Is former Alberta premier Ralph Klein finally getting his Order of Canada?

Steve Mertl
Daily Brew
June 21, 2012

A lot of Albertans, maybe most of them, are probably greeting news that premier Ralph Klein will be awarded the Order of Canada with "it's about time!," or less printable words to that effect.

It's equally certain others don't think the leader who dismissed some newcomers to the province as "eastern creeps and bums," should be accorded the nation's highest honour.

There's been no official announcement but Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid said several sources confirmed Klein's family has been notified.

Protocol dictates honourees' names are kept secret until Rideau Hall announces them. Traditionally, the summer list is released near Canada Day, the Herald reported.

Braid wrote that Klein's friends were increasingly alarmed Klein had been passed over several times.

Klein, a former television reporter who served as mayor of Calgary during the 1988 Olympics, then three terms as Conservative premier from 1992 to 2006, suffers from a severe form of frontal-lobe dementia. The Order cannot be awarded posthumously, the Herald noted.

"I'm in a way relieved," said former Premier Don Getty, who preceded Klein and became an Officer of the Order in 1999.

"I'm also sorry that health problems are making the award of an Order of Canada a problem for Ralph and his family.

"I feel though, without a doubt, that he deserves it."

Braid wrote that Klein was nominated by friends and colleagues for the Order of Canada as far back as 2008.

[Related: An ailing Ralph Klein should be given the Order of Canada]

Nominations are reviewed and voted on by an independent advisory council chaired by the Chief Justice of Canada. Those that don't receive majority approval may be reconsidered at a future date.

But according to Braid, Klein loyalists felt he was being passed over because his controversial populist style rubbed the Ottawa establishment the wrong way.

Klein was undoubtedly a polarizing figure both within Alberta and in the rest of Canada.

His fondness for a friendly drink or three was well known. As Calgary's mayor he could often be found bending an elbow with patrons of a blue-collar watering hole near City Hall.

His shoot-from-the-lip style left posterity with memorable quotes, such as his famous 1982 tirade about "a lot of creeps" and "bums" migrating to booming Calgary "without skills, without opportunities to get jobs and they turned to robbing banks."

As premier, he reacted to the discovery of mad cow disease on an Alberta ranch by saying, "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."

And when Pierre Trudeau's Liberals imposed the National Energy Program that stopped Alberta oil development in its tracks by capping prices, Klein's "let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark," became an instant bumper sticker.

Braid noted some Albertans never forgave Klein for drunkenly cussing out a man at a Calgary homeless shelter. But it should also be remembered a sober Klein owned up to his behaviour and promised to quit drinking.

As Toronto Sun commentator Joe Warmington pointed out in a column on how Order of Canada recipients are chosen, Klein "set a standard for fiscal leadership," using oil and gas money to erase Alberta's debt.

"Klein was, and remains, an indelible Alberta and Canadian character who overcame long odds to become a great national figure," Braid argued. "Nobody deserves the Order of Canada more. It's high time."