Paul Jackson, Guest Columnist
I tossed back a few beers with Premier Ralph Klein many a time.
Did I say a few beers?
No, in truth I was often legless at the end of these sessions. And not the only one to be legless.
So much so that my wife at the time — a stunning blonde who had been a stewardess on the Concorde airline — and who spoke French, German and Spanish fluently — stormed into the St. Louis bar and gave him a piece of her mind.
King Ralph didn’t flinch, he just asked her to cool down, sit down and have a drink.
She didn’t do that.
Just grabbed me by the ear and frogmarched me out of the place.
It was a chilly night in the bedroom. Cold shoulder stuff.
I didn’t really know Klein well when he was mayor since I had left Calgary after being posted to Ottawa back in 1971.
But I got to know him well after Premier Don Getty gave him the lowly post of environment minister.
It was a disgrace that Getty never rewarded Klein — then already a national figure because of his headline-grabbing role as mayor — just basically tossed him aside when he moved into provincial politics.
One day, in frustration, Klein phoned Ken King, then publisher of the Calgary Sun, and bitterly complained about Getty’s treatment of him.
King — who had also been a drinking buddy of Klein — told me to see him and pen a major feature on Ralph.
So we met in some ritzy private club and I did as was ordered.
Yet during that lunch I discovered that Klein had done one heck of a job while holding the environment portfolio.
Many of Alberta’s progressive environment laws today are because of Klein.
A little known fact, but true.
Then, of course, after Getty had completely made a mess of Alberta’s finances — even losing his own seat in Edmonton — the Progressive Conservative leadership race began.
Klein’s only real opponent was Nancy Betkowski, a naïve woman way out of her depth if ever there was one — was bested on the second ballot.
Thank God for that, because if Betkowski had won, Alberta would likely be in even a far bigger mess today than it is under the ineffective and seemingly lost Alison Redford.
Redford makes the modest Premier Ed Stelmach look like a whiz. As we know now, Ed was the wrong man, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Here I must say something, it’s true that under Klein, Alberta balanced its budget, wiped out an horrendous multibillion- dollar debt, and when he left office Alberta had a surplus.
But he didn’t really do it himself.
What Klein had was an uncanny knack of picking topnotch advisors, and making Jim Dinning provincial treasurer.
You’ve heard the saying, a second rate leader — or company president — picks a third rate person as his second in command.
In this regard, Klein was a first rate leader, because he picked other first rate leaders to give him advice and run his government.
Klein’s attributes were really just every day common sense, the guts to do what had to be done, and being a man who never believed he was better than anyone else. He was a character, yes, with flaws, but he was as sharp as a tack.
A very different man to Premier Peter Lougheed — who was extremely sophisticated — Klein identified with the average Joe.
I’ll bet you the proverbial dollar to a doughnut that if Klein hadn’t been suffering from dementia he would have been appalled at what Alison Redford and cabal are doing to this province.
The lady hasn’t got the talent to have even polished Klein’s shoes.
Sadly, it will be a long time before we see the likes of Ralph Klein again.
I doubt we ever will, which is regrettable on so many levels.
Paul Jackson is a former Calgary Sun editor who now spends his time between Sylvan Lake, Calgary and Guadalajara, Mexico. firstname.lastname@example.org