Creeps, bums and a foot in the mouth

Some of former premier Ralph Klein's more colourful moments

Some of former premier Ralph Klein’s more colourful moments:

Drunken charity? After a mid-week dinner with friends in December 2001, Klein had his driver make an early-morning stop at an inner-city homeless shelter in Edmonton. Klein said he was just trying to see first-hand the plight of the homeless, but it degenerated into an argument. Some say Klein shouted and swore in a slurred voice, asking the men why they didn’t have jobs, then threw some money on the floor and walked out. His staff denied he was drunk. In the days that followed, however, he wiped away tears as he admitted he had a drinking problem and promised to cut back.

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Eastern creeps: Perhaps Klein’s best-known quote, came in 1982 when he was Calgary mayor. He used the words “creeps and bums” to describe some people from eastern Canada who came West to look for work and ended up turning to crime. Crime rates in Calgary were spiking and anti-eastern sentiment was on the rise as the perception grew that many of the perpetrators who failed to make it out West. Klein went as far as telling the CBC he wasn’t going to get too excited if police were to rough up criminals from out of town.

Foot in mouth over mad cow: During a 2003 speech at a western governors meeting in Montana, Klein seemed to take aim at the Alberta rancher whose sick cow sparked Canada’s mad cow crisis. Klein told the crowd that any “self-respecting” rancher would not have taken the sick animal to slaughter, but would instead have simply “shot, shovelled and shut up.” When a tape of the speech was obtained by The Canadian Press, Klein’s spokesman, Gordon Turtle, explained that the premier was being ironic “in a sarcastic way.”

Prehistoric stink: Speculating on climate science has been toxic for some Alberta politicians. Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith cited her remark that the jury was still out on global warming as one of the missteps that cost her party the 2012 provincial election. Klein, a staunch opponent of the Kyoto Protocol to control greenhouse gases, didn’t have that fear at a 2002 fundraiser when he speculated that “dinosaur farts” may have caused the last ice age. “You know, my science is limited to the fact that I know that eons ago there was an ice age,” Klein said. “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.”

Paging controversy: During a heated question period in March 2006, the Liberals used legislature page Jennifer Huygen to send Klein a message. Debating the government’s plans for health-care reform, the Opposition party had Huygen take Klein its policy booklet. “I don’t need this crap,” snorted Klein as he tossed the document over his shoulder. There were conflicting reports as to whether the booklet actually hit 17-year-old Huygen. Klein said he personally called the teen to apologize.

Birds of a feather: The Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries pulp mill approval near Athabasca was controversial for some in northern Alberta. At a meeting on Dec. 20, 1990, environmentalist Randy Lawrence hopped on stage in front of a government panel announcing the go-ahead and flashed a one-finger salute. Then-environment minister Ralph Klein returned the gesture. RCMP officers wrestled Lawrence to the ground and dragged him from the hall. He was ordered to pay $500 or spend 30 days in jail for resisting arrest.

Pie punch: At his annual Stampede breakfast in 2003, Klein was hit in the face with a banana cream pie by activist Chris Geoghegan. Klein was not impressed. “He smacked me in the face and my ears rang for a while. I had a sore face,” he said afterward. Geoghegan pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. Judge Terry Semenuk called the pie attack brutal and said it was “worse than a sucker punch.”

Cleared of cribbing: In 2004, Klein faced an allegation he plagiarized parts of an essay he wrote while studying communications at Athabasca University. Klein received a mark of 77 per cent on the paper on Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, but critics noted that Klein had taken large passages directly from the Internet without properly attributing them. The school cleared Klein of the allegations, saying he made a “relatively minor error” in not properly citing his sources.

Martha and Henry: Klein’s Everyman touch was often cited as the key to his success. In that vein, he often referred to Martha and Henry — a fictitious couple meant to represent the average Albertan. “My primary concern is does Martha and Henry … get his or her hip replaced?” Klein said in 2004 discussing the use of private companies to deliver health care. Klein’s former chief of staff Steve West adopted the line when defending his $180,000 severance package in 2005. “I came from a very lucrative job in the private sector,” West said at the time. “There’s opportunities out there, but Martha and Henry have to know that at one end of the scale, people make more money than at the other.”