He was outspoken and immensely popular, a debt-slayer and a champion of Alberta. On Friday, Ralph Klein, the former Alberta premier, died at age 70. He had been battling chronic health issues and dementia. Flags on all Alberta government buildings were lowered to half-mast.
Prime minister Stephen Harper shared his condolences on Twitter, and said in a statement:
"Alberta and Canada have lost a unique and significant leader. While Ralph’s beliefs about the role of government and fiscal responsibility were once considered radical, it is perhaps his greatest legacy that these ideas are now widely embraced across the political spectrum."
Alberta Premier Alison Redford also released a statement saying she was truly saddened by the loss of Klein.
“Ralph Klein’s ability to connect with Albertans from all walks of life was absolutely remarkable. He could walk from the Petroleum Club in downtown Calgary to the curling rink in St. Paul and carry on a conversation with absolutely everyone he met. Ralph was a real man of the people," she said.
Klein's wife, Colleen, said she'll remember her husband of 42 years as a man who knew his priorities and values.
"In his public life, while many will now debate what he stood for, he himself simply believed that public service was important, that it need not be complicated, and that it revolved around people," she said in a news release.
"In his private life, his greatest gift to his family was that when the long work days were over, and he came home, it was his sanctuary and the politics stopped at the door."
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Klein began his political career with a stint in civic politics — as mayor of Calgary — and he proudly presided over the Winter Olympics in 1988.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi offered his condolences to Klein's family, adding that the former premier, who had served as mayor of Calgary from 1980-1989, will always be remembered as "Mayor Klein."
Redford announced that an online tribute page and condolence books for Klein will be set up in government buildings across the province where Albertans can pay their condolences.
Klein's family has asked the City of Calgary to organize a public "celebration of life" for Klein and the city said details will be shared as arrangements are made.
When Klein became Alberta's boss in 1992, the province was $23 billion in debt, riding a deep trough in oil prices, and his Progressive Conservatives were facing an election defeat at the hands of the Liberals. Klein led the party to victory and began cutting jobs to bring the debts and deficits under control.
It was not popular move, but he stayed the course.
A former premier from a neighbouring province also paid tribute on Friday after hearing that his old colleague had died.
"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,” said former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark said Canada lost a great leader with the passing of Klein.
"Klein was one of Canada's most passionate and colourful politicians. Legendary in Calgary for his approachability and forthrightness, he was one of the few politicians referred to by his first name alone. On a journey that took him from irascible reporter, to mayor, to Premier of Alberta, he was always his own man," she added.
The leader of Alberta's Wildrose party, Danielle Smith, said Klein was an outstanding mix of entrepreneurial spirit, self-deprecating humour and steely determination. She said it's sad he died so soon after leaving office, so his successors are robbed of his advice and acumen. She added Klein's legacy will be his message to Albertans to dream big but live within your means.
With files from the Canadian Press