CBC Digital Archives CBC butterfly logo

CBC Archives has a new look: Please go to cbc.ca/archives to access the new site.

The page you are looking at will not be updated.

Ralph Klein, Calgary’s colourful new mayor

The Story

"It surprised me immensely," answers Ralph Klein with a wry smile, when asked about being elected mayor of Calgary. In this January 1981 episode of The Fifth Estate, airing three months after Klein's astonishing win in the October 1980 municipal election, we get an in-depth look at Calgary's colourful new mayor. We learn about his grassroots election campaign, his "seamy" past, and the learning curve he faces transitioning from "a roughed-about television reporter" to a politician who must undergo the scrutiny of his former fellow journalists.

Medium: Television
Program: The Fifth Estate
Broadcast Date: Jan. 20, 1981
Guests: Ralph Klein, Michael Shapcott, Aritha Van Herk
Reporter: Ian Parker
Duration: 20:16

Did You know?

• Ralph Klein was born in Calgary on Nov. 1, 1942.

• He dropped out of high school as a teenager and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Klein later completed his high school education after leaving the military. From 1963 to 1969, he worked in public relations for the Alberta Division of the Red Cross and the Calgary and District United Way.


• He became a television reporter in 1969, working for CFCN Television and Radio for 11 years until he was elected mayor in 1980. In 1982, Mayor Klein gained unfavourable media attention nationwide when he complained that "bums" and "creeps" who migrated to Calgary from Eastern Canada were putting a strain on the city's police forces and social services.


• As mayor, he remained extremely popular among Calgarians and was re-elected in 1983 and again in 1986. He was mayor during the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, which was considered a great success in many ways, including fiscal: unlike the financially disastrous 1976 Games in Montreal, the Calgary Olympics turned a profit.


• Klein served as mayor until 1989, when he made his entry into provincial politics. He was elected a member of the legislative assembly for Alberta in March 1989, and was named the province's environment minister in April of that year.


• In 1992, Klein became premier of Alberta and held the office for 14 years. He submitted his resignation as premier and party leader in September 2006, but remained in office until his successor, Ed Stelmach, officially assumed the role in December 2006.


• Despite numerous controversies -- including a 2001 incident in which he drunkenly berated homeless people at an Edmonton shelter -- Klein remained tremendously popular among Albertans throughout most of his tenure as premier. A 2004 Maclean's magazine article pondered his lasting appeal: "How to explain the Klein phenomenon? Part of it -- a big part -- comes down to personality. Klein is someone a lot of Albertans have trouble disliking, even when they disagree with his policies... Despite more than two decades in public life (he also spent three terms as the wildly popular mayor of Calgary), Klein retains the common touch. He lives much of the year with his wife, Colleen, in a modest, three-bedroom bungalow in his home city, drives a 1977 Volkswagen Beetle and favours blue jeans and casual shirts when off duty."


• In December 2010, it was reported that Klein was suffering from a lung disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  He died March 29, 2013.




Provincial & Territorial Politics more