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Ralph Klein remembered at public ceremony in Calgary

By Bill Kaufmann, Calgary Sun

CALGARY — Alberta icon Ralph Klein was bid a moving farewell Friday by a who’s who of Canadian politics and the “Marthas and Henrys” the ex-premier was so closely identified with.

On a Jack Singer Concert Hall stage shared with portraits of Klein — one of the former Calgary mayor fishing — politicians from across the political spectrum praised Klein as a man of honesty and political determination who launched a trajectory for government budgeting.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said one of Klein’s shining qualities was a folksy one best appreciated by few outside Alberta.

“Ralph had many opponents but precious few enemies,” Harper told an audience amid empty seats in the 1,800-capacity auditorium.

“He was King Ralph but we said it in a way we never meant it — it was as a king-sized character.”

About 90 minutes earlier, Klein’s widow, Colleen made a sombre arrival as a white hearse bearing a red box containing her husband’s cremated remains waited outside the concert hall.

A festive atmosphere among a lineup that began forming outside the hall at 6:30 a.m. suddenly became solemn.

The celebration of Klein’s life, which ended March 29 at age 70, was ushered in with the playing of Ian Tyson’s Four Strong Winds and a prayer read by Tsuu T’ina elder Gerald Meguinis.

Former Ontario premier Mike Harris recalled a kindred spirit in Klein’s approach to tough love provincial budgeting.

“Ralph said to me ‘thank God you’re here, Mike — it’s been lonely being a cost-cutting conservative premier at these conferences in the last few years,’” said Harris, referring to a 1995 first ministers’ meeting.

But at the same time, said Harris, wielding an axe to Alberta’s spending in the 1990s wore on Klein’s psyche, even costing him sleep.

“Ralph genuinely cared and privately fretted about what those cutbacks meant to the little guy,” he said.

Klein’s humility and honesty were hallmarks, said former Saskatchewan NDP premier Roy Romanow, and that helped him weather the political storm provoked by his campaign to eliminate Alberta’s $23-billion debt.

But he said Klein’s time on the national stage was just as courageous and vital with the Calgarian forging greater national unity following the close call of the 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum.

“Ralph understood a new narrative was needed ... he reached out to Quebecers and lent his voice and signature to the so-called Calgary declaration,” said Romanow.

“Ralph left Alberta and Canada stronger ... in his own words, ‘the best is yet to come.’”

A private funeral for Klein is scheduled for Saturday.

bill.kaufmann@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @SUNBillKaufmann

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