Times have changed for who we used to know as good old Ralph. It's not like it used to be, that's for sure.
There was a day when a fawning press, sycophantic and reward seeking hustlers, manipulative neocons, loud-mouth right-wing talk show hosts, drinking buddies and other assorted hangers-on and lowlifes, used to chortle at his every word, excuse every gaff and move to cover up every mess left in his wake.
If in a besotted rage he got into a shouting match with a resident of a homeless shelter at Christmas time, well, all he had to do was say he was going on the wagon. Voila! The story was torqued by his pals so that the big news was that he was giving up the bottle. If he blew up one perfectly good hospital and closed another in his home town, his toadies sold the public on the fact that he did it for a good cause - to get rid of the deficit and pay down the debt. If he left a Premier's conference on Health Care while it was still in session, to go to play the slots at a casino, well then, the groupies would say that he was just a regular guy and that's what regular guys did. Criticism would be muted and indeed, unreported. The public bought it all.
But, as the Klein Tories used to love to say, 'That was then and this is now.' Actually, the 'now' for Ralph began about the time of the last Provincial Election in the fall of 2004. The major city newspapers turned on him. So too did his Party. And soon he was history.
Or, what should have been history. Like the heavyweight champion who loses the title after a terrible beating, and who refuses to believe that he is finished and insists on more fights, so it is with Ralph Klein. Since his removal as Party Leader, he continues to consciously seek the spotlight. No sooner than he hired on as a lobbyist with a national law firm days after he left office with his $600,000 settlement, it was on every front page newspaper in the country. The public verdict was that it appeared to be a greedy and hasty act. Not the kind of thing a good old boy would do.
Now, he's getting it again. While accepting a 'Friend of the Industry Award' at the Alberta Film and Television Awards in Edmonton on the weekend, he talked about a documentary about aboriginals that was filmed near Rocky Mountain House. He said his Executive Assistant had told him, that ". . . the Indians have been drinking there for years and years. Why can't they shoot a film there?" After a tepid crowd response, Klein went on, "We made it possible for them to shoot the film."
The response to Klein's words has been ugly and, unlike the old days, has been widely reported. Muriel Stanley Venne, President of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, was 'appalled.' Len Untereiner, President and Founder of the Spirit Keeper Youth Society, which tries to keep Aboriginal youths out of gangs, said "He'll [Ralph] kick anybody who's down. He's a bully. The best thing to do is to ignore him." Ralph, who can't seem to pass an open mike without saying a few words, was interviewed on radio about the incident. He claimed that his words were taken out of context.
Ralph should go underground for a while. He should take a page out of Brian Mulroney's book, who disappeared largely from public view for some time after his departure from politics. Like Ralph, Mulroney needed to be laundered and unlike Ralph, he knew it. He also knew that his continued presence on the public stage was going to be a hindrance to his Party, just as Ralph is a hindrance to his party, as well as to the fledgling Stelmach Government.
As one who has known Ralph Klein and liked him (although I never voted for him as a Tory), I always felt that he was led down the wrong track as Premier by the backslappers, hustlers and neocon ideologues in business and the Alberta print media. The result has been a mess waiting for another Government to clean up. A growing number of Albertans feel this way. For the ex-Premier, its time to lay low.