Ralph Klein, R.I.P.: the deceptive shape of a shadow

In the bustle of obituaries, Colby Cosh sets the record straight

by Colby Cosh

Ralph Klein, the former premier of Alberta, has died at 70. He shall not now ever be able to collect on the vast debt of apologies he is owed by calumniators, false chroniclers, lazy pundits, and political enemies. The misunderstandings of Ralph have been copious and mostly deliberate. He is still routinely characterized as an anti-gay social conservative in league with sinister theocratic forces, even though he was personally about as churchy as an alley cat. More importantly, he took a diamond-hard line against the use of the “notwithstanding” clause after the Supreme Court wrote sexual orientation into Alberta’s discrimination law in the Vriend decision; and he insisted the public accept the court’s verdict.

He is accused of failing to maximize the public benefits of Alberta’s resource wealth and “save” oil and gas funds for the future, although government resource revenues grew more than fourfold in his 14 years as premier and the net financial position of the province improved by $43 billion. Both promptly collapsed under his bamboozled successor Ed Stelmach, and have not yet recovered to Ralphian levels. Klein is also charged with failing to pay enough conscious attention to economic diversification, a concept that served as the pretext for a hundred costly boondoggles under earlier Conservative regimes; yet somehow he succeeded in presiding over an Alberta economy whose GDP moved sharply away from energy-dependence, and which saw the emergence of previously unimaginable non-energy businesses like software maker Matrikon and game manufacturer BioWare. Whether or not you care to give an iota of credit to Klein, his rule coincided with Alberta becoming a place young technicians and entrepreneurs don’t have to be stupid not to leave.

Klein is also lambasted for a supposed history of anti-Ottawa militancy, but was the best friend the Canada Health Act ever had in Alberta, and he greeted the infamous “firewall letter,” which was addressed to him, with snores. Hysterics who now wave that letter in the face of signatory Stephen Harper—which is obviously fair—never acknowledge that it asked only for powers Quebec already exercises. The Alberta Pension Plan proposed within the letter would have starved the rest of the country’s financial security arrangements for the elderly, to Alberta’s direct benefit, and Ottawa could not possibly have stopped it. You’re welcome.

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Liberals within Alberta have lately gotten religion about fiscal discipline and sustainable budgeting, but where is the corresponding reconsideration of Premier Klein? It is interesting that conservatives argue that two Ralph Kleins led Alberta—an early, austere one and a later, profligate one. You will see some of them making that argument now, in the bustle of obituaries. The argument contains some truth but overlooks that both Kleins managed to run consistent, increasing surpluses.

From 1993 to 1999, cruel axe-wielding Ralph I shrank overall government expenditures slightly in nominal dollars. But revenues were growing only at a rate of 1.6% per year. Spending grew at a 3.4% pace under Ralph II (1999-2006), but with revenues growing at 4.4% a year, this was still a species of stewardship that would have provided for tax stability, and even more rate cuts, in the long run. Again one perceives a distinct contrast with his successor, who blew a tire and went arse-over-teakettle trying to ride Alberta’s fiscal cycle.

There is a basic failure among diehard enemies of the Klein government to accept the evidence that his energy, privatization, and flat-tax policies increased the Alberta government’s capacity to spend and provide services—that the more we got of Klein, the safer and more lavish their cherished government entitlements appeared to be. They are not at all safe now; the profoundest irony of Klein’s demise is that it has arrived at a moment in which present premier Alison Redford faces choices like those Klein confronted when he captured the Progressive Conservative leadership in 1992.

Indeed, when Redford’s heavily obfuscated budget plans are translated into English, one sees that the next few years in Alberta must inevitably resemble the early days of Kleinism. Premier Redford is trying to protect spending on infrastructure to prevent a “deficit” in upkeep on buildings and transport, of the sort that materialized after Klein’s initial austerities. But operational spending, particularly on personnel expenses, is bound to be slashed, Klein-fashion. And the slashes will have to be all the deeper if the bridges are going to get painted. A fierce fight with the public sector (whose unfunded pension liabilities grew 80% between Klein’s last budget and Stelmach’s second) is already taking shape, with teachers, doctors, and pharmacists on the verge of all-out war over their pay envelopes. Haven’t the Klein-haters who fell over themselves to vote for internationalist, socially concerned Alison seen this movie before?

A liberal case for Ralph Klein would start by accepting that economic growth is a definite necessity for a stable welfare state, whether or not the converse is true, and that government programs are meant to serve the citizen first, and government employees, as such, not at all. That case will go unmade. Before Ralph was goaded into Calgary politics by an ambitious Keg waiter named Rod Love, he was a television news reporter covering local government. His approach to governing remained that of a reporter: suspicious of power, alert to wastefulness and venality, hyper-aware in a hacky, self-educated way of what economists now call “public choice theory.” That’s scholarese for “how government employees, like any other mammal, will serve their own interests even if it means ignoring or opposing those of the public.”

Albertans find it instructive to watch Ontario politicians debate the privatization of liquor retailing, which Klein’s cabinet bulldog, Dr. Stephen West, executed almost overnight in 1993. It was perhaps the representative policy move of the Klein era, the best symbol of his approach to government. Today one will hear Ontarians telling themselves the most bizarre things about Alberta in order to support the idiot belief that booze is a natural monopoly. “You can’t even get red wine there! All they have in the stores is various flavours of corn mash and antifreeze! The streets resound with the white canes of the blinded!” Talk to the saner residents and you rapidly discover the real root of Ontarians’ positive feeling for the LCBO, which is esthetic. It’s just nicer to buy a handle of Maker’s Mark from someone who makes a union wage and has a vague halo of officialdom. You leave the shop feeling okay about your vice.

Klein was liked by Albertans, not because of some mythic popular touch, but because there wasn’t an ounce of tolerance for this sort of thing in him. Alcohol was something he understood very well. (Too well.) People do not need liquor to be flogged to them any harder than the manufacturers already do; put a man in prison and he will make the stuff in the toilet starting on day two. What the old ALCB was really marketing to the public, and what the LCBO markets now, was itself—its own role as social protector/moral approver/tastemaker. Klein identified that part of the system as a parasitic growth, a vestige with no function but its own preservation; and he had West ectomize it with the swiftness of a medieval barber.

The same surgical instinct was applied over and over, to everything from the cushy upper ranks of the civil service to low-volume hospitals duplicating procedures at a quantifiable cost in lives. Occasionally the objections were rational, as objections to the activity of a scalpel-happy surgeon might be. More often they were irrational squeamishness.

Why did this happen in Alberta in a way it did not anywhere else, even if Mike Harris later followed Klein’s model and the NDP government of Saskatchewan made many of the same public-service cuts? Believers in the special virtuousness of government are still posting handbills about Klein’s Kutz—one would swear, going out and about in Edmonton some days, that he was still in charge—but Klein in retirement never faced the kind of elite odium Harris still does in Ontario. Klein has had the benefit of a sympathetic intellectual apparatus, the so-called “Calgary School,” and leading Alberta journalists really did not apply the same kind of resistance to his policies that Harris faced.

The ways in which Ralph Klein is misunderstood outside Alberta seem to mirror the ways in which Alberta itself is misunderstood; although attachment to religion is actually lower in Alberta than in Ontario and the Atlantic Provinces, it is Alberta that is thought of as an atavistic, “socially conservative” hate factory. The real difference between Alberta and other provinces is more structural than ideological or religious. Alberta has a strong lingering streak of laissez-faire utilitarianism because most of its citizens are no more than a generation removed from those who came here for jobs.

Albertans do not, as a rule, have generations of ancestors buried here, so they do not yet think about Alberta by resorting to a familial paradigm. That is to say, they do not think of their province as a social unit which has some necessary illogical features, which must tolerate established habits even when expensive or irksome, and which recognizes a special responsibility not only to protect vulnerable members but to cater to them. The sense of competition (and the urgency with which competitiveness is sought) is strong; that of reciprocal duties, weak. Albertans’ relationship to their neighbours is based on friendly exchange, not unconditional love (feigned or otherwise). They lack some of the instinctive deference to paternalistic authority that the sociologist Edgar Friedenberg identified in Old Canada. Not coincidentally, Alberta often displays the lowest levels of pro-monarchist sentiment among English Canadian regions, as it did in a February Harris-Decima poll.

This master theory, you will notice, explains quite a lot about Alberta—perhaps too much to be credible. It explains why Albertans sometimes seem monstrous or unnatural to Easterners, and why Easterners sometimes seem exaggerated in their political correctness and generally a bit fluff-headed to Albertans. It explains how Albertan “conservatism” has survived repeated waves of inward migration. It may even help explain how a “conservative” governing party has been able to adapt and survive in power for 41 years, annihilating its own old guard without remorse whenever the times seemed propitious.

And it explains how Ralph Klein could take so many ruthless political actions, actions that sometimes had large numbers of genuine, identifiable victims, and keep on winning elections. As Alberta mourns Ralph, we will hear talk of Klein’s “plain-spokenness” and his “no-B.S.” attitude. If it were that simple, any high-school dropout could be a successful head of government, couldn’t he? When we call somebody “plain-spoken” we refer to an active propensity to speak truth even when it will offend. This is not always a virtue; nobody but a sociopath would tell the truth to everybody all the time in any circumstance. But Klein had a native Albertan’s sense of the appropriate balance.

The canonical example is, of course, “Eastern creeps and bums.” These are the first words anybody outside Alberta will think of when they see the name Ralph Klein in the headlines one more time. They might as well get to work chiseling it into the headstone. Klein made the famous remarks as mayor of Calgary in January 1982 at a meeting of the Calgary Newcomers’ Club, pointing out in the midst of a housing crisis and a crime wave that 70% of his city’s convenience-store thefts and 95% of its bank robberies were being perpetrated by criminals from outside Alberta, with Quebeckers, in particular, overrepresented.

The source of his figures was the provincial government, and they were acknowledged to be accurate. (Peter Lougheed, who was premier in 1982, would call Klein’s remark “stupid” in an interview many years later, but admitted “We were the place that people from all across Canada were going to in those boom times…we really did get the creeps and bums.”) Calgary, at that moment, really was being beset by lowlifes from Eastern Canada—low-skilled migrants without jobs waiting for them, migrants whose arrival was being facilitated by provincially funded hostels and shelters. Is “bum” really too intense a word for a bank robber?

Klein’s image has become so distorted over the years that you will now find people who believe he was saying that all Easterners are criminals. (The dumber newspapers now routinely attribute the “Let the Eastern Bastards freeze in the dark” bumper sticker of the early 1970s to Klein; somewhere, someone is making that error as I write this.) But Klein explained very carefully what he meant at the time, and the explanation was very widely read and broadcasted—along with evidence of the gigantic wave of support he received from Calgarians for the comments.

He did not offend Easterners because what he said was mistaken or obscene, and nobody in Eastern Canada could possibly have taken the comment personally. (Easterners in the East weren’t the subject!) Klein offended by speaking truth in a manner appropriate to his time and place, and he was essentially overheard by another audience obeying different, irreconcilable speech rules. That was Ralph. He may not be loved outside Alberta, and few may weep and wail for him even within it. But his legacy looks more impressive with every week of government crisis and bungling that passes in his wake.

Ralph Klein, R.I.P.: the deceptive shape of a shadow

  1. Notable omissions:

    Flat tax
    Blowing up the Calgary General Hospital
    Liquor distribution monopoly
    Massive Infrastructure deficit
    Our mess of an electricity system

    Cheers

    -dk

    • Great accomplishment.
      A good thing.
      Klein didn’t go far enough.
      Unverifiable babble.
      A lie.

  2. MIsses a few key points. Like how the price of oil and natural gas grew for most of the time under Klein’s watch. I somehow don’t think he had anything to do with that, although it had an amazing amount to do with Alberta’s prosperity.

    Also, his privatization of the ALCB wasn’t nearly as complete as most people think. I mean, sure, the sole, government protected company in Alberta that all Alberta liquor vendors are forced to go through is, technically, privately owned. But giving control from a publicly owned monopoly to a privately owned one really doesn’t do a whole helluva lot for the public at large. And it’s why we can’t get a lot of different vintners product in this province. The fees they apply to small lots simply don’t make it affordable for most retailers.

    And that’s without even considering the fiasco that was the utility auction.. something that wound up with the public putting more into the private utility companies pockets than we received from the initial sale in order for Ralph to hide just how badly it had gone and how it wound up raising prices rather than lowering them.

    You’ve also missed how, like Redford, one of the things he slashed in a massive way was supporting post-secondary education. Something which we’re all paying for now in a shortage of skilled workers. We’ll continue to see this shortage become more and more acute for the next 10 years or so, because while people generally see problems with infrastructure after 10-15 years, education problems only start to really become apparent some 20 years down the road — when the generation that didn’t have those problems starts to retire, which is what’s happening now.

    Ralph made some really good short-term decisions, absolutely. He was, and I’ll admit, I say this grudgingly, better than a lot of politicians who make decisions based on what they think will keep them in power, rather than what will actually benefit the people, either short or long term. But long term? Well, we’ll be paying for him for a while yet.

    • We conservatives S’ed the F U for a day or two when Layton died out of basic respect and decency. Show a little class and save your opprobrium until the man is actually buried. Trolling an obituary – how profoundly un-Canadian.

      • Well no, actually the rightwingers couldn’t wait to smear Layton. It is legitimate to talk now about Klein’s political record, which is not as good as it is often portrayed.

        • Holly Stick: you are one sick puppy. Get some help!

          • There you go, smearing like a truly contemptible rightwinger.

          • You see Holly Stick: on this here comment board they don’t throw you out because you have an opinion other than yours or your ideology. Here, on this comment board, we are free to express ourselves. Quite a change, eh, from the site you call your own.

            You like it this way?

            We like seeing you here. (You’re welcome!) :)

      • Considering some of the stuff that comes to mind whe you think of Klein, that paragraph was quite civil.

      • So those posts about the rub and tug on the day Layton died, those were what you conservatives think of as “basic respect and decency”?

        Hell man, at least I didn’t go into the rumors and insinuations about Klein.

      • This is hardly what I would describe as trolling. It’s fair to keep in mind that his record wasn’t exactly what one would call spotless after all.

    • So much nonsense. Cosh already addressed the revenue question. And slashing post-secondary education has nothing to do with a shortage of skilled workers unless you consider milquetoasts with BScs or BAs to be ‘skilled workers’ (and there’s no shortage of them. Why would we have any shortage when we just let in people from other parts of Canada and the world? Your pain our gain.

      Our electricity is fine and the problems we have are because of government regulation of distribution.

      • That first sentence of your post is a good summation of the rest of it, I’ll agree.

        Beyond that, however, your arguments suggest that you A) dIdn’t read the article, and B) are unaware of where the shortages in skilled workers are going to be most acute..

  3. Like the Lougheed obit, the choice of narrative reflects the author’s political views.

    • BS.

      • Well, it reads to me more like a Colby Cosh view of Alberta and explanations vis a vis the ROC than a Ralph Klein obit. Maybe you weren’t in AB during much of Ralph’s governing.

        • I actually knew Ralph quite well, he was one of a kind, truly defined public service with an authenticity like no other I’ve known (and I know quite a few politicians) he was in politics for all the right reasons.

          • He held office from 1980 to 2006. When did you know him so well? And btw, the points you make are personal observations more of the man, not his politics.

          • Not that is any of your business, but I’ve know him for about 15 years and no, is not only personal, I happen to agree with his politics more times than not.

          • Well, I happen to think he stayed on too long as Permier, and once the deficit was slayed , largely due to recovering O&G revenues in the late 90s (true he was the leader but much of the heavy lifting was by Rick Orman in the mid 90′s as Finance Minister – similar to Paul Martin in Chretien gov’t) his gov’t was directionless. That’s when spending started to take off, no planning etc.

            He has a mixed record.

          • He wasn’t perfect, but he made it work.

          • In 1980 he was the mayor of Calgary. I was in the King Eddy when he came in on a Friday at lunch to eat chicken and drink draft with all the city employees. Everyone yelled “Hi Ralph!” and he waved and said “Hi” back. That is the kind of guy he was. It was a real hoot to attend city hall and watch him in chambers.

          • “Ralph’s World” – the St. Louis, King Eddy, St Regis, Friday fictional horse races at the Cecil. All from a bygone era where a few caesars, and a steak sandwich, or pizza and pitchers of beer at Frank and Johnies were regular mid day activities in the early to mid 80′s..

            Not recognizable in today’s Calgary and AB.

        • Maybe you were in AB, but it sounds like you were living in a cave when Klein won his landslide election victories, including the third in which he won 62% of the vote.

          • It’s the economy stupid. As I indicated below, that was the start of the slide – rewarded for balancing the books and recovered O&G prices in previous years.

          • You do realize you’re talking about the province with the highest GDP per capita, the lowest debt per capita, the highest incomes (by a country mile). And you do realize that Alberta’s economic performance accelerated away from the rest of Canada precisely during Klein’s terms, I mean, you do live in the same universe as the rest of us, don’t you?
            http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/041109/dq041109b-eng.htm

          • Ralph personified Freedom 55 the level of support his party gave him on a leadership vote prior to his long farewell. His last parting shot as leader was an admission that “there was no plan” when municipalities like Fort MacMurray were screaming about the lack of infrastructure investment to house, educate etc the hordes arriving due to the fire sale of oil sand leases.

            Prior to that he would consult with the pool guy at his Rec Centre when deciding whether to issue more Ralph Bucks, etc. etc.

            Want to give him credit for rising commodity prices in the 2000s? OK, you win, on those standards.

          • Huh? What planet are you living on?

            Oil prices, adjusted for inflation, were low during the first 13 years of his 16 year tenure! He won all his election victories when commodity prices were low. His successors benefited from high resource revenues.

            http://inflationdata.com/Inflation/images/charts/Oil/Inflation_Adj_Oil_Prices_Chart.jpg

            Finally, the reason that For MacMurray had troubles with infrastructure were the hordes of people migrating there (and staying), and half of the growth in that town occurred after he left.
            Is there anything you’re not wrong about? It’s bizarre how you have all of the facts wrong.

          • Tunnel vision, from a distance.
            Klein was first elected to a Don Getty gov’t and appointed Environment Minister where he basically got rid of comprehensive environmental reviews.
            When he won the leadership, he ran on an austerity program largely lifted from Laurence Decore’s Liberals. At the time, most in the oil patch were going through painful downsizing due to very low and prolonged commodity prices. So, did the population require a lot of convincing? Yeah, probab;ly.
            After some serious cost cutting, as I mentioned, targeted by Rick Orman, he balanced the books years ahead of schedule because of recovering gas prices and oil as well. This lead into his third election victory, as you pointed out earlier.
            Then the “Alberta Advantage” with rising gov’t revenues, a good portion from one time land sales, lead to the expansion of gov’t. and increased spending.

            As I said, a mixed record. Had he quit in the early 2000′s and not stuck around until 2006, I’d tend to endorse your view more enthusiastically.

  4. He sure was one of the kind, he was authentic.

    • Even if his academic credential wasn’t.

  5. “More importantly, he took a diamond-hard line against the use of the “notwithstanding” clause…” Excuse me? This is the same Klein who was more than prepared to invoke the “notwithstanding” clause to keep the province from having to pay compensation to Leilani Muir for her forced sterilization, until a public uproar forced him to backtrack.

    • Yes, it is the same Klein. What’s your point?

      • The point is that it’s not exactly appropriate to credit him for opposing a clause he had no problem threatening to use.

        • The question wasn’t directed to you. (The original commenter would probably have given a less stupid answer.)

          • My, aren’t you charming? Too bad your only defense is to personally insult me because you can’t actually refute my comment. You gave Klein credit for taking a hard line against the notwithstanding clause. He planned to use it regarding the sterilization and didn’t as a result of popular outcry. He then threatened to use it again with gay marriage. He gets credit for backing down in the Muir case, but not credit for having a principled stance against the notwithstanding clause.

          • You don’t think it is relevant that he never used it. Only that you’re personally sure he really, really wanted to. That’s not history. It’s fantasy.

    • I remember that it only took him one day to back down. At the time I thought that spoke well of the man that he’d be willing to reverse himself and admit a mistake so quickly in the face of so massive an uproar. I can think of a lot of politicians who wouldn’t have.

      • I think it took a few days to change course on the sterilization compensation. The Vriend 180 °, however, was as close to “instantaneous” as human affairs get outside physics labs. He literally came down to the rotunda and said “Well, that’s that.” A use of the notwithstanding clause in those circumstances would have been a signal victory for social conservatives. Instead they received an eye-blackening from which they have never recovered.

  6. A most selective and biased telling of events. In his canonization of King Ralph (a king and a saint both!), Cosh skipped over the times that Klein freaked out in a homeless shelter and plagiarized his homework.

    I’m sure Cosh can explain why those weren’t his fault either.

    • I did try to explain why nobody gave a crap. Without using either the word “king” or the word “saint”.

        • Andrew Coyne says that the CBC should not be paid by tax payer’s money, yet he, the ‘purist of them all’ will take a hefty sum of that CBC allowable subsidy to put into his own pocket.

          I could only dream of having that seat filled with Colby Cosh instead.

          This time he had me at hello: “The deceptive shape of a shadow.”

          Being able to think beyond the headlines.

          • Ralph Klein hosted CBC’s The House one time. His guests included Jean Chretien. His sidekick and major benefactor, Rod Love, former Keg waiter and “brains” behind the eternal “NEP” eastern Canada bashing, of which, I would suggest, CC and others of his generation are by some form a byproduct, had a CBC radio weekly piece just recently.
            Wake up and smell the wild roses.

          • What is your point? One show a trend does not set!

            CBC At Issue panel has been stacked with the same personalities now for years and years. All from central Canada and all with very little insightful opinions to offer.

            I find Colby’s piece here a refreshing one. Time the CBC At Issue starts thinking about this country as a whole, as opposed to always pushing the standard fare of central Canadian thinking. Canada is bigger than that!

          • Well, what’s your point? Something special about the CBC? Is it all you could pick up on your bunny ears before tv went digital?
            I’ve seen Cosh on Michael Coren show, if I’m not mistaken, while in T.O. I gathered he was some sort of semi-regular panelist. Not sure if that show is still on, or whether he still participates.
            Nothing to prevent him from doing some video commentary here on Macleans – Canada’s National magazine.
            btw Coyne *is* from the west – Winnipeg. Or doesn’t that count?

          • Do you read posts before responding to them? I am not talking about any private broadcaster. I am talking about our CBC tv, subsidized by Canadians (all Canadians) to the tune of 1.1 BILLION a year. Yes, I do think it is wrong to only have central Canadians on the panel of At Issue.

            Coyne and Hebert write for Toronto based newspapers and Coyne lives in Toronto, and Hebert is from Quebec. Do you care to tell me where the other panelist lives? You may come up with Toronto again.

            Harper was born in Toronto. Why then would you and everyone else refer to him as an Albertan. Justin does not refer to Harper as ‘from Ontario and those values’ , or does he???

          • And btw, Kathleen Petty, who hosted the CBC radio program The House for a number of years, as well as the CBC Ottawa morning program was imported from Calgary.
            Don Martin who hosts CTV’s Power Play daily has the same roots as Klein in Calgary and AB.
            Dave Rutherford, talk show radio host in Calgay on occasion guest hosts CBC’s The Current…

          • We aren’t even talking about the same thing! I am not talking about Alberta voices being scattered a little here and there.

            I am talking about CBC AT Issue. A national political commentary show in prime time, appearing as a segment of The National.

          • OK, maybe I misinterpreted. But, what’s so special about At Issue? Arguably, it has become popular because of *who* the panel have been for some time. Hard to argue that Coyne and Hebert wouldn’t have the same national profile if not for At Issue, and conversely, At Issue would not be as popular without them as well as the pollster, Alan Gregg now Bruce Anderson. Is there room for a fourth panelists, or a series of regional perspectives?

            If not, who would you propose Cosh replace? You have to acknowledge that when discussing national political issues, having access to national individuals and being centrally located is key. Notwithstanding Cosh’s “freshness” in this bit, he may be beyond his best before date on a number of other national issues.

          • But that is just on opinion; yours.

            My opinion would be to give other regions of the country a voice. To say that At Issue is popular because of Coyne, Hebert and now Anderson is just your opinion. I don’t watch it much anymore because it’s always the same.

            And Coyne is not offering us anything new here either. What exactly is his proposal to make independent MP’s a reality. To just state that the MP’s are ruled by a mob mentality is utterly false and uninformed opinion making.

            The Canadian public deserves better from the media.

          • What did you think of the two page obit of Klein in the middle of the first section of Saturday’s G&M? Eastern biased? Seemed to me a more complete profile, warts and all.

            Google: Sandra Martin Ralph Klein

            “Ralph Klein, long-time and colourful Alberta premier, has died”

          • I don’t need to read another obit of Klein. I think Colby Cosh did an outstanding job.

          • No wonder Wild Rose does so well in small town rural Alberta.

          • Ah, I like that one.

            Oh, you must have really liked it when Justin draped himself so dramatically over his father’s coffin. Justin was looking into the future all right, even then. Did you look that far ahead, then………..?

          • No, I gagged. But, I find it interesting that his father is vilified for returning the one finger salute to protesters in Salmon Arm, yet Klein is praised for doing the same to an environmentalist.

          • I agree. Neither Klein nor Trudeau Sr should be praised for that. But at the same time, it showed in both cases that they were men of no hold back.

            What I find interesting is that Harper is constantly referred to as ‘Dictator’ when all other leaders of other parties prefer to hold a tight reign on their caucus. I don’t see the need to single out one leader over all the others in that ‘respect’.

            How seldom do we see condemnation of that sort of labeling?

          • It’s in Harper’s personality. He’s an INTJ. Look it up on wiki for a more complete description than this summary:

            INTJ Have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. Quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, have high standards of competence and performance – for themselves and others.

            Other political leaders typically have the E (extrovert) rather than the I (introvert). This will eventually catch up with him. Respected, not loved. Klein was probably ESFP polar opposite on all 4 characteristics.

            ESFP Outgoing, friendly, and accepting. Exuberant lovers of life, people, and material comforts. Enjoy working with others to make things happen. Bring common sense and a realistic approach to their work, and make work fun. Flexible and spontaneous, adapt readily to new people and environments. Learn best by trying a new skill with other people.

          • Very, very interesting post. Thank you for that insightful perspective!

            The other day I heard on the radio (cbc) that Ralph had once said (when being told that he was the Premier now and should he not act as such?) that,yes, but he was Ralph too! How true.

            I think your assessment of Harper is spot on. And as voters we connect on various levels with what is out there to choose from. Perhaps me choosing Harper over other leaders at this time, out of an available line-up, is partly because I can relate to the INTJ personality. Perhaps because often I find myself behaving within such personality trait.

            And yet, it must be said that Ralph surely had a serious side about him and that Harper, too, has shown us his other side on occasion (do pianos ring a bell?)

            Politics is a strange game in that we know there are so many levels on which the game is being played. And making a difference when trying to find consensus may very well be the difference between being loved or being respected. But that again, it depends on what we seek within the definition of a country. What then does the country mean to us, individually speaking?

            Personalities abound, that is for sure!

      • I think someone should have given a crap. Many did, in fact, but the voices of “democracy”… ie: money … are a little stronger, especially in the boom times.

  7. Colby, one of your best columns ever.

    Really liked this line: It’s just nicer to buy a handle of Maker’s Mark from someone who makes a union wage and has a vague halo of officialdom. You leave the shop feeling okay about your vice.

    Never thought about it that way before. But you’re right.

    The comparison to Harris is also interesting.

    The description of Albertans very interesting, such as They lack some of the instinctive deference to paternalistic authority that the sociologist Edgar Friedenberg identified in Old Canada.

    Klein was a great leader and deserves a lot of credit for his achievements, some of which have been unravelled since, but Alberta remains strong.

    Best wishes and condolences to the Klein family.

    • Ralph Klein was clearly an interesting leader, but I comment to amplify s_c_f’s statement and perhaps make it more precise. As Claudia states above, Ralph K. was authentic… and Canadians will forgive a lot from an authentic leader.

      Colby, your post was both authentic and personal. On behalf of your readership, thanks.

    • When I visit Ontario, I like the lower prices. The “vague halo of officialdom” is just an added bonus.

      • When I’m in Ontario past 5 pm on a Sunday, going to a summer BBQ let’s say, I cross the border to Quebec because you can’t get liquor in Ontario past 5 pm on Sunday. Regardless of whether I’m on Ontario or Quebec, I pay double what I pay in New Hampshire for the exact same thing, and I cannot imagine how someone could call the prices “low”.

        • Lower than Alberta, though–plus, as Colby pointed out, the person selling it to you isn’t on parole.

          • Highly unlikely the person in Alberta is on parole either though, as liquor store owners don’t like to take in people with records even more-so than other businesses. (Too much risk with having expensive, consumable, easy-to-lift product).

            Now, if what you’re complaining about is that the people who serve you at the liquor store are scruffy.. I’d suggest you stop shopping at that particular store, and let things sort themselves out.

            No, there are definitely problems with Alberta’s current liquor system, but quality of service isn’t one of them — so long as you have the wherewithal to do a little shopping around.

  8. A sad end to a generally good life … but ..

    Least coasters never minded Ralph too much because they knew that,
    like most Albertans, his “east” ended somewhere around Montreal.

    Nobody ever remembers the stock jiggery pokery involving his friends
    and family that he was able to skate away from.

    People learned to love him because the press really loved him.

    Makers Mark is watering down their product. Enjoy anyway.

  9. This is a respectable summary and gives a good explanation for some of the Ralphisms. It may underestimate his following. This guy was extraordinarily popular even when he was behaving like a bully

  10. Wow. Talk about false chroniclers. I feel sorry for his family; losing a loved one is never easy. But filling pages with false praise does only damage.
    Mr. Klein was far from the best friend the Canada Health Act ever had. Time and time again he attempted, unsuccessfully, to bring in private health care, despite the wide spread opposition by Albertans.
    He was anything but opposed to the notwithstanding clause. He still refused to amend the human rights legislation years and years after the Supreme Court ruled.
    His flat tax and refusal to spend necessary money on infrastructure has directly resulted in the problems that face Alberta now.
    He was loved by the electorate more than any other politician in recent times. He was not pretentious, dictatorial, or autocratic. But he was also cruel and heartless; driving to a men’s hostel to verbally abuse those less fortunate then he and throwing money on the floor for them to pick up, shouting “get a job.”. In the legislature, he threw a book at a young female paige, shouting “I don’t need this crap” when she was only doing her job.

    • I met Mr. Klein on a number of occasions when he was Premier. He was always pleasant and interesting. But what I will remember him most for was his policy of providing free one-way bus tickets to Vancouver for those on social assistance, many of whom had mental health and addiction problems. I had siblings working at the aIds centre, and the number of people who ended up on the streets on east Vancouver, sharing needles, contracting HIV and dying.
      All very sad.

      • I guess that is why we have to many on the streets of Vancouver even now.

    • David H,
      He was truly remorseful over his drunken episode at the hostel. Those were real tears trickling down his cheeks at the subsequent press conference, and he went from boozer to mostly abstainer from that day forward. He did NOT throw the Liberal policy book at a page. He tossed it over his shoulder and it happened to land near her. Get your facts straight before you beak off.

        • Oh, if it’s in “The Star” it must be true. No nutbag ideological biases there.

        • You believe the Toronto Star? Good Lord! Ralph did say that he just flung the book away and it nearly hit the page. No evil intent. The incident was run and rerun on TV at the time, and it was obvious that the book was thrown randomly. It may have beena burst of temper but, Ralph was a showman, and it’s more likely that he tossed it to make a point.

  11. Yes, he was SO progressive about gay rights, wasn’t he? Being less homophobic than Stockwell Day doesn’t win him a prize.

    “I’m adamant about this issue. The majority of Albertans
    oppose same-sex marriage. My caucus unanimously supports traditional
    marriage. I also have my own personal views. Whether you’re a subscriber
    to the Darwin theory or to the Biblical theory of Adam and Eve,
    marriage is between a man and a woman and it should stay that way.”

    • Yes, and what was the outcome when one sentence of legislation would have carried out this position? I guess heads of government don’t win prizes for accepting gay rights.

      • What part of threatening to invoke the notwithstanding clause suggests that Klein wasn’t at least pandering to homophobic members of his party? He didn’t make a principled decision to support same-sex marriage, he was forced to drop his crusade because it was politically expedient. Klein’s initial threats to invoke the clause attracted a firestorm of negative media attention and it only would have gotten worse. Again, Ralph Klein was not as bigoted as Ted Morton, or many of his other colleagues, but he did not welcome gay marriage and doesn’t deserve credit for doing so.

        • Well, if you don’t think politicians deserve to be assessed on their actions, I suppose you can believe what you like. I would not say Ralph “pandered” to the social conservatives. I would say he swindled them. And I don’t hold this against him. I’m concerned with the outcome.

          • How many other premiers made such a big deal of opposing same-sex marriage? When PQ leaders refrain from taking concrete action to separate because they know they don’t have the political leverage/popular support, do you credit them with saving Canada? Excuse me while I go praise Pauline Marois for her passionate support of federalism, what an apt assessment of her actions.

            You could just as easily have praised Klein for all kinds of things without insulting Albertan gays by pretending he backed out of his quest to deny our right to marry out of principle, or that he hadn’t thrown a hissy fit at the idea of gay marriage in the first place.

          • Being in favor of traditional marriage does not mean that one is thereby insulting gays. But it must be said that you insult my intelligence by taking opinions (yours) as absolute truth. You couldn’t be further from it.

    • Homophobe is a slur and is not even a word.

  12. giving away to every Albertan a few hundred dollars, what was it $400 (?) was just plain stupid.
    financially irresponsible and short sighted

    • Oh I am not sure how “financially stupid” that was. Have you ANY idea how the current government of Alberta is spending the taxpayer’s money? We have executives in the healthcare system with “expenses” of over $300K for ONE executive. That particular man was having his luxury car…a mercedes serviced on the public dime. Now there is a big cutback and NO new nurses are being hired when others quit BUT the executives in healthcare will receive their bonuses although they have promised to keep a lid on the lunches. Do you think that taxpayer’s could spend their own money worse than some of these civil servants and government departments?

      • well that is exactly it, the high incomers got the same as the low income workers
        which is for the first bunch just spare change but for low income it is helpful;
        if you have a family and they all chip in 5 bucks they can get a whole pizza, share some chinese dinner;
        apply this on a larger scale and you pay for some important societal NEEDS

    • It was great. Governments should do it more often.

      (Yeah, yeah, it’s like being bought with one’s own money, I know but better than giving millions of our money away to the lawyers in a law firm going to sue tobacco companies, when one of those lawyers is an ex-husband of the Alison the leader in charge.)

  13. Klein could admit to a mistake and people would believe him to be sincere. He was, and that is one of the qualities that marks a true leader.

  14. RIP Ralph ..

  15. As an easterner in reality as well as in Mr. Klein’s definition, I can certainly agree that he was one of a kind.

  16. Great Obit Mr. Cosh. I lived in AB from 77 to 95 …. Moved to the Island and missed Ralph’s best years, but did watch from here. BC politics is mentally retarded. I miss AB too, but the weather man … the weather.

    • It mus be our age more so than the weather……. :)

    • I didn’t know there was only one island near Alberta.

  17. Best. Political. Column. Ever. As a born-and-raised Albertan living the rest of his life outside that province (for work/family reasons), I can say his remarks about how others view Alberta and Klein are 100 per cent correct. RIP, Ralph.

  18. Wonderful man indeed! Why is it that we always hear about the greatness of a man after his death? Is the popular arena so twisted as to only recognize greatness once it is out of the way of those who constantly rob and discredit society through their allocated powers?

  19. Thanks for the perspective. I agree that Ralph Klein was a successful premier for Alberta, and an under-ratedd Canadian too. I do blame him for letting too many tarsands projects launch at once, distorting the dollar, straining internal labour markets, turning Fort Mac into crazy-ville, and now out-stripping export capacity. All of these were predictable downsides, but these are more Alberta’s failings than Ralph’s. RIP

  20. I love this: “Today one will hear Ontarians
    telling themselves the most bizarre things about Alberta in order to
    support the idiot belief that booze is a natural monopoly” especially as it’s follwed by the most bizarre explanations of why we don’t get misty-eyed about privatization. You’re sure it’s not because we’re all prohibitionists who think only government can properly decide who can sin? On the other hand, the Ottawa Citizen’s Kate Heartfield, a former Albertan, summed up nicely the reason people like her and you support privatization — because there are “entrepreneurs” who could make money off it. Governments have proven that one doesn’t need to be an entrepreneur to make money from selling booze, so the argument really is that it would be better to have the money go into the pockets of the rich merchants so they can buy more Ferraris and Bimmers, than into government coffers to be wasted on health care and infrastructure. Personally, I support the LCBO on the principle that it ain’t broke. It operates clean, spacious stores with a good selection and decent service.

    • Yes, why not? Why not have governments run our groceries stores too. And dental clinics because it has been in the news lately that dentist clinics can be quite dirty.

      Clean ‘m all up, those businesses. Let them go State-wise and taxpayer’s pockets deep!

    • You think booze-sellers have Ferraris and Bimmers? Have you been anywhere outside Ontario?

      There’s a lot of reasons government shouldn’t be running businesses, and you should take a trip to Cuba to find out.

    • You can’t hear yourself confirming exactly what I wrote, can you?

    • Yes, God forbid that anyone should get wealthy running a business. That’s sinful.

  21. Ralph was smarter than your average bear and presided over, if not a boom, then by far the fastest growing economy in Canada by virtue of its energy wealth. His economic management record is a mixed bag when you discount massive resource revenues at his disposal. His views on gay marriage don’t indicate a social conservative tilt, as they were shared widely by the political mainstream of the early 2000s, including a lot of (L)(l)iberals. His greatest talent was his uncanny ability to get the media and political elites to underestimate him, and rally the general public to his side. He was the best in the business at that. But by 2003, after 10 years in office, Ralph really was a part-time Premier and it showed. He lost me for good when he blatantly plagiarized his essay on Pinochet’s coup in Chile, and his fixers then forced the main university presidents in Alberta to publicly declare the infraction to be minor. I know this is not a time to speak ill of the dead, but the plagiarism episode clearly indicates how Klein became lazy, disconnected and insulated by a network of cronies who would stoop to anything to protect their benefactor, as well as the framework for future sock puppets like Rob Ford. Any credible recap of the Klein era needs to address this phase his career, as it was quite long and affected Alberta adversely. Considering his previous eloquent disembowelments of the intellectually dishonest, Cosh should have some thoughts to share on this. But at this time, Klein’s large extended family is grieving the loss of a much-loved man, and my thoughts are with them.

  22. Wow. Hats of to Colby Cosh! (Beautiful writing style) Ralph was Ralph and you didn’t miss a beat.

    May the man rest in one piece, in peace.

  23. Gee wilikers Colby. Couldn’t you be just a bit more a gush about King Ralph? The one truthful statement you make is that his politics resulted in large numbers of genuine, identifiable victims. He continued to win elections because those holding the real levers of power in the province, the rural voters and big money oil and financial types were rarely, if ever adversely affected by his actions. Perhaps just kept getting richer. What Ralph came to know for certain was those not to offend, and those for whom he need not give a damn. I am sad he has passed at a relatively young age, but refuse to shed crocodile tears for him.

  24. Something very special about Klein is, he didn’t hate French as a normal extreme right wing English. Under Klein, us, Franco-Albertans, we could finally have our schools as they Anglo-Québécois always got theirs. He even create an office responsible for relations between the us and the government. The English supremacists so separatists hate that cause they consider that we are immigrants.

  25. An impressive display of mindless, defensive Albertan nationalism, every by Coshian standards. Congrats!

  26. I have no great sentimentality for this man at all! The Ikea Monkey could have done a better job than Ralph at running this province without his putrid and sarcastic remarks whilst in power to those who were totally at a disadvantage to him!

    We should all be driving a gold plated Rolls Royce but the likes of King Ralph who lead our Emirate-like Kingdom and practically gave away our best assets: we are now paying the price for his short sightedness and laziness!

    He was all about surrounding himself with ‘Yes’ Ralph men and a cabinet full of blond haired big bosomed Dolly Partonesque bimbos (some of which still sit), it is no wonder this Province is ‘sucking the proverbial you know what’

    Thanks Ralph!

    • How dare you call Redford an Ikea monkey!

      What made Klein’s reputation was how he dealt with not prosperity but when the bottom fell out of the market. Oil went to $20 He dramatically reformed government and set the stage for the economic growth that was to come.

    • Says the man with BJ in his name. lol

  27. I was at the Newcomers’ Club meeting when Ralph Klein made the comments on Easterners. The attendance at those affairs were women, with a sizeable chunk of newcomers from the East. Our group had left our comfy suburban Bayview homes for a bit of excitement in town, and got it There were many drunks lying down on the street, the venue near an ALCB, but they were local aboriginals. We were discussing this at our table when Mr. Klein’s took the podium, and all we shared a smile when he made his pronouncement.

    My lady friends and I loved him and volunteered happily to work on his campaigns. On local TV one evening I saw Ralph and his team campaigning during rush-hour, with posters and pamphlets, stopping traffic, and causing a mini pile-up. Mr. Klein was a very entertaining man.

    As for the rest of the article, maybe Westerners should spend less time fantasizing about what people are talking about in the East and focus on their own problems. With the ten most violent cities in this country and the rate of aboriginals in jail in Western Canada, a better explanation than the laissez-faire utilitarianism of its current citizens will be needed in future.

  28. Klein was no friend of mine. But then I was in the medical field.

  29. Let’s look at Alberta (and Canada) today … now we have some time after the Klein years to see that we are so dependent on the energy industry for economic survival that any slight variation of the price of oil sends people into hysterics. Oil companies make billions of dollars of profit while everything else goes under the microscope and examined for wasting taxpayers’ money.
    So many people got rich and were able to buy big houses and take vacations.Cash was thrown around like chump change, promptly spent on cigarettes and cheap clothing.
    Is that really a great legacy ? Or short-sighted success that put Ralph in the right place at the right time….

    • I take great exception to your comments……….MY clothing is VERY expensive and of the highest quality.

      ~Kim Kardashian~

  30. This might have been the worst post I’ve ever seen you write, Cosh. Sorry. This section made my head explode: ” Again one
    perceives a distinct contrast with his successor, who blew a tire and
    went arse-over-teakettle trying to ride Alberta’s fiscal cycle.”

    How can any analysis of Klein’s reign not mention a once-in-a-generation oil and gas commodity boom? And how can Stelmach’s premiership be considered in any context without mentioning the global financial crisis and collapse of natural gas prices that accompanied it?

    Do you even remember that natural gas used to be Canada’s largest energy export in dollars in 2006? And that it barely registers now because of the Marcellus Shale? Perhaps gas in Pennsylvania is Stelmach’s fault, just as the decline of gas in the Gulf Coast was Ralph’s doing.

    You rarely make barn-door-wide logical holes, but I guess that it’s good to know that you are human after all. Ralph had a bigger share of luck than most people. That was the difference. His impact on the province was neutral-to-negative. In 20 years, people will remember Lougheed and Stelmach (for the new oil sands royalty deal) but they won’t remember Klein any more than they remember Aberhart.

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