The 30.35 hectare site contains an
Environmental Education Centre and man-made wetland to improve
stormwater quality before it enters the
Bow River system.
Ralph Klein joke outrages Liberal MP Belinda
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Retrieved March 20, 2010. Missing or empty title= (help)[dead
^ Bell, Rick (December 15, 2010). "Former Alta. premier Ralph Klein
very ill: Friends". Ottawa Sun. Retrieved September 23, 2011.
Ralph Klein suffering from front temporal dementia Disease". Global
Calgary. Shaw Media. April 8, 2011. Retrieved September 23,
Ralph Klein seriously ill in Calgary
seniors' facility". National Post. March 20, 2013. Retrieved March 29,
^ Braid, Don (April 8, 2011). "Former
Alberta premier Ralph Klein
suffering from progressive dementia". Vancouver Sun. Postmedia
Network. Retrieved April 8, 2011. [permanent dead link]
Ralph Klein hospitalized". CTV News.
Canadian Press. September 23, 2011. Archived from the original on
September 24, 2011. Retrieved September 23, 2011.
^ "Former Premier
Ralph Klein dies after long illness". Globalnews.ca.
Retrieved March 29, 2013.
^ Bill Graveland (March 30, 2013). "
Ralph Klein Dead:
Remember One Of Its Most Prominent Leaders (photos, video)". The
Huffington Post. Retrieved September 27, 2014.
^ Alberta's top citizens chosen to receive province's highest
Ralph Klein named to the Order of
Canada CTV News".
Ctvnews.ca. June 29, 2012. Retrieved March 29, 2013.
^ Schmidt, Colleen (1 April 2013). "Memories of Ralph on minds of many
Albertans". CTV Calgary. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
Retrieved April 3, 2017. Missing or empty title= (help)
Perry, Sandra E.; Craig, Jessica J. (2006). The Mantle of
Leadership : Premiers of the Northwest Territories and Alberta.
Edmonton, Alberta: Legislative Assembly of Alberta.
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