Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein, left, receives the Alberta Order of Excellence from Alberta Lt.-Gov. Donald Ethell in Edmonton on Oct. 30. Klein was diagnosed with emphysema about a year ago, his former chief of staff says. ((John Ulan/Canadian Press))

A good friend of Ralph Klein says the former Alberta premier was diagnosed with lung disease about a year ago.

Rod Love, Klein's former chief of staff, had lunch with him as recently as three weeks ago and said emphysema had slowed the veteran politician down.

But Love added that 68-year-old Klein is in good spirits and is active in the community.

"He ran as hard as you can run for 30 years. So when he retired, he retired. So the fact that this has slowed him down, it's not like he was still trying to go across the country and give speeches.… He was content to go home, play a little golf and play with his grandkids. In that respect, it hasn't affected him that much," Love said.

Klein — who was a heavy smoker — hasn't touched cigarettes in years.

"[The disease] is not something he wanted to advertise, but it is what it is," said Love. "When the media phoned, he decided to confirm that 'Yes, I have emphysema, but I'm doing all right.'"

Emphysema occurs when the tiny air sacs in the lungs weaken and break, stiffening the lung tissue and causing the airways to collapse.

Love said Klein is not on oxygen and had not been hospitalized.

Klein led the Progressive Conservative Party to four consecutive majorities beginning in 1993. He resigned as premier in 2006.