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problem-drinker

Ralph Klein

Ralph Phillip Klein (born November 1, 1942) was the premier of the Canadian province of Alberta and leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives from 1992 until his retirement in 2006. His 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. He boasts the nickname of "King Ralph", which is a reference both to his political longevity and his perceived autocratic style of leadership, also ironically because of his everyman persona which was the key plot device in the popular film of the same name released on the eve of his election victory as premier.

Mayor of Calgary

Klein rose to public prominence in Calgary as a radio and television personality. He was the Senior Civic Affairs reporter with CFCN Television and Radio. Klein gained his first political experience when he was elected mayor of Calgary, Alberta, on October 15, 1980. While he was mayor, the city was enjoying an economic boom, attracting many unskilled labourers from all over the country. Klein gained unfavourable national attention by blaming eastern "bums and creeps" for straining the city's social services and police . Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics during his tenure as mayor. Prior to entering provincial politics, Klein considered himself a Liberal Party supporter, although he did support the federal Progressive Conservative Party of Brian Mulroney in the 1988 federal election.

Entry into provincial politics

Klein made the transition from civic 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 style "the Honourable" for the duration of his membership in the Executive Council of Alberta).

Offensive gesture

Klein made national headlines again as environment minister when he made flipped off an environmental activist who was protesting the government's decision to allow a dam to be constructed on the Oldman River. Klein defended his actions by noting that it was the protester who made the offensive gesture first.

A supporter of Klein's later purchased the rights to the only still photograph taken of Klein with his middle finger raised, presumably to prevent his opponents from being able to legally publish or display it.

Premier

Getty resigned as Premier and party leader, as polls showed the opposition Liberals well ahead. Under former Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore, the Liberals had made major gains by criticizing the Conservatives' fiscal responsibility, the province's rapidly rising debt, and the government's involvement in the private sector which resulted in 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". Klein was elected leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party on December 5, 1992, and became the Premier of Alberta on December 14 1992. He led the party to victory in the 1993 election, winning 51 of the 83 seats in the legislature, and almost 45% of the popular vote.

He was re-elected in 1997, this time with 51% of the popular vote and winning 63 of the 83 seats in the legislature. He got his highest amount of support ever in the 2001 election, winning 62% of the popular vote and 74 of the 83 seats.

Although his government was generous in funding arts and did not cut health programs to the same degree as some other Canadian provincial governments, 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.

In 2003, mad cow disease was discovered in a cow in Alberta. The cow was inspected, found to be substandard and removed so that it would not be fed to animals or humans. The carcass was turned to 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. Alberta ranchers were selling beef for as low as one dollar per pound in Calgary. In July 2003, Klein offered to pay $10 billion to any Japanese citizen who came to Canada and became ill due to beef traced back to mad cow. 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. Federal assistance did subsequently arrive.

In late June 2003, Klein and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, widely reported to be friends, met to discuss the beef ban and the route of an Alaskan oil pipeline, which Klein vehemently 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 2004 Calgary Stampede, Klein announced that the province had set aside the necessary funds to repay its public debt in 2005. The debt stood at about C$23 billion when Klein took office, and its repayment was one of the most significant long-term goals of Klein's premiership. 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 ridings.

In June 2003, an Ontario Superior Court Charter ruling removed federal restrictions on same-sex unions being recognized legally as marriage. This being very unpopular in Alberta, 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.

In September 2005, Klein announced that each Albertan resident would qualify for a Prosperity Bonus as a result of an oil-driven budget surplus.

Controversies

One comment Klein made on the radio, that a particular judge 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 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.

A problem drinker, Klein, under the influence, in the company of his entourage, once verbally abused homeless people, threw change at them, and spat on them at an Edmonton-area shelter. 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.

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.

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".

On March 1, 2006, Klein got into trouble for exclaiming "I don't need this crap" and throwing the Liberal health care policy book at a page 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.

During a charity roast on November 9 2006 Klein made a lewd joke at the expense of former Conservative Member of Parliament Belinda Stronach: "I wasn't surprised that she crossed over to the Liberals. I don't think she ever did have a Conservative bone in her body. Well, maybe 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".

In a July 9 2007 interview on Business News Network, Klein criticized PM Stephen Harper and 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 dollars in market value.

Leadership review and retirement

Prior to the 2004 election, Klein had 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 will be tendering his resignation on October 31 2007. He subsequently stated that his resignation would take effect in early 2008 after a successor is chosen at the party's leadership election.

Klein announced his 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, Klein won the support of only 55% of delegates, down from the 90% level of support he had won at previous reviews and far lower than the 75% Klein felt he needed in order to continue. The result was described as a "crushing blow" to Klein's leadership.

In the weeks 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," he said. "I will do this as quickly as possible and announce a decision about my future shortly.

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 them 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. He resigned his seat in the legislature on January 15, 2007.

Later life

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 dollars 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.

Honours

Klein holds the Order of La Pléiade from the Assembly of La Francophonie.

He received the Alberta Centennial Medal in 2005.

Klein was made an Officer of the Legion of Honor by France in 2008.

See also

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