Sorry, an Order of Canada for Ralph Klein is not appropriate

Ralph Klein, as premier of Alberta. Below: Kevin Taft, an Order of Canada gong.

Does the kind of man who would call immigrants to Alberta from Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada “bums” and “creeps” deserve the Order of Canada?

Surely one would think not! But anything can happen in the weird and wacky world of Canada’s “honours system,” so one supposes that, with a noisy campaign under way by the corporate media and various far-right bloviators, an Order of Canada for Ralph “Katastrophe” Klein is a virtual inevitability.

Still, just because one has been the premier of a Canadian province shouldn’t be an automatic ticket to a membership in the Order, nor has it been since the honour was established in 1967. But the Edmonton Journal seemed to think it ought to be, arguing in a recent editorial that since Mr. Klein got a lot of votes, he should therefore be welcomed to the Order. Klein biographer Don Martin made much the same argument.

One would also think that it would be more appropriate to use the Order to honour people who built things up, rather than those who tore them down, although in fairness the Order’s criteria seem to be a little vague. The website of the Governor-General, the vice-regal personage who administers the Order, says it “recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.”

It’s still a free country, so presumably what constitutes those qualities is open to a fairly broad range of public interpretation. Still, once he had left his job as the mayor of Calgary, where he contributed to the creation of the city’s light-rail transit system, Mr. Klein didn’t really do much but knock things down, although there are those who might try to make a case that some of the things he attacked needed attacking.

His famously offensive remarks about Canadians from more eastern regions of the country were also made while he was Calgary’s Chief Magistrate, of course, not after he had ascended to the more august role of premier of an entire province.

Mr. Klein’s principal modus operandi in provincial office seemed essentially to be to take a complex area of activity in which government was involved, throw all the cards in the air and see where they landed. Usually someone else had to pick them up and put them away.

Thus he left our health system in chaos – unlike Tommy Douglas (Companion of the Order of Canada, 1981) who contributed mightily to creating the system of medicare from which all Canadians now benefit.

His government sold off publicly owned health facilities to private interests – unlike Peter Lougheed (Companion of the Order of Canada, 1989) who can be credited with building a network of modern public hospitals throughout Alberta.

However, as the Journal rightly points out, Mr. Klein did give us each a payment big enough to purchase an iPod or a Walkman, and “finally erased the provincial debt.”

Actually, if memory serves, Mr. Klein and his government announced several times that they had finally erased the debt. In reality, of course, they did no such thing. Mr. Klein merely pushed it off on another generation – of politicians, and of all Albertans – to deal with.

To lift a useful household analogy from Kevin Taft, the former Alberta Liberal Leader during the Klein era and the best premier Alberta never had, this is like refusing to repair your house for 30 years, then leaving it to your children with holes in the roof, vermin living under the front porch and rusted cars with no wheels and no engines sitting in the driveway, partly obscured by weeds. All Mr. Klein did was hand off the cost of maintaining Alberta to future generations – for whom the repairs will be more expensive, more complicated and more stressful.

Someone should have a quiet word with former Premier Ed Stelmach, for example, and suss out what he really thinks about Mr. Klein being admitted to the Order. Of course, Mr. Stelmach is too courtly a politician to say aloud what’s actually on his mind, but here’s betting it wouldn’t be all that complimentary if he were inclined to speak up.

After all, it was Mr. Stelmach who had to deal with the social debt and wear the infrastructure deficit that Mr. Klein’s irresponsible government created and left behind. Arguably, along with declining petroleum prices and a recession caused in the back rooms of the banking industry, it was part of what crippled his premiership. It will fall to the rest of us to sort out the chaos in health care created by Mr. Klein, presumably in hopes of justifying widespread privatization, an achievement we will struggle for a long time to accomplish here in Alberta.

Mr. Klein’s greatest claim to fame during his years as premier was that large numbers of Albertans said they thought he’d be a great guy with whom to have a beer. Ask the (sober) residents of an Edmonton homeless men’s shelter how much fun Mr. Klein really was after he’d had a few.

Some of us would rather have a couple of brews with Steve Fonyo (Companion of the Order of Canada, 1985-2009). Mr. Fonyo had his failings, as do we all, but he personally raised $14 million to fight cancer, and he deserved and continues to deserve the honour for that effort.

Mr. Klein’s current physical and mental infirmities are a tragedy with which any of us can feel sympathy and empathy. But he was a catastrophe as a premier, and hardly a unifying force in his treatment of Canadians from elsewhere. Awarding him this great honour – as debased as it may now be owing to the continued presence in its ranks of certain unsavoury characters – is not appropriate.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

22 Comments on "Sorry, an Order of Canada for Ralph Klein is not appropriate"

  1. Neal says:

    Agree with every word of this.

  2. Anonymous says:

    yes, but Klein did capture a good deal of public Alberta spirit for which we are all implicated and responsible (I'm grateful I was away for most of his time)

    I don't know that those who supported him make the connection to what we now face in Alberta. Many still have the slash and burn ethic that we see in a more hardline way with WR. Or, maybe they're dying off. I guess we'll find out next election.

  3. artie says:

    I continue to be angry that they took Fonyo's order away. While I don't condone the man's drunken behaviour, he accomplished something most of us can only look on at with awe. How dare some stick-up-the-ass twits in Ottawa look down at him for being human and judge him unworthy.

    And ifFonyo isn't worthy, our drunken hospital-closing PRemier sure isn't worthy either. Either these things mean something or its all about 'who you know and who you blow'

  4. Anonymous says:

    Cannot even express how much I agree with this!

  5. Md'Entremont says:

    You're a brave man Mr. Climenhaga. I agree with you unreservedly.

  6. Lars says:

    I usually agree with you anyway, David, but you've excelled yourself here – I wouldn't change a word of this.

  7. David J. Climenhaga says:

    I am astonished by the reaction to date. I was braced for the full troll treatment from the loony right. Tonight, I guess.

  8. Holly Stick says:

    Agreed. An abusive drunkard who did more harm than good to Alberta.

  9. Anonymous says:

    As a farmer, I could not agree with you more. He aided, abetted and encouraged law breaking and the destruction of our cooperative grain elevators and the Wheat Board.

    It was under his watch that the whole animal health infrastructure was destroyed. It was his administration that also over-road Federal objections and allowed the importation of cattle protein from Britain during the height of the BSE (mad cow) outbreak there. So his band of fools must take responsibility for the importation and spread of BSE into Alberta. If you don’t think there are human health implications to that, well . . .

    They inherited the cleanest beef herd in the world in the cleanest environment in the world and “fracked up” both.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Entirely agreed!
    You forgot to mention Klein throwing the book at the young page in the Legislature.
    The man was a total boor and while he is suffering some nasty health issues now, it is nothing compared to the shabby way he treated the people of Alberta, especially anyone who challenged him.
    He also walked away with a whopping severance of close to $1 million, so his wife Colleen should be quite comfortable follow his ultimate demise.
    Alberta has been far too generous to the Klein family already!
    -ema

  11. meadowlark lemon says:

    Alberta politics will miss Kevin Taft and Hugh MacDonald but politics is generational and most times change is good and refreshing.
    I am not a right wing loony but I disagree with you. Ralph Klein changed Alberta! He had flaws and maybe even problems with alcohol.
    Alberta was transformed in the 90's. And today we live in a province with a robust economy, no sales tax, the best health care, the best educational opportunities, endless employment opportunity, and Ralph Klein played a major role in crafting the Alberta of today.
    Is the Order of Canada that prestigious that we exclude people because of their flaws and problems.
    And yes Steve Fonyo should be reinstated.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I agree with every word of this.

    Ralph Klein was the Rob Ford of Alberta.

  13. Filostrato says:

    I only observed Ralph Klein from a distance but it wasn't a pretty sight. The drunken rant at the homeless shelter made me wonder if there wasn't more going on than several beers too many.

    An Order of Canada? Well, from what Albertans have said here, it doesn't sound like a very good idea unless it means debasing the whole thing forever.

    Agree about Steve Fonyo, too. He did an amazing thing. Who knows what demons followed him afterwards. There's a street in Kingston (nearest largish town to here) that still bears his name. They haven't changed it. Good for them.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thank you David for speaking the truth. The culture of bullying and intimidation that now exists in Alberta was planted and bloomed under Ralph Klein. He personified the arrogance of the Conservative party.
    His reputation as a common man of the people was a myth. He flew on the Suncor jet to his private fishing lodge in BC where he drank and fished with his wealthy cronies. I could go on but suffice to say, those pushing for his Order of Canada have selective memories.

  15. Susan says:

    Agreed. If we give the Order of Canada to Ralph Klein we'd have to give one to Rod Love as well.

  16. Anonymous says:

    They both deserve it ten times over with all they did for this province.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Good work David … you just keep going!
    You're right to worry about the backlash … it's bound to come if not least because you rightly tell the truth and provide some voice to the moderate progressives
    What can anyone expect when a bona-fide extremist like Rod Love gets main stream coverage (he even has a full time job at CBC now! Is this an attempt by CBC management to acquiese to the Harper troglydites? Can anyone else else hear the sound of glass shattering?)
    As extremism becomes normalised then 'normal' honest, truthful and generous dialogue becomes the extreme.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Any Award/Honor is NOT appropriate.

    I remember the Klein years as "The Rape of Alberta".

    Albertans used to own, through its government, much of what was in this Province- telephone, power/electricity, liquor control, etc. Then, it all was sold to Big Business buddies at rock bottom prices. Now we pay triple+ fees to use what we used to own.

    The economics of a lot of Albertan families have been negatively affected by the Klein government and we will now be permanently paying through-the-nose for our own formerly owned resources.

  19. David says:

    Ralph Klein’s only focus was on the cost everything and yet he knew the value of nothing. Summing up his legacy to “He reduced the Debt” is the Albertan equivalent boast of “He made the trains run on time”

  20. Bobby says:

    Yes, Klein does have a “fiscal legacy”, in that he got Alberta out of debt through cuts. The cuts were somewhat hard to take, but they worked. Klein was also somewhat of an embarrassment too.
    (Copy and paste)
    http://www.edmontonsun.com/news/alberta/2010/12/14/16554851.html
    This is an embarrassment. While drunk, he called some residents at a homeless shelter bums, yelled at them to get jobs and threw money at their feet; mad cow disease “I guess any self-respecting rancher would have shot, shovelled and shut up, but he didn’t do that. Instead he took it to an abattoir.”, “bums and creeps” from Eastern Canada coming to Calgary and committing crime.; he threw a liberal policy book at a legislature page, plagiarized info from Athabasca University.
    and on and on and on…Oh yeah, and “let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark”.
    I DO NOT BELIEVE FOR A SECOND Klein is DESERVING OF THE ORDER OF CANADA.

  21. Tariq says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with this. I used to wonder if there was something wrong with me,not understanding why Albertans were so in love with the politics of this man. He was certainly not what I would consider a Canadian who strived for unification of a county but was much more divisive with his politics and rhetoric .

  22. Matt says:

    I don’t agree with this at all. Klein did what was necessary, not what’s popular. It’s easy to judge a man after he led the province through hardships. Need you mention the 23 Billion in debt he cleaned up. MLA’s pensions he cleaned up, anyone that owns a house now pays what on their mortgage? Prior to the Klein intervention, Mortgage rates were up to %23. Do check your facts, and history… the man did objectify what needed to be done for the province to get on track. Do I agree with all of what he did no, but the province was better off for him when he left then we came in… and that is a role of a true politician. You state he pushed it off for future generations? Sir your mistaken, in fact he did not. He gave Alberta the chance free of debt to go in any which way it’s elected leaders wanted too… It was easy for his successor’s to go after the heritage fund in which he left oh $17 billion in. I agree some of that had to be used by Stelmach on things that Klein didn’t. But the hole wasn’t that deep. Ralph know the people, and he stood by a motto I have. Plan your budget accordingly and “You should not spend money you do not have”. (Simple as that)

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