Ralph Klein didn’t care about the things elected officials are supposed to care about.
You know, the little things, stuff like timetables, agendas, schedules, meetings of any kind or duration, media whining, protocol, VIPs, briefing books, bureaucratic memos, the Internet, discussions about the Constitution, smoke-free zones, motorcades, Ottawa, talking points, coke without rum, the CBC, prayer breakfasts, premiers’ conferences, and all the other clutter that got in the way of his real passion: talking with an Albertan.
If a briefing on anything took more than 30 seconds, he felt pity for the poor soul who couldn’t articulate what he or she was trying to explain.
He opened every media availability by saying “shoot.”
When asked after he became premier if the province was ready for a premier who was a serious drinker, he said: “Well, we’re about to find out.”
At the 1984 Olympic Winter Games in Sarajevo he mistook the King of Norway for his driver, and told him that he and Colleen were tired and that he should bring the car around.
The startled King explained who he was as he pulled out his silver cigarette case, so Ralph apologized as he bummed a smoke off him.
At a stop in god-fearing Camrose, Alta., one early morning, he compared his cuts to the education system to nothing more than the daily cost of a Bloody Caesar – which he had in his hand at the time.
A woman wrote him as mayor complaining that the straps on the Light Rail Transit were too high for short people like her, and he called her up at work and asked if he could ride the train home with her the next day to see for himself.
They were too high. They were lengthened.
Out of the blue, he was once asked to pick the winner of a school poster contest.
He saw the danger immediately, telling the principal, “you pick the winner, I hand out the ribbon.”
As premier, he appointed an openly gay woman as his director of communications, quite a thing in Alberta in the mid 1990s. When asked if he felt he was making a bold statement, he replied “next question.” He later promoted her to deputy minister.
He was born on All Saints Day and died on Good Friday, and he went to his grave believing the most important day on the Christian calendar was Parade Day to open the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede.
He was a reluctant assassin, but there is a notable list of aldermen, MLAs, cabinet ministers and bureaucrats who got the quiet knife when they pushed the pushover too far.
Mornings were bad, afternoon naps were good, and Chinatown – any Chinatown in North America – was indispensable.
Cheating at golf was an essential part of a low score, although because he had developed his own golf rules, it wasn’t really cheating. Chrétien agreed with that.
A social worker who looked at his file as he left a broken home after a hard childhood in a bad neighbourhood commented that by the age of 21 he would either be dead or in jail.
Actually, he did a little better than that.
An interest in the mid-1960s in the then-new science of ‘public relations’ led to the United Way, and then the Red Cross, and then CFCN television news in Calgary.
Assigned to cover Calgary City Hall, he covered it from the bars and lounges in the rough East Village where the cops and the bureaucrats and the other media met to drink and swap gossip.
After eleven years, having decided he could run City Hall better than City Hall, he ran for mayor, and won.
He was a party crasher when he took over the Alberta PC party in 1992, and though he was leader for 14 years, he was never really a member. Too many rules.
He did it his way, and won four straight massive majority governments. And now that he is gone, for the first time in our 33 year friendship, I guess he now is doing advance for me.
Rod Love is a consultant who was chief of staff to former Alberta premier Ralph Klein
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