Thanks, Ralph

It was a breezy spring day the first time I met Ralph Klein.  It was early in his first term as mayor of Calgary, and he had come along with a handful of other dignitaries to attend a ceremonial tree planting for the opening of the new Woodlands Elementary school.
Being one of the only students to know or care about politics, even in grade six I appreciated the man standing before me – one who, while at ease and flashing his big smile, didn’t seem to fit with the stuffed suits.
Ralph Klein
It would be another eleven years before I’d come face to face with Ralph.  During a Calgary P.C. candidates rally during the election campaign of 1993, I had the opportunity to have a short but memorable chat with the Premier.  He asked which campaign I was working with, how the response was, etc.  Then I mentioned the first meeting all those years ago, and quickly worried that I was sounding like some kind of fan who unrealistically expected a celebrity to remember some snapshot in time.
Without missing a beat, Ralph put that worry to rest.
“Woodlands. Beautiful school. You were the kids who left Jennie Elliott in Lakeview. That was my daughter’s school.”
“Good to see you again.”
And with that, he was off.
Personal memories of a man I think of almost exclusively in political terms.  Ralph Klein’s everyday-guy image is well known.  It was the primary cause of his unmatched popularity and the source of the contempt others held him in.
But it was his style – almost completely lacking in fa├žade – which he will be remembered for.  Of all the premiers Alberta has had, I doubt one would have been more suitable to be the face of the 1990’s austerity cutbacks than Klein.  While Provincial Treasurer Jim Dinning implemented the program of balancing the budget and attacking the debt, for the most part it was Ralph’s face on camera.
A premier such as Ralph Klein should be remembered for leading Alberta out of a self-inflicted financial mess and placing the province on the road to prosperity.  There cannot be a worse mistake than an Alberta government that chooses to forget – even mock – these successes, especially when the discrediting emanates from his party.
A once-in-a-lifetime premier has left us, and Alberta is better for him.

1 comment:

Rob Low said...

I was there too, Leigh. I like what his personal friends have been saying the last few days, that it's truly his character that is the most memorable because people can disagree and argue about the pros and cons of how he balanced the budget. But he was honest, down to earth, did what he said and said what he meant. We need more politicians like him around.

His Name Was Steven