Ralph Philip Klein
Ralph Klein’s long and distinguished record of public service includes 14 years as Premier of Alberta, as well as strong contributions as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta and as Mayor of Calgary.
Ralph Philip Klein was born in Calgary on November 1, 1942 to Phil and Florence Klein. His was a working class family, with roots on both sides stretching back to Alberta’s homesteading traditions. Ralph’s childhood was shaped by the turbulence of his parent’s short-lived marriage and the nomadic life that followed. Ralph and his brother, Lynn, shuttled between living with their mother and step-father, to brief periods with their father who was supportive but often away for work, to the haven of their maternal grandparents’ home in the Calgary neighbourhood of Tuxedo Park. By age 17, Ralph was restless and disinterested in school. He left high school to join the Royal Canadian Air Force, however a short time spent in flight training was long enough to confirm that military life was not for him. He received an honourable discharge and returned to Calgary in 1960.
Although his military aspirations didn’t pan out, the discipline Ralph gained at flight school afforded him new determination and focus, which he applied to completing his education. He attended Calgary Business College where he studied accounting and business administration and excelled to such an extent that he was invited to stay on as an instructor. In time he became principal. After a few years, Ralph was eager for new challenges and moved to public relations work with the Red Cross and the United Way. During this period he also married Hilda May Hepner. They had two children, Bradley and Angela, before the marriage came to an end.
In 1969, Ralph’s desire to expand his experience landed him in the Calgary newsroom of CFCN TV and radio. In 1972, he met and married Colleen Hamilton and became dad to her two daughters, Christine and Lisa. In 1973 the couple welcomed daughter Teresa to their blended family of five children. In Colleen, Ralph found the soul mate who would serve as his confidant, supporter and frequent source of both inspiration and motivation.
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 continued to win strong majorities with re-elections in 1983 and 1986. 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.
Premier Ralph Klein during Alberta’s centennial year In March 1989, Ralph made the jump to provincial politics as MLA for Calgary-Elbow. He was named Minister of the Environment shortly after and led the development of one of Canada’s most progressive pieces of environmental protection legislation during his time in the portfolio. In 1992, Ralph Klein was chosen by the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta to replace retiring Premier Don Getty. He was sworn-in as Alberta’s 12th Premier on December 14 and Albertans resoundingly confirmed the choice in the June 1993 general election. He went on to win three more mandates as Premier, and in one election earned the second-largest majority government in Alberta’s history.
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 to make Alberta the country’s first debt-free province. He was 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. Premier Klein also 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 the Province’s centennial year. Ralph Klein retired as Premier on December 2, 2006.
New challenges in retirement have included service as executive in residence and inaugural occupant of the Ralph Klein Chair in Media Studies at Calgary’s Mount Royal University as well as duties as 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 holds honourary degrees from SAIT, Olds College and Kangwon National University in China. In 1993, he was adopted into the Siksika Nation and given the name Otskoipiiksi (Bluebird). He also is an Honourary Chief in the Kainai Chieftainship. These two Aboriginal recognitions are particularly meaningful to him as they also represent a connection to Colleen’s Metis heritage.
To his closest friends and colleagues Ralph Klein is a caring, fun loving and loyal man who is slow to anger and quick to forgive. His political allies and opponents alike recognize the unique combination of powerful instincts, determination and charisma that served him well throughout his career. But for countless everyday Albertans, he will always be know 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.