Rex shares his thoughts on Ralph Klein and explains why the former Alberta premier deserves special recognition.

Read a transcript of this Rex Murphy episode

Rex on Ralph Klein

Thursday, January 13, 2011

In some ways, Alberta has been lucky in its leaders. Not all of them. That would be impossible.

But it has had at the provincial level two men who, though vastly different in style, tone, approach, mannerisms - were as different as two people from the same province probably can be. Yet both placed a deeper mark on their province and to some degree the nation, than more ordinary, typical, career politicians could ever hope for.

Are there two men more unlike in certain ways that Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein? The former is elegant in person and mind, stable, fitted with a gravitas that seems his by Nature. If you never knew what the word statesman meant, or had never heard it, one glance at Peter Lougheed, in his age or in his prime, and you'd have the word perfectly and completely in your grasp.

In the days of Constitutional Conferences, looking at the imperious and formidable Pierre Trudeau at the time - you could easily wonder - who's going to be a match for that guy among the Premiers. Easy. The one other man at the table that drew every eye was Peter Lougheed.

Ralph - well, Ralph, or King Ralph as he was known, in his high heyday -- well he was cut from a different bolt: he was emphatically not the tidy, careful, prestige-radiating figure that Mr. Lougheed was and is. At times he was wild, frequently impulsive, not one to stand on ceremony or a great lover of forms and processes. But what he had was the incalculable ability to connect with so very many of his fellow Albertans, rich or poor, and give them the sense, that through him the ordinary guy, or common sense, or just plain talk had their place in government.

There is much to be said about this populist streak; people sometimes have to see a real image of themselves in those that govern them; and for all the snobs and sophisticates who laughed down and at Ralph Klein for his "folksiness" - there were many thousands and thousands more - and not just in Alberta - that rejoiced in his unbuttoned persona, and, yes - even saw some grace in the stream of gaffes that properly could be laid at his door.

Mr. Klein is not doing too well these days, he's old, he's ill. And I'm picking up on something Don Martin at CTV started last week - why hasn't Klein received one of the Governor General's medals? Why hasn't this long time Premier, Canadian original, emblem of Alberta received from our own Honours List a nomination and the medal that goes with it?

We Canadians are slack about our heroes when they don't fit the establishment mold.

Well, if Ralph Klein hasn't the accomplishments for an Order of Canada - it's a fair question - who does? I surely hope it's not "class" that's keeping him out. And I hope even more that someone fixes this really soon.

Ralph deserves the honour. I have not spoken to Peter Lougheed, but I'll bet that statesman-gentleman agrees with me on this.

For The National, I'm Rex Murphy.