Mr. Klein was elected for a fourth term on Nov. 22, 2004, but his seemingly invincible popularity was beginning to wane. He retained his majority with 62 of the 83 seats, but he could only claim 47 per cent of the vote. Before the election he had said that this would be his last term, but he was vague about his exit strategy until, shortly before a scheduled leadership review at the end of March, 2006, he announced that he would retire early in 2008.
That wasn’t soon enough for many of the delegates. He won the support of only 55 per cent of them, considerably less than the 90-per-cent approval he had received in previous reviews or the 75 per cent that Mr. Klein felt he needed to continue as leader. He officially declared his intention to resign in September, but remained premier until his successor, Ed Stelmach, assumed office on Dec. 14, 2006. He resigned his Calgary-Elbow seat in the legislature on Jan. 15, 2007.
Unlike many provincial premiers, including Peter Lougheed, David Peterson, Frank McKenna and Roy Romanow, who went on to rewarding and influential post-political careers in corporate, diplomatic and academic life, Mr. Klein seemed unprepared for retirement and puzzled when it came to setting his own agenda.
Although not a lawyer, he accepted a position as a senior business adviser with Borden Ladner Gervais early in 2007 and an appointment the following year as the inaugural Ralph Klein chair in Media Studies at Calgary’s Mount Royal University. Both roles seemed more ceremonial than actual. As political scientist Duane Bratt told The Globe and Mail in April, 2011: “...there was a 9 a.m. class and I knew Ralph’s reputation, so I was a bit worried. But he rolls in with a big Tim Hortons mug, leather jacket and a pair of jeans and just sat at the front of the class and told really great stories. What they remembered were the drinking stories with Mike Harris,” said Prof. Bratt. “That’s what the students took away.”
Then, in March, 2010, he appeared sitting on a golden throne as the star of the cable television game show, On the Clock . His role was to award “Ralph Bucks” for the best answers supplied by three competing contestants to questions such as: Name the benefits of global warming in 10 seconds or less. Mr. Klein awarded the most Ralph Bucks to the male contestant who said the biggest plus was the opportunity to wear his hot pants more often.
By 2010, Mr. Klein was suffering the effects of COPD, a degenerative lung disease linked to smoking. The diagnosis was only made public in December, 2010, when a noticeably failing Mr. Klein confessed in an interview with the Calgary Herald that his “memory is gone because of a lack of oxygen.” But, he added with a flash of the old Klein wit, “I’m not dead yet.”
Less than six months later, his family revealed that the former premier, then 68, was also suffering from frontotemporal dementia, a degenerative and progressive disease of the frontal lobes.
“He went for a whole series of tests in mid-February,” his old friend and former chief of staff Rod Love told the Canadian Press in April, 2011, saying that the family wanted the public to know the truth. “People who were running into him were a little alarmed at what they were seeing and so it is what it is,” Mr. Love said. “For the greatest political communicator of our generation, it’s tough to see. I’ve spent 30 years of my life with him, so it’s a bit of a shock.”
Mrs. Klein cared for her husband as long as she could, but his health had deteriorated so much by the fall of 2011 that he was moved into a nursing home. That is where he died.
Mr. Klein is survived by his wife Colleen, five children, several grandchildren and his extended family.