Skip to content

Ralph Klein

Alberta's 12th Premier, 1992-2006

Ralph Philip Klein was born in Calgary on November 1, 1942. Educated in Calgary, he interrupted his high school studies to enlist in the Canadian Air Force. Upon leaving the service, Klein completed his high school education, and became an instructor, and eventually principal, at the Calgary Business College.

From 1963 to 1969, Ralph Klein pursued a public relations career with the Alberta Division of the Red Cross and the Calgary and District United Way. In 1969, his desire to expand his experience landed him in the Calgary newsroom of CFCN TV and radio.

In 1972, Ralph Klein met and married Colleen Hamilton. In Colleen, Ralph found the soul mate who would serve as his confidant, supporter and source of both inspiration and motivation. Together in their southwest Calgary home, they raised a blended family of five children: Bradley, Angela, Christine, Lisa and Teresa.

Ralph spent 11 years in media and eventually earned the title of Senior Civic Affairs reporter. Although he covered a wide range of topics during his time in the newsroom, there were two areas that proved to be particularly significant. First, in the late 1970's, he began reporting on the struggles of the Blackfoot Siksika Nation south of Calgary. He was moved by friends he found there and developed a strong connection to the spiritual aspects of Blackfoot culture that he encountered. The second lasting benefit of his media career was the knowledge he gained covering municipal politics. He got to know the inner workings of city hall and formed strong opinions on numerous issues.

In 1980, Ralph shocked friends, family and co-workers with the announcement that he was running for mayor. He mounted an extremely modest campaign, equipped with a minuscule budget, a small team of volunteers and an old motor home borrowed from his father. Ralph's keen instincts helped to win the day and he was elected Mayor of Calgary on October 15, 1980, by a margin that was as sizeable as it was unexpected by his opponents. He was re-elected in 1983 and 1986 with among the largest pluralities in the city's history. High points of his tenure as mayor include the introduction of the city's light rail transit system, strengthened environmental protections for the Bow River and Calgary's successful turn as host of the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Ralph Klein was elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly for Calgary-Elbow on March 20, 1989, and on April 14, 1989, he was appointed Minister of Environment. In that portfolio, Klein oversaw the development of the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, one of Canada's most progressive pieces of environmental protection legislation.

Ralph Klein was elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party on December 5, 1992, in the first one member/one vote leadership race held in Alberta. He was sworn in as Alberta's 12th Premier on December 14 of that year — a post he would hold for 14 years. Several months later, Albertans gave the Progressive Conservative Party a resounding victory in the provincial general election of June 15, 1993. Successive elections would see the Klein Government re-elected with strong majorities in 1997, 2001 and 2004.

Highlights of Premier Klein's time at the helm of the province include a commitment to fiscal restraint that served to eliminate the provincial deficit and make Alberta the country's first debt-free province. On July 12, 2004, a day many Albertans remember with pride, Premier Klein announced that Alberta's debt, which once stood at $23 billion -- $8400 for every man, woman and child in Alberta — was "paid in full."

Klein is also credited with efforts to open up the government's decision making process, launch sweeping public consultations, keep taxes low and encourage a strong climate for private sector job development. He instituted a Ministry of Children's Services that was the first of its kind in Canada, oversaw considerable growth in the province's medical research and post-secondary infrastructure and led celebrations and legacy projects unveiled throughout Alberta's centennial year in 2005.

Ralph Klein stepped down as Premier on December 2, 2006. In his retirement, he served as executive in residence and inaugural occupant of the Ralph Klein Chair in Media Studies at Calgary's Mount Royal University, Executive Professor of Public Policy at the University of Alberta School of Business and as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

The long list of recognitions offered to Ralph Klein includes membership in the Order of St. John and the Olympic Order, Man of the Year honours from the International Young Entrepreneurs Organization and Citizen of the Century honours from the City of Calgary. He held honourary degrees from SAIT, Olds College, the University of Calgary and Kangwon National University in China. In 1993, he was adopted into the Siksika Nation and given the name Otskoipiiksi (Bluebird). He was also an Honourary Chief in the Kainai Chieftainship. These two Aboriginal recognitions were particularly meaningful to him as they also represented a connection to Colleen's Metis heritage. He was invested into the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2010 and inducted into the French Legion of Honour in 2008 and the Order of Canada in 2012.

To his closest friends and colleagues, Ralph Klein was a caring, fun, loving and loyal man who was slow to anger and quick to forgive. His political allies and opponents alike recognized the unique combination of powerful instincts, determination and charisma that served him well throughout his career. But for countless everyday Albertans, he was known simply as "Ralph" and celebrated as a leader who was a man of the people, a proud Albertan and a true original in every possible sense.

Stokes Family April 15, 2013
Calgary Alberta
To the Klein family, thank you for sharing such a remarkable human being with us, we were truly blessed.
Harvey Wood April 15, 2013
My thoughts are with you and your family.
Ken & Joy McGregor April 15, 2013
Calgary Alberta
Well loved and will be truly missed...
Marie Stubbs April 15, 2013
Olds Alberta
Ralph, you did this province proud..Thanks for all you have done..Rest in peace..
Diane Adams April 15, 2013
Okotoks, AB Alberta
An amazing man, and such a loss at a relatively "young" age. Ralph was a man who said what he meant, and meant what he said and followed through with his promises. One of a kind, more politicians should take a page from his book! RIP Ralph, there will never be another like you!
Joanne lennon April 15, 2013
Calgary Alberta
Thank you for fighting for and serving our wonderful city/province with everything you had. Thank you to your family for supporting you as you represented us and worked toward bettering our city and province. We did not want to see you pass on, but it was best for you. You definitely earned the right. RIP
Donny Taylor April 14, 2013
Medicine Hat Alberta
I remember in elementary school having a mock mayoral election I think I was in grade 5 and I remember I voted for Ralph Klein and what great work he did for the city and then for him to go on and be the premier of Alberta and wipe out our debt. He was a great man and will always be remembered
Dorothy Mailer April 14, 2013
Calgary Alberta
You were never afraid to admit you had made a mistake and fixed the problem! A rare attribute in politics
Sherry Cunningham April 12, 2013
Peavine Metis Settlement Alberta
Deepest condolences to the family of the late Hon. Ralph Klein. Mr. Klein was a very personable and caring individual who engaged all Albertans during his successful quest to enhance the quality of life for all Albertans. Extremely appreciated.
Jason April 11, 2013
Calgary Alberta
My condolences to the Klein family , Mr Klein is and was the best states man we have seen and will ever see, he was an inspired man with a heart for the person, u will never be forgottent thank you for everything
Clinton April 11, 2013
Calgary Alberta
A truly unique man in the political arena. He was what a real politician should be- a man of the people representing the people. You will always be a role model for others and will be greatly missed. Rest in peace Ralph.
Joanne Beaverbones April 11, 2013
Red Deer Alberta
Ralph made an impact on my life. I found that there are people out there in government who genuinely care & will always have compassion for others, including people of color. He is an inspiration for me, a picture of what i'd like to become. Colleen deserves all the love that comes her way for the family.
Jayne Amos April 11, 2013
Calgary Alberta
I am truly sorry for your loss.
Jodi April 11, 2013
Your legacy is immense, as is the respect and admiration of the people of this great province have for you. Thank you Ralph, rest in peace.
Christine Lee April 11, 2013
Calgary Alberta
Mr. Klein's contributions to Calgary and Alberta have and will continue to benefit me and my family and generations to come. For that I am truly thankful.
A.Liebal April 11, 2013
Chilliwack BC
I wish there where more Ralph Klein~s in political leadership today
Mark Lanctot April 11, 2013
Calgary Alberta
What a great man, and what a great job done for our city and province. Men like this don't come along often, we will miss him.
Kirk Fogarassy April 11, 2013
Calgary Alberta
Rest in peace "King Ralph". Thank you for all you have done for Calgary and Alberta.
David Peever April 11, 2013
Calgary Alberta
I attended the speech Bill Clinton gave in Calgary in 2001. Ralph sat next to the former president at the head table. Clinton’s lengthy speech was a masterful performance. But Ralph’s brief, off-the-cuff remarks connected with the audience in a way that Clinton couldn’t touch. I often disagreed with Ralph’s government on policy matters, but Calgarians and Albertans were fortunate indeed to have had such a genuine, honest human being serving us for so many years.
Ron & Laurette Doucet April 10, 2013
Brooks Alberta
You have left a wonderful legacy.
Loading next 20...