I was sorry to see former Alberta Ralph Klein passed away. He was a colourful guy and presided over a period of prosperity in Alberta.
I had an interesting Ralph Klein moment way back when he was first elected. I was working for the NB Dept. of Economic Development and Tourism at the time and a call came in from the Alberta Premier’s Office at noon. Everyone else was out of the office so the secretary put the guy through to me. It was one of Klein’s advisors and he told me that Klein highly admired what Frank McKenna had done in New Brunswick and he was looking to implement a McKenna style economic development program in Alberta. We spent nearly an hour talking about how McKenna viewed economic development and the role he personally played as head sales guy/cheerleader for New Brunswick. I am not sure any of that talk ever got into the Klein playbook. At the time everyone out there was talking about diversifying the Alberta economy (this was pre-oil sands/shale gas). The guy I talked with was sure that Alberta would have to diversify its economy and Ralph did spend a lot of dough on economic development – particularly to build up life sciences research at the university level.
In fact, Ralph was another in a growing list of big spending Tories – particularly in the latter part of his time in power. According to RBC Economics, provincial government spending per capita in Alberta doubled during the Klein years. I specifically remember all the new dough put into life sciences research and Klein confidently predicting that a cure for cancer would come from Alberta.
But in defence of Klein, Alberta student PISA scores have consistently been the highest in Canada and the province’s post-secondary R&D capacity has been greatly expanded (although I read somewhere the current round of cutting in Alberta will bite into that). The health care system is also ranked near the top in Canada too.
The bottom line is that Alberta is even more dependent on oil and gas now than it was when Ralph took power.