There is a man who once had a drinking problem and a foul mouth problem. But he has two redeeming values that made up for his personal shortcomings – he believes in the sanctity of marriage and he believes in living within your means. It was the latter, his commitment to fiscal conservatism, that catapulted him from a local news reporter to one of the most successful provincial premiers Canada has ever known. 

(For those unfamiliar with Canadian politics, a province is the equivalent of a state, and a provincial premier is the equivalent of a state’s governor.)

During the early 1990s when most Canadian provinces where growing their provincial debts with massive deficit spending, a different kind of politician ascended to the premier’s office in Alberta. His name is Ralph Klein. “Ralph”, as he preferred to be called, campaigned on the promises of cutting deficit spending and repaying Alberta’s 23 billion dollar debt. 

After he was elected premier in 1992, Ralph quickly went to work cutting wasteful government programs. He reduced spending on the arts and on burgeoning social programs for welfare recipients. He even offered to buy bus passes for welfare recipients who wanted to move to other provinces with more generous welfare programs. Ralph closed expensive and outdated medical facilities, laid off unneeded health care workers, and even rolled back the salaries of all government funded employees a few percentage points, including his own. 

I was a student in Alberta when all this was happening. I saw an old hospital in Lethbridge, Alberta named St. Marks get torn down because it was an old building and services could be absorbed by a newer medical facility nearby. I worked in social services with handicapped adults to pay my bills, and heard many people at work gripe about Ralph’s policies of fiscal restraint. Ralph got on a lot of people’s nerves with his unusual ways, but I sensed that what he was doing was good for Alberta, and history has shown this to be true.

True to his campaign promises, Ralph eliminated deficit spending and, in 2005, paid off Alberta’s 23 billion dollar debt. Thanks to Ralph’s fiscal conservatism, Alberta is now one of the most prosperous provinces in Canada. It is the only province without a provincial sales tax. His brand of fiscal conservatism has spread to other provinces that are trying to come to terms with deficit spending and massive debts.

Finally, rather than becoming a life long politician, Ralph voluntarily stepped down as premier in 2006. He went to the premier’s office to bring fiscal responsibility to Alberta. Once that mission was accomplished, he resigned.

Ralph Klein was an unusual politician. I wish there were more like him, especially during these times of life-long politicians and out-of-control deficit spending.

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