Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein diagnosed with dementia

One of the sharpest tongues in Canadian politics is being silenced by a progressive form of dementia.

This week the public learned that the former premier of Alberta, Ralph Klein, has been diagnosed with "frontal temporal dementia, consistent with primary progressive aphasia."

After months of uncertainty and health complications, Klein and his wife Colleen received the diagnosis on April 1 of this year.

The condition is affecting Klein’s ability to speak, as well as his reading and writing abilities.

During his time as premier, Klein was one of Canada’s best-known politicians. His one-liners ranged from quick and witty to positively biting.

One of Klein’s most notorious moments came in March 2006, when Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty questioned Alberta’s health care plans, Klein responded, "I’m no doctor, but I think Mr. McGuinty’s got a case of premature speculation."

We take a closer look at Ralph Klein’s political career:

Klein was born in Calgary on November 1, 1942. He studied at Athabasca University, and entered journalism as a civic affairs reporter with Calgary’s CFCN-TV and CFCN radio.

Klein entered politics on October 15, 1980, when he was elected the Mayor of Calgary, a position he held for 9 years. In 1989 ran for a position in the provincial legislative assembly and became Alberta’s Minister of the Environment.

The once Liberal Party supporter was elected leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party in December 1992, replacing Peter Lougheed. Two weeks later he was appointed Premier of Alberta. In 1993 he led the party to victory, winning 51 of the 83 seats in the legislature and 45 per cent of the popular vote.

Klein’s popularity continued to rise, as he was re-elected as premier in 1997 winning 63 of the 83 seats and 51 per cent of the popular vote. He was re-elected in 2001, this time winning 74 of the 83 seats and 62 per cent of the popular vote.

Klein’s supporters applaud his time as premier as one of fiscal responsibility, characterized by downsizing the government, balancing the budget, and paying off the provincial debt ahead of schedule.

However, where Klein went, a dust-trail of controversy usually followed. He was criticized for his stance on environmental, health, and arts issues. Klein cut funding to arts and health care, and opposed the Kyoto Accord which aims at fighting global warming.

In December 2001, Klein visited a homeless shelter in Edmonton, AB. Witnesses say the visibly drunk and slurring premier yelled at men in the shelter, throwing money at them and telling them to get jobs. Following the incident, Klein pledged he would address his problem drinking.

Klein called for a national referendum on the issue of same-sex marriage in 2004, an initiative that was quickly squashed by then Prime Minister Paul Martin. In 2005, when the federal government approved legislation for same-sex marriage, Klein announced that his government would oppose distributing same-sex marriage licenses. He would later reluctantly admit there was no legal way to oppose the legislation.

In March 2006, during question period in the Alberta legislature, Klein took some heat for throwing a Liberal policy book across the floor, yelling out “I don’t need this crap.”

Klein retired from his position as premier in 2006, and has since received many honours, including Officer of the Legion of Honor by France in 2008.

With files from Postmedia News

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