CALGARY – A memorial for Alberta’s populist former premier Ralph Klein is being held today across the street from where his foray into politics began.
Klein was just 26 when he first walked into Calgary’s city hall as a reporter 44 years ago. He would be elected mayor 11 years later and eventually went on to become Alberta’s premier.
He died a week ago at the age of 70 after a battle with dementia and lung disease.
The Alberta government offered to hold a state funeral, similar to the one given to former premier Peter Lougheed last year. But the family turned down the request, preferring instead to have it organized by the City of Calgary.
Lougheed’s memorial last fall was a who’s who of politicians and business leaders and most of the 2,400 attending were there by invitation only.
The Klein memorial at Jack Singer Concert Hall — with 500 reserved seats and 1,100 for the general public — is aimed for those who referred to the congenial Klein as simply “Ralph.”
“It’s a big room. Hey, Alberta. Come on down. There’s not going to be a lot of reserved seats,” said longtime Klein friend Rod Love.
“It’s at Mrs. Klein’s wishes that this not be a big reserved event where every seat is a ticket,” he said.
“Ninety per cent of the seats are going to be (for those people who) come early.”
The city plans to distribute general seating cards three hours before the memorial begins to anyone lining up. Overflow seating is to be available as well and the event is to be shown on large screens at Calgary’s Municipal Plaza.
The funeral procession is to make two public stops — the first at McDougall Centre, the premier’s southern Alberta office, where there’s to be a short presentation from the government.
The second stop is to be at Municipal Plaza where the family is to attend another short presentation from the City of Calgary.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is one of the dignitaries expected at the memorial, along with Klein’s friend and former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow. Former Ontario premier Mike Harris is also scheduled to speak.
Klein was elected as Calgary’s mayor in 1980 and was instrumental in bringing the 1988 Winter Olympics to the city.
He was Alberta’s premier from 1992 to 2006.
Love said despite the marked differences between Lougheed and Klein, the two did share some similarities, including a dedication to provincial rights.
“In straight political terms they both won four straight, overwhelming majorities, but they were different guys and it was different times,” said Love. “Different guys during different times, but they were both giants.”