Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein dies at age 70

EDMONTON – Ralph Klein, the popular, outspoken, Everyman premier who championed the slaying of Alberta’s multibillion-dollar debt, has died.

Alberta Health Services issued a news release on behalf of Klein’s family indicating the former premier died on Friday.

Klein, who was 70, had been battling dementia and chronic lung problems.

Klein retired as premier in 2006 after leading the Progressive Conservative party for 14 years and winning four successive majority governments.

Known simply as Ralph to many, the former Calgary mayor cut spending and privatized services to help balance Alberta’s budget when he first became premier.

He then used billions of dollars in energy revenues to pay off Alberta’s accumulated debt — a feat that has never been matched in Canada.

Not the strongest of public speakers, the former television reporter’s strength was communicating with people in small groups, whether working a room or sparring with journalists in media scrums.

Klein pleased some voters with a decision in 2006 to cut every Albertan a cheque for $400 out of a growing government surplus — the money was dubbed “Ralph Bucks” by many.

As mayor, he blamed Calgary’s rising crime problem on “creeps and bums” from eastern Canada.

He was a driving force behind the success of the 1988 Calgary Olympics.

But there were dark days, too.

Klein pledged to quit drinking after berating the homeless in a shelter.

When time allowed, the former premier loved to golf and fish. He once famously cancelled meetings because, as he put it, the fish were just biting.

He is survived by his wife, Colleen, and five children.