Public memorial planned for former Alberta premier Ralph Klein
Published Saturday, March 30, 2013 9:33AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, March 30, 2013 10:49PM EDT
Throughout his political career, Ralph Klein was known as a straight-talking populist, so it only seems fitting that average Albertans and dignitaries from across the country will stand together at his memorial.
A public celebration of the former Alberta premier’s life is expected to be held next Friday at Calgary’s Jack Singer Concert Hall.
Klein,70, died on Friday at a Calgary continuing care centre, nearly two years after he was diagnosed with dementia. He also suffered from chronic lung problems and recently-developed pneumonia.
Longtime friend and confidante Rod Love said Klein’s family declined the offer of a state funeral. Instead, they wanted the former Calgary mayor to be remembered in his hometown.
“People say: ‘What’s the secret to Ralph Klein?’” Love told CTV Calgary Saturday. “He never lied, he never changed. There wasn’t a private Ralph Klein and a public Ralph Klein.”
Following news of Klein’s death, politicians, community leaders and residents chimed in on the former journalist-turned-politician, taking note of his contributions to both Alberta and Canada as a whole.
“Ralph could walk with kings and the common man, and everybody was important to him,” former Ontario premier and interim Liberal leader Bob Rae told The Canadian Press. “Despite a differing political approach, one cannot help but admire his incomparable ability to communicate and connect with Albertans. He never took himself too seriously or lost pride in his working-class roots."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper lamented the loss Klein, who he described as a “unique and significant leader.”
“To me, he wasn’t King Ralph, as some described him. Instead, during a colourful political career, he remained Citizen Ralph -- a man equally at home in the Petroleum Club as he was in the St. Louis Hotel. A man who said what he believed and did what he said,” Harper said in a statement.
The prime minister said Klein’s beliefs about the role of government and fiscal responsibility that were once considered radical may be his greatest legacy.
“These ideas are now widely embraced across the political spectrum,” Harper said.
Former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow said Klein was a “committed Canadian.”
"We certainly had our ideological differences but one thing I knew is that I could work with Ralph Klein and his commitment was to not only his province but to the country so it is a big loss,” he said.
Former Quebec premier Jean Charest described Klein as a simple but direct man who was not afraid to own up to his mistakes.
“You don’t see often that much candor,” Charest said. “He had that candor which, in politics, is a very rare ingredient.”
Alberta Premier Alison Redford spoke of the hole that’s now left behind after Klein’s death.
“When someone like Premier Klein leaves this Earth, we remember what a force of personality, how straightforward he was and we trusted him implicitly,” Redford told reporters.
Condolences books have been set up throughout government buildings throughout Alberta along with an online tribute page.
The City of Calgary has been asked to organize the public memorial for Klein.
Known as “King Ralph” to some, the straight-talking but sometimes polarizing politician managed to create a lasting career that spanned decades and two levels of government.
Klein became Alberta’s premier in 1992, slashing the provincial budget and balancing the books through a series of deep public cuts – dubbed the “The Klein Revolution”-- that made him the envy of conservatives across the country.
As oil and gas fortunes rose in the province through the 1990s, Klein’s government was able to pay off more than $23 billion in provincial debt by 2004, putting Alberta in the black for the first time in years.
Klein first entered politics in 1980 with a surprise victory as mayor of Calgary at the age of 37. It wasn’t long before he made headlines, blaming the city’s rising crime rate on “creeps” and “bums” from eastern Canada who were only there for the jobs.
But the voters loved his style, re-electing him in 1983 and again in 1986 with some of the largest victories in Calgary history.
Current Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi called Klein a “true born-and-raised Calgarian” and said that he played a huge role in helping to shape the city from 1980 to 1989.
Klein made the move to provincial politics in 1989, becoming environment minister under then-Premier Don Getty. Three years later, when Getty stepped down, Klein was a natural replacement.
He is widely credited with reviving the Progressive Conservative Party in 1993, when it seemed to be losing its grip on power.
Though he dealt with his share of controversies, Klein enjoyed massive popularity in his home province during much of his tenure. In 2001, his party won 74 of 83 seats, winning nearly two out of every three votes.
Klein retired in 2006 with a 55-per-cent vote of confidence at a leadership review. In the prime of his premiership, he routinely received confidence votes around 90 per cent.
Klein was inducted into the Order of Canada last November. Too ill to attend the ceremony, Klein’s wife, Colleen, accepted the medal on his behalf.
Klein leaves behind Colleen, three children and two stepchildren.
With files from CTVNews.ca’s Marlene Leung and The Canadian Press