‘Rough around the edges’ former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein gets his long-deserved Order of Canada

Andy Radia
Canada Politics

What the heck took so long?

That's the question some in Alberta are asking today, as former premier Ralph Klein is finally made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Unfortunately, because Klein suffers from a serious form of dementia, he won't be able attend the official award ceremony to be held at Calgary City Hall. Moreover, he might not even be aware that he's receiving the honour.

[ Related: Governor General to present Ralph Klein's Order of Canada in Calgary ]

Klein deserves the Order of Canada.

While he wasn't as 'polished' as other politicians, Klein exemplified Alberta politics in the 1980s and 90s serving as Calgary's mayor for nearly a decade and four terms as Alberta's premier. He was a hard-nosed fiscal and social conservative who eliminated the province's deficit and inspired the Jean Chrétien Liberals to strive for a balancing of the nation's books.

He certainly had his foibles.

As chronicled in a recent article in the Globe and Mail, Klein once walked out of an event in Ottawa and tossed money at a man in a homeless shelter while telling him to get a job.

But that's also why people liked him — he was direct, real, and spoke from the heart. He was the consummate 'every-man.'

Despite his impressive career, Klein has had to wait six years to receive his award.  By comparison, former Ontario premier Bill Davis was given the honour in the same year he retired while Bob Rae (who served just one tumultuous term as premier) only had to wait five years.

So why did it take so long to give Klein the Order of Canada — especially since everyone knew that his health was deteriorating?

The editorial board at the Calgary Sun suggests that Klein was snubbed because of his right-leaning ideology.

"This is not one of those "better late than never" situations because, if Ralph Klein were a Liberal, the Order of Canada rosette would have been on his lapel when his mind was still keen.

But King Ralph was a proud Conservative, and so he got snubbed.

If we are wrong, tell us how."

Alternatively, could the long wait have something to do with Klein being a little 'rough around the edges?'

"This reeks of a snobby Ottawa establishment deciding a hard-living high school dropout with a cigarette-mooching habit and fondness for red wine isn't worth the lapel pin that passes for the Order of Canada status symbol," CTV News' Don Martin wrote in a blog post earlier this year.

"In other words, mere mortals need not apply. He is not of their class."

Whatever the reason for the delay, it's a shame that it took so long and a pity that Klein can't fully enjoy the tremendous honour.

Who chooses Order of Canada recipients?:

Order of Canada recipients are chosen by an independent advisory council that is chaired by the Chief Justice of Canada.

[ Related: Alberta PC leader's comments anger Ralph Klein's wife, friends ]

"The Advisory Council reviews all nominations and transmits its decisions to the Governor General," notes the Governor General's website.

"A vote is held on each nomination and there must be a majority of votes for the candidate to be appointed to the Order of Canada. A unanimous vote is not required."