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.