|12th Premier of Alberta|
December 14, 1992 – December 14, 2006
|Lieutenant Governor||Gordon Towers|
|Preceded by||Don Getty|
|Succeeded by||Ed Stelmach|
|Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta for Calgary-Elbow|
March 20, 1989 – January 15, 2007
|Preceded by||David John Russell|
|Succeeded by||Craig Cheffins|
|Alberta Minister of Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs|
June 1993 – September 15, 1994
|Preceded by||Peter Elzinga|
|Succeeded by||Ken Rostad|
|Alberta Minister of the Environment|
March 1989 – December 14, 1992
|Preceded by||Ian Reid|
|Succeeded by||Brian Evans|
|32nd Mayor of Calgary|
October 27, 1980 – March 21, 1989
|Preceded by||Ross Alger|
|Succeeded by||Donald Adam Hartman|
Ralph Phillip Klein
November 1, 1942
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
|Died||March 29, 2013 (aged 70)|
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
|Political party||Progressive Conservative|
(m. 1961; div. 1971)
|Children||3 and 2 stepchildren|
|Alma mater||Athabasca University|
|Branch/service||Royal Canadian Air Force|
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 majority governments.
Klein was born in Calgary, to Philip Andrew Klein (1917-2014) and Florence Jeanette 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 Royal Canadian Air Force 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. 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.
Mayor of Calgary
Klein gained his first political experience when he was elected 32nd mayor of Calgary, Alberta, on 15 October 1980, He is one of only two mayors born in Calgary. Klein was re-elected as mayor twice, first in 1983 and again in 1986. Klein place significant emphasis on the protection of the Bow River.
Klein began his term as mayor with a significant infrastructure project. The newly relocated Calgary Flames were in moved to the city just as the city prepared a bid for the 1988 Winter Olympics. A stadium was necessary for both purposes and City Council debated the merits of several locations for the city's new Olympic Coliseum, and narrowed their choices down to two areas in the Victoria Park neighbourhood on the east end of downtown. Two other sites, one on the west end of downtown, and a late bid by several businessmen pushing to build the arena in the northern suburb of Airdrie were also considered.
The Victoria Park Community Association fought the bid to build the arena in their neighborhood, threatening to oppose the city's Olympic bid if necessary. City Council voted on March 3, 1981 to build the proposed 20,000 seat arena on the Stampede grounds, immediately east of the Corral and south of Victoria Park. The community continued to fight the city over rezoning the land to allow for the new arena amidst fears of traffic congestion in their neighbourhood which resulted in numerous costly delays to the start of construction. In a bid to end the battle, Mayor Ralph Klein asked the provincial government in July 1981 to take over the land designated for the arena to bypass the appeals process and force approval. The province supported the city amidst protests by community associations and invoked rarely used powers to overrule planning regulations, allowing construction to begin. The following day, on July 29, 1981, builders began construction of the arena. The International Olympic Committee was impressed that the project was underway, as noted in the XV Olympic Winter Games official report which stated "The fact that this facility was already being built added credibility to (Calgary's) bid and proved to be a positive factor in demonstrating Calgary's commitment to hosting the Games".
1988 Calgary Winter Olympics
During his tenure he presided over the 1988 Winter Olympics, the first Canadian city to host the winter games. The 1988 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 as the city competed against rival bids by Falun, Sweden and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.
While the games were viewed as a success for Klein and the city of Calgary, it was not without its issues. Residents had been promised that only 10 percent of tickets would go to "Olympic insiders", IOC officials and sponsors, but OCO'88 was later forced to admit that up to 50 percent of seats to top events had gone to insiders. The organizing committee, which was subsequently chastised by mayor Klein for running a "closed shop", admitted that it had failed to properly communicate the obligations it had to supply IOC officials and sponsors with priority tickets. These events were preceded by OCO'88's ticketing manager being charged with theft and fraud after he sent modified ticket request forms to Americans that asked them to pay in United States funds rather than Canadian and to return them to his company's post office box rather than that of the organizing committee.
During the 1988 Olympics, Klein mistook the King of Norway Olav V for his driver, and asked that he fetch the car. Olav, who was startled, explained who he was as he pulled out his silver cigarette case, after which Klein bummed a cigarette from him.
Light rail transit
Klein oversaw the development of the Calgary's light rail transit system (known as the Ctrain) which began operation on May 25, 1981 shortly after Klein's first term began, and expanded as the city has increased in population. The system is operated by Calgary Transit, as part of the Calgary municipal government's transportation department. The South Line was planned to extend to the northwest, political pressures led to the commission of the "Northeast Line", running from Whitehorn station (at 36 Street NE and 39 Avenue NE) to the downtown core, with a new downtown terminal station for both lines at 10 Street SW, which opened on April 27, 1985. The "Northwest Line", the extension of the South Line to the city's northwest, was opened on September 17, 1987, in time for the 1988 Winter Olympics.
National Energy Program
The federal government under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau introduced the National Energy Program (NEP) which "effectively imposed revenue-sharing burdens on oil and gas revenues in Alberta, in the October 1980 budget shortly after Klein took office as mayor of Calgary.
While he was mayor, the city enjoyed an economic boom. This was contrary to the 1980s global recession around the world. Calgary attracted 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. He supported 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 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 had seen 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".
He led the party to victory in the 1993 election, winning 51 of the 83 seats in the legislature, (with only 45% of the popular vote). The 32 opposition MLAs — all Liberals — were the most numerous opposition that Klein faced 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.
The 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 billion.
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 seats.
"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
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 in 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 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 in Alberta politics from 1980 to 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."
As the global price of oil increased Klein created the Prosperity Bonus, known locally as "Ralph Bucks," in which the Alberta government sent a $400 cheque to each Alberta resident not in prison, at a cost of $1.4 billion. ATB Financial's Todd Hirsch observed, "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. Colourful as this is, most Albertans do not drive Hummers. The $400 was seen as a god-send by many struggling families. It aided the economy by putting purchasing power in the hands of those who would immediately spend it.
In October 1998 Klein had the old Calgary General Hospital demolished with explosives.
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 for 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
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 debt.
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 Calgary Herald,
"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 2006.
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 Alberta whose 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 the Toronto 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 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. 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. 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. 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 Court of Canada in the 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 another Indian."
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
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 later proposed that his resignation would take effect in early 2008 after a successor is chosen at the party's leadership election.
Klein announced this 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 (March 31, 2006), only 55 percent of the delegates supported Klein. This was down from the 90% level of support he had won at previous reviews and far lower than the 75% Klein said he felt he needed in order to continue. The result was described as a "crushing blow" to Klein's leadership. 
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 it 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 Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership race. However, Klein remained premier until the new PC Leader, Ed Stelmach, assumed office on December 14, 2006.
Klein 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 federal election.
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
In September 2005 during the 22nd meeting of the American region of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie in Alberta, Premier Ralph Klein and Speaker Kenneth Kowalski received the Order of La Pléiade, for individuals who have contributed to the promotion of the French language and culture in their respective jurisdictions. Klein would also be made an Officer of the Legion of Honour by France in 2008.
He received the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, the Alberta Centennial Medal in 2005, The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 and was appointed to the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2010.
Ralph Klein Park in Calgary is the first park to be named for a former mayor during his lifetime. The 30.35 hectare (75 acre) site contains an Environmental Education Centre and man-made wetland to improve stormwater quality before it enters the Bow River system.
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