The official resignation letter from Premier Klein comes tomorrow afternoon and the campaign to find his successor, and the next pro tem Premier of Alberta, now starts with a vengeance.
Ralph has always been a character. An “interesting” character to be sure, who is not without his charm and not without his warts. He showed them all to us as well as all sides of his personality over the years as our party leader. He has, in the end, proven to be one of Alberta’s most successful politicians.
As I reflect on Ralph, I want to focus on some of his strengths as he prepares to pass the torch. I have worked with lots politicians over the years. What I recall of Ralph, beyond the media made mythology, was that he was one of the quickest studies on policy issues that I have met and worked with. His ability to focus and “get it in one” as they say always impressed me. I had the privilege to brief him as party leader on policy conference outcomes on a number of occasions. His gift of being able to focus on what was in front of him and to immediately grasp complex concepts and their context the to go out and speak to the political and policy implications, off the top of his head, was a gift. It was little appreciated talent that served him and the province well during his tenure.
His legendary common touch was genuine and is a fundamental and defining part of his character. He was the “glue” of the party and was able to personally appeal to the full range of political and policy perspectives within the Progressive Conservative Party.
His personal relationship with aboriginal Albertans and his understanding of their various cultures and the personal realities they faced. Ralph related to all aspects of aboriginal Albertans as a people, as individuals and as political interest groups. This personal part of Ralph developed into a special, politically effective, mutually beneficial and sustained relationship. Ralph helped other Albertans better understand the circumstances and political realities of Metis and First Nations people in Alberta and advanced their cause on many occasions.
He could be very insightful and adaptive. He sometimes had a sixth sense of what Albertans were really thinking and feeling. He connected with us as Albertans. His political antenna was not always perfect. He made mistakes but he took initiative. We all know those go hand in hand in politics and life. When he messed up he was quick to apologize and equally as quick to focused on fixing things to make them better. The issues and policy mistakes that were made around the sterilization issue and the Vriend decision are two prime examples of first getting it wrong, then realizing the mistake and immediately revising the policy to get it right.
Lots will be said in the media about Ralph’s shortcoming in his post-Premier period. Not by me though. I like him and appreciate what he has accomplished and done for Alberta. We often disagreed but never disagreeably. Our “arguments,” over a beer- or not - were always on the issues, the principles and processes – never on the goals and the purposes. He was thin skinned at times and took hurtful things personally and was often treated unfairly. Those are the realities of our adversarial competitive political culture.
Bottom line – he came into office and did what he said he would do. That alone differentiated him from the run-of-the-mill politicians so characteristic of his time. So now he retires. I want to personally thank Ralph for what he did, and sometime for what he didn’t do as our Premier. He has left Alberta a better place than when he was first elected and that, in the end, is all we can ask of any politician.