Ralph Klein Dies: Ex-Alberta Premier Passes Away At 70

Ralph Klein, the former premier of Alberta, Canada, has died at the age of 70. The politician famously led the oil-rich Canadian province to 13 consecutive budget surpluses, dramatically reducing government debt in the process.

Newspaper reports reveal Klein, who became Alberta‘s 12th premier in 1992, had been diagnosed with dementia and a lung disease linked to smoking. Alison Redford, current premier of the province, confirmed her predecessor’s passing in a statement:

“Ralph Klein’s ability to connect with Albertans from all walks of life was absolutely remarkable. Ralph was a staunch defender of our province as he had a deep and abiding love for Alberta and Albertans.”

Klein was elected as Alberta premier while leader of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta. He served 14 years before stepping down in 2006. His time in office was marked by a downturn in the province’s deficit, something he achieved by slashing health-care spending, demolishing the Calgary General Hospital, and firing nurses.

Barry Cooper, author of the book Governing in Post-Deficit Times: Alberta in the Klein Years, told Bloomberg:

“Ralph was determined that the first problem he was going to deal with was the budget, the deficit and accumulated debt, which he did. It was a populist restructuring that Ralph Klein accomplished.”

As a Huffington Post obituary notes, however, Klein’s legacy remains divisive. The Post‘s Pablo Fernandez writes:

“Klein was heralded as the knight who slew the dragon of unbridled government spending and put an end to provincial debt, but he was also credited with saddling the province with a backlog of infrastructure issues that may take decades to overcome.”

Variously viewed as a man of the people and an iron-fisted advocate of austerity, there’s little doubt that Klein has left a huge imprint on Albertan politics. He is survived by his wife, Colleen.