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Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein, in 2007. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein, in 2007. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Alberta happily bucks national trend in naming riding after Ralph Klein Add to ...

There's no Nipissing-Harris electoral riding. No Shawinigan-Chrétien. But just four years after it hurried former premier Ralph Klein from office, Alberta's Progressive Conservative government has moved to immortalize his name in the form of a riding.

Calgary-North Hill is set to become Calgary-Klein this fall, marking the latest such example of a practice that's embraced here in Alberta - and rare in every other province.

Alberta's first premier, Alexander Rutherford, and successors Ernest Manning and Peter Lougheed have ridings named after them or their families. Other ridings are named after a host of other politicians, including onetime Edmonton and Calgary mayors Laurence Decore and Harry Hays.

Happily bucking the national trend, Alberta has wasted no time in bestowing the tradition on the polarizing Mr. Klein, 68. Mr. Lougheed had been the only person to receive such an honour while still alive, but the riding is named for his family. Calgary-Klein is named exclusively for Mr. Klein, who will also be very much alive to see the result.

"Sometimes we wait too long to honour people," said Kyle Fawcett, explaining the haste. Mr. Fawcett is the first-term MLA who represents the riding, which sits north of downtown in an inner suburb, bounded by freeways and gritty 16th Avenue and including a cemetery and two golf courses. It also includes Mr. Klein's home neighbourhood of Tuxedo Park.

Last week, Mr. Fawcett formally proposed the change. The idea was adopted as an amendment to a report, partly to avoid confusion - Calgary would otherwise have had provincial ridings of Nose Hill, North Hill and Northern Hills.

Mr. Fawcett expects a bill finalizing the change will pass in this autumn's brief legislative session. "Ralph was at times controversial, but I think that's sort of what made him Ralph," Mr. Fawcett said.

Controversial, to say the least. While many here agree with Mr. Fawcett, others remember a different Ralph - a man who famously threw money at a homeless person after grilling him on why he doesn't have a job; who drank heavily; and who frequently clashed with Ottawa over a series of issues affecting his province, including a stand against same-sex marriage.

Now, the populist leader is being canonized in Alberta politics while others are left out - among them Mr. Klein's predecessor, Don Getty. Opposition politicians, typically wary of attacking retired opponents, criticize the move.

"There would be tremendous public discomfort with Klein's name being put forward in this way, because he's such a controversial figure," said Rachel Notley, a New Democract MLA. A movement to name a riding after her father, former New Democrat leader Grant Notley, failed earlier this year. "The whole process is a grossly partisan process."

Others suggest Mr. Klein's legacy isn't worthy of the honour. Mr. Rutherford was the province's first premier, Mr. Manning its longest-serving, and Mr. Lougheed a champion of provincial energy rights. Mr. Klein paid off the province's debt, but has few other hallmark achievements.

"What's the guy's legacy in Alberta? What is it he accomplished?" asked Nelson Wiseman, a political scientist at the University of Toronto. "I don't think it's proper, especially when the guy's alive and also still a divisive figure."

Across Canada, a handful of ridings at the provincial and federal level have been named for deceased former leaders.

Among them is B.C.'s federal riding of Burnaby-Douglas, a nod to both governor James Douglas and health-care pioneer Tommy Douglas. In Quebec, the ridings of René-Lévesque, Johnson and Jean-Lesage were all named for former premiers after their deaths. The federal riding of Bourassa is named after publisher Henri Bourassa, not former premier Robert Bourassa.

In Ontario, ridings such as Elgin, Brant, Simcoe and York share names with long-deceased leaders, but also with communities within the riding. In Nova Scotia, the riding of Preston is named for Richard Preston, a minister and icon of the anti-slavery movement.

Other provinces avoid ceremonial naming altogether.

"One could think about a seat called Trudeau in Quebec, or Borden in Nova Scotia, but that's never been done. We tend to use geographic reference points," said John Courtney, a political scientist at the University of Saskatchewan.

But while unusual elsewhere, the move is nothing if not an Alberta tradition.

"There's no doubt in my mind that Alberta is an outlier here," Prof. Wiseman said, adding: "You know, if it's a provincial tradition, who is to tell them from the outside not to do it?"

Follow on Twitter: @josh_wingrove

 

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