CALGARY- Thousands gathered in Calgary on Friday to say a final farewell to the man affectionately known as ‘King Ralph’ – a champion of Alberta known for his infamous sound bites.
Former Calgary mayor and Alberta premier Ralph Klein passed away on Good Friday, after a long battle with dementia and lung disease. He was 70 years old.
A funeral procession through downtown Calgary began the events, starting with a presentation by the province at the McDougall Centre. Klein’s wife, Colleen, was presented with the flag flown at the Alberta Legislature on March 29—the day Klein passed away.
The procession then continued to Municipal Plaza, where Colleen Klein was escorted by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Nenshi made a special announcement after highlighting Klein’s many achievements, such as making Alberta the first debt-free province and helping bring the Olympics to Calgary.
“The outpouring of affection we see today is tangible evidence of the legacy that Ralph Klein leaves behind him, as mayor, as premier and as a Calgarian,” he said. “On behalf of city council and Calgarians, I herby proclaim April 5, 2013 as Ralph Klein day.”
The Calgary Tower was also lit for about two hours, in honour of the storied politician.
The procession was then led into the Jack Singer Concert Hall by a lone piper for a Celebration of Life, organized by the City of Calgary. The procession included the Honour Guard and a funeral director carrying Klein’s ashes. They walked through the hall to the song ‘Four Strong Winds’ by Alberta singer Ian Tyson.
The program began with welcome remarks from master of ceremonies Dave Bronconnier, former mayor of Calgary, followed by an aboriginal blessing by an elder. Klein was adopted into the Siksika Nation, and carried an eagle feather with him virtually everywhere he went during election campaigns.
“We are here to celebrate and honour the life of Ralph,” Bronconnier began. “Ralph was a very humble man but he accomplished great things. Ralph’s success was rooted in his ability to connect with people. He loved being with people.”
He added that Klein was as comfortable around presidents and prime ministers, as he was drinking with people at his favourite bar, the St. Louis Hotel. Bronconnier also shared the story of a day back on September 1, 2004, while Bronconnier was mayor of Calgary and Klein was premier of Alberta. The mayor wanted money from the province for infrastructure, and says when he approached Klein, Klein took one look at him and said, “what’s it going to take to shut you up?”
Bronconnier asked for $1 billion in funding, to which Klein replied, “A billion dollars? Will that keep you happy?” He didn’t argue, and said, “OK David, leave it with me.”
A short time later, Klein announced that the province had created the Alberta Municipal Infrastructure Program, and Calgary was first in line to get their $1 billion.
“That’s what it was like to work with Ralph,” Bronconnier remembered.
Mayor Nenshi then took the stage for another tribute.
“Regardless of what side of the table you were on, he always treated you with respect,” Nenshi said. “He was interested in creating best Calgary and best Alberta that we could be.
“He taught us that we as Calgarians, as Albertans are great, and can be great.”
Two former premiers then took the stage: former Ontario premier Mike Harris, and former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow. Harris recalled the many hours he and Klein spent together on the golf course, joking the first golf term he ever learned was ‘mulligan,’ and added they accomplished more on the links than they did in a boardroom. He also spoke of the time they went on a fishing trip together, and Ralph didn’t drink.
“He did, however, drink half-per cent beer, O’Douls I think. About 27 or 28 of them!”
Harris also spoke of his tenacity as a political leader.
“He didn’t dilly dally. He made decisions—tough ones. If he made a mistake, he admitted it, and fixed it.”
The Prime Minister, who hails from Calgary, was the last speaker to pay tribute to Klein.
“What we should not forget and never look past is the truly remarkable gifts and accomplishments of Ralph Klein as a person and a leader,” Stephen Harper began, adding that having Klein in city hall was a bit of a ‘culture shock.’
He championed Klein’s support of the oilsands, saying, “Alberta’s energy industry does bring prosperity to all in this country,” and said he had a gift for saying what ordinary people were thinking, often in a way that would make people smile.
“Ralph Klein was faithful and true. True to himself, faithful to the people of this province.
“We’ll always remember you.”
The ceremony ended with a closing video highlighting Klein’s life, set to the song ‘A Hero Comes Along’ by Mariah Carey.
The urn holding Klein’s remains was then carried out of the hall, accompanied by the theme song of the 1988 Olympic Winter Games.
Dozens of political figures were present at the celebration, including Alberta opposition leaders, former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, former premier Jean Charest, and Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Donald S. Ethell. Members of the public were also invited.