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Greg Neiman - Red Deer Advocate

Greg Neiman is a former Red Deer Advocate editor who now contributes regular columns and blogs which can be found in the Red Deer Advocate and on RedDeerAdvocate.com. Follow his blog at www.readersadvocate.blogspot.ca

Ralph Klein deserves his day of honour

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Red Deer Advocate

Former premier Ralph Klein deserved his day of honour Tuesday. It is a shame his physical illness prevented him from participating in the ceremonies awarding him both an Order of Canada, and a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Ralph loved nothing more than the adulation he received over his many years of public service, and I'm certain that had he been able to be at the event to participate fully, he would have taken it all in with a big, satisfied smile.

As it was, it was a kindness on the part of the federal government to move the ceremonies to Calgary, so that Colleen Klein could accept these honours on his behalf, without needing to be parted from her husband for an extended trip.

We've had two premiers in the long Tory dynasty since Klein stepped down, but his fiscal legacy and his contributions to our political culture continue to endure. In the same breath, the changes to Alberta that occurred under his long watch have made many of his policies and style of government quite unelectable today.

Klein was the man for his times, but times have changed. In fact Klein worked very hard to usher in those changes.

I'm not sure he recognized that while in office, and I'm pretty certain his core advisers didn't either. But the PC party under premier Alison Redford sure ain't Ralph's "Henry and Martha" Tories.

Voters today have much more culturally diverse names, and they come from parts of the world that likely wouldn't recognize a Ralph Klein, much less choose him to lead such a technologically advanced and dynamic place that Alberta is today.

Not recognizing the face of 21st Century Alberta is also the failing of the Alberta Wildrose Party, which is trying to assume the populist mantle that Klein wore.

Klein's greatest achievement was to re-establish the Alberta brand of economic progress and national political influence that was being eroded in the hard years immediately following Peter Lougheed. Klein put the swagger back in our step.

He did it by putting himself in front of the parade to regain control of our finances. He did it through austerity measures that are being forced way too late on other governments around the world now, two decades later. Whether Klein was prescient in that, or just plain lucky, it pays to be first.

There is a cost to that kind of prudence, which we are paying today after many years of postponed investment in infrastructure repairs and building.

There is also a cost to Klein's imprudence in not aggressively building Alberta's savings account. It's almost heartbreaking to think about the billions that would be coming into our treasury today, if Klein would have chosen to simply pay down our mortgage in the orderly manner he first mandated, instead of plundering that account, so he could brag about being debt free in time for our provincial Centennial.

And therein lies the mistake of the Wildrose Party. Opposition leader Danielle Smith points to the $10 billion Alberta gets in energy revenue every year, and wonders how the government can't balance the books with that kind of windfall.

So do I. But had we built our savings through the 20 boom years under Klein, had we not not adopted Stockwell Day's idiotic flat income tax, had we not been too proud to even think about even a one-per-cent provincial sales tax dedicated to infrastructure spending, we'd be making $10 billion a year today in interest payments from the Heritage Fund – probably even more.

Look out the window. We see the Alberta that we all built under Ralph Klein. For the good parts (and there are many) we need to be grateful. For the lessons learned – that's our responsibility going forward.

Follow Greg Neiman's blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.com. Email him at greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com

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