3 Apr 2013

How should we remember Ralph Klein?

Condolences and praise poured in for former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, who passed away on Friday, March 29, at the age of 70.

"We remember what a force of personality he was, how driven he was, how motivated he was, how straightforward he was, and that we trusted him implicitly.” – Alberta Premier Alison Redford

“While Ralph's beliefs about the role of government and fiscal responsibility were once considered radical, it is perhaps his greatest legacy that these ideas are now widely embraced across the political spectrum." -- Stephen Harper.

Yes, as the compliments poured in, it must be remembered that Klein was one of Canada’s most aggressive neo-liberals. “King Ralph”, as he was widely known, served as premier of Alberta from 1992 to 2006.

A blustering, error-prone alcoholic, Klein was forgiven for many of his personal blunders and drunken escapades by frontier-mentality Albertans who believed in rugged individualism and small government.

No matter how rude or insulting Klein became, he also was a darling of the mainstream media. When a drunken Premier berated poor unemployed men at midnight at a homeless shelter, telling them to get jobs and throwing money at them, he was forgiven by media and right-wingers because, well, it was Ralph and that’s just the way he was.

However, the homeless shelter incident is a clear sign of how the establishment and its’ media viewed the plight of the poor with indifference.

Klein’s true legacy is a string of anti-social policies and programs.

Klein was possessed by the unnecessary goal of eliminating Alberta’s debt in what was becoming the country’s most wealthy province. In just over a decade he paid down the debt of $23-billion, cutting in critical areas such as health care, education and social services, and killing the government pension plan, privatizing liquor stores and license offices.

Klein slashed thousands of job, and showed nothing but contempt for the tens-of-thousands of protestors who fought against his ideological-driven fanaticism.

Klein believed strongly that health care services should be provided by the private sector. His government paved the way to allow provincial health authorities to buy medical services from privately-owned medical companies. The federal government, committed to national health care, reminded Klein of his government’s commitments to deliver public health care. However, Klein cheated and allowed some questionable services to be privatized.

While Klein was “sold” as a man of the people, he clearly favored the rich. In 2001, he made Alberta the first jurisdiction in North America to replace a progressive income tax with a “flat tax” – the dream of extreme right-wing ideologues in the U.S. It gave huge tax breaks to the rich. In 2009, the University of Alberta’s Parkland Institute said that the flat tax was costing the province in excess of $5-billion a year in tax revenues.

A key incident raises questions about Klein’s honesty. In 2004 – when he was Premier – Klein was accused of plagiarizing a paper for his degree in communications from the University of Athabasca. The Edmonton Journal reported that about five pages of a 13-page report on Chilean politics and media were lifted directly from various Internet sites. Surprisingly, Klein was not failed, but instead was given a grade of 77 per cent on the paper.

After eliminating the deficit, Klein basically flunked out of politics because he had no idea what else to do in government.

When the tired and worn out Premier needed a soft “retirement” gig, it’s believed that about 20 of his wealthy oil and business friends chipped in to provide a $2.5-million anonymous gift to set up the Ralph Klein Chair in Media Studies at Mount Royal. Normally endowed chairs are limited to academics of considerable distinction.

Students saw the Klein appointment as a sick joke. He got off to a bad start. The former premier – who couldn’t make it to his office before 10 a.m. – said journalists were lazy. They gasped when the man who ran the province for so many years admitted he didn’t read newspapers or watch TV news.

Klein can be praised – or blamed – for the early development of the tar sands. In the mid-1990s, it was unclear whether the tar sands would become viable. When Ottawa introduced a tax write-off (i.e. a give away) for oil sands investment, Alberta allowed oil companies to pay a royalty of one per cent (i.e. a give away) until developers recovered all project costs.

Talk about theft! The two tax ‘adjustments’ launched the massive ramp-up of tar sands production, helping the tar sands become today’s multi-billion dollar industry.

According to environmentalists, nearly every tar sands project was approved without any consideration given to the impact on the environment or greenhouse gas emissions.

In many ways, Klein was a tragic figure. A drunkard, a buffoon, unreasonably stubborn, and the sad victim of Alzheimer’s in his young, late 60s, he never had a vision for what should have been done in Alberta. He was a one-issue populist who got elected to eliminate the deficit dragon – an unnecessary calling that damaged health care, education and social services so seriously critics say they still have not fully recovered.

Political leaders and journalists provided the usual hyperbole to describe a fallen man. Hopefully, history will do a better job of providing the true story of Ralph Klein.
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  1. Thanks for punctuating the Klein hagiography that has developed since his death, Nick. Seeing the widespread and seemingly ceaseless coverage of his passing had me thinking that I must have slipped into a parallel world, but then I remembered that I am living in the 21st Century, where austerity is lauded and public investment denigrated in the corporate media.

  2. If you have any interest in actual facts about the following paragraph, I was the program director involved at Athabasca University University, and thus was the person who determined that, while "accused" of plagiarism, there was no plagiarism, in spite of what their columnist claimed.

    Facts in complete form you may pursue by emailing me a request for them.

    "A key incident raises questions about Klein’s honesty. In 2004 – when he was Premier – Klein was accused of plagiarizing a paper for his degree in communications from the University of Athabasca. The Edmonton Journalreported that about five pages of a 13-page report on Chilean politics and media were lifted directly from various Internet sites. Surprisingly, Klein was not failed, but instead was given a grade of 77 per cent on the paper."

    Ken Collier, PhD
    Retired from Athabasca University,

  3. How should we remember Ralph Klein?

    Three particular positive incidents come to mind:

    My first memory was when I first visited Calgary and was shown the newly commissioned Light Rapid Transit - LRT. Locals affectionately referred to it as Little Ralph's Toy. "Little Ralph" was deservedly respected as a competent Mayor of Calgary; the LRT was but one well handled item.

    My second memory is of Premier Ralph Klein telling the Christian right and other social dinosaurs at a Tory Party convention that:
    "Abortion is a matter for a woman, her doctor and God" Little Ralph was able to grasp and keep a handle on that one.

    My third memory is of a tearful Premier publicly admitting:
    "I have a serious drinking problem; nit is out of control".

    So much for the positive that serves to illustrate that with ALL his shortcomings, he was NOT of a neo-fascist bent in the way such a lable can be applied to Rob Ford, Mike Harris, or Steve Harper.

    However there are some negative memories:
    As Premier when it came to competence and knowledge of what was required. he was in over his head. His spending "cuts" were extreme and clumsy; his tax breaks for Tar Sands while at the time needed if this "resource" was to be exploited were also clumsy. Little Ralph could not see ahead and realize that the pace of development if at all needed to be within environmental limits; hence rather than a pace that would allow the introduction of (go slower) technologies, exploitation has proceeded in a way that is destroying the Athabaska River basin and probably the whole Mackensie Watershed.

    However the crown for incompetence was realized when he wrote to George W. Bush to apologize for Canada's lack of support for the fiasco in Iraq. At that point he was TOTALLY in over his depth

  4. Further from Ken Collier:

    The paper alone tells less than half the story, and much, much less than is needed to tell whether plagiarism took place.

    The assignment given by the instructor, as well as the descriptions of the course and program in which this event occurred, lay in background that aids in assessing the case. Legal opinion, prior court decisions about plagiarism and general intellectual property issues tell a great deal more (material in which, I found, almost no academics at Athabasca University or elsewhere had enough background to offer anything close to a founded opinion, let alone exercise any practical judgment. That didn't stop a lot of them from weighing in).

    Formal processes for dealing with plagiarism cases at Canadian universities are quite consistent with each other - very little variation. The variation comes in how the processes are used and the amount of bias and opinion that enters into their use. That's the astounding part - how sloppy and inconsistent academic performance is about plagiarism cases.

    Several almost identical versions of Klein's paper are drifting about the web . . . . . I believe it is very wrong to draw conclusions from the essay alone, and equally wrong to accept the media accounts of the case.

    Ralph Klein plagiarism unfounded

    Assuming a brief précis is enough for this purpose, here is why accusations that Mr. Klein plagiarized part of an essay for a university course were unfounded.

    1. The assignment (in a communications class) was to present three examples of online or other media arguments for a theoretical or ideological position, and to analyze and comment upon them in light of materials included in the class. This he did, using about 5 pages of 13 in total to present the examples. The remainder was analysis and commentary. The assignment is (or at least was at the time) available as a public document, apparently not accessed by the media columnists who accused Mr. Klein of plagiarism.

    2. Mr. Klein did acknowledge the sources of his examples in the bibliography, but made an error in failing to properly footnote them. The instructor commented on this and showed how to footnote correctly.

    3. Plagiarism exists when material is taken unacknowledged from someone else’s work and is claimed as one’s own, which Klein did not do. Plagiarism rules and law have other aspects, partially summarized below, and used in the university’s process for dealing with accusations of plagiarism.

    4. Those accusing Mr. Klein almost always used an incorrect definition of plagiarism, saying it existed because of the proportion of his own essay that was not his own writing. Cases of plagiarism almost always center on the proportion of the original work taken and claimed by another person. Handy summaries of the rules are often posted by photocopy machines, especially in libraries (What portion of a book may be exerpted? What portion of a chapter or news article may be exerpted?, etc.) Mr. Klein’s example texts came nowhere near approaching the limits for legitimate use or citation.

  5. Continued . . . . .

    5. Cases of plagiarism in universities and in court proceedings deal with evidence for it, including efforts to hide the offense; denial of the offense; repetition of the offense; sometimes efforts to “make a deal” to escape penalties and so forth. Mr. Klein did none of these. In fact, he was proud of his essay and readily emailed it to media writers and others as something wanted to be public.

    6. Universities, colleges and courts employ systematic processes for dealing with cases. They are quite similar among universities, and were used by Athabasca University to deal with the Klein case. Though there were dark hints I read in the blogosphere that the process had been corrupted internally, in fact Athabasca University had one of its finest moments then – absolutely no administrative or other official efforts were made to influence the plagiarism case outcome. News media accounts of provincial political influencing efforts about this case occurred, but none happened in the university itself. Some academics at the university and elsewhere recommended to me that the case would be a good chance to defeat Mr. Klein politically and that I should therefore find him guilty of it.

    7. My role was program director for the Bachelor of General Studies degree, and the credit-bearing class in communications was part of that program. As director, it was my role to deal with the plagiarism accusation, decide its merits and report on it. The process is described in university calendars.

    8. I could go on and tell about other people attempting to affect the outcome, to try to bend definitions of plagiarism to political, regulatory or financial ends, to use the case as an illustration of bad grading practices at Athabasca University and so on, but that would be another, much longer account. Since they did not have any effect, they are not of much relevance here.

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  33. I have 2 main memories of Ralph Klein. First, the cynical distribution of 'Ralph bucks' announced in 2005 to counter heavy criticism of the costs of energy deregulation to consumers. He played with the Enron boys. In fact, Alberta still does (Kinder Morgan). Second, his evisceration of Nancy Betowski, now Nancy MacBeth, after 1992, especially when she was leader of the Liberal Party. He displayed cruelty. Was he sadistic? Was he slanderous? Time will tell. It was the beginning of gangster politics to which Rob Ford is an heir.

  34. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Don't like what she said eh? Typical liberal or NDP move...

  35. So he eliminated the debt? So he did his job. Cuts have to be made and I think healthcare and government are the best places since they waste the most money. Ya he drank too much, so what! He got the job done and created industry and jobs. More than I can say the the NDP that have not created any private sector jobs and have allowed unemployment to be its highest in 22 years.... Get your head on straight people, we don't need hugs and kisses from Libs and NDPers we need jobs! This article says unnecessary goal of eliminating debt, that is one of the dumbest things I've ever read. Debt is ALWAYS the number one goal of government!