Ralph Klein was elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party on December 5, 1992, in the first one member/one vote leadership race held in Alberta. He was sworn in as Alberta's 12th Premier on December 14 of that year.
Several months later, Albertans gave the Progressive Conservative Party a resounding victory in the Provincial general election of June 15, 1993. In the March 11, 1997 general election, Albertans returned Mr. Klein and his government to office for a second term, with an increased majority.
As Premier, Ralph Klein revamped and opened up the Government’s decision-making process, downsized Government, balanced the budget, oversaw the orderly pay down of debt, and spearheaded a drive to develop the climate for private-sector job creation.
From 1963 to 1969, Ralph Klein pursued a public relations career with the Alberta Division of the Red Cross and the Calgary and District United Way. For the next 11 years, Klein was the Senior Civic Affairs reporter with CFCN Television and Radio.
On October 15, 1980, Ralph Klein was elected Calgary’s 32nd Mayor, one of only two mayors born in the city. Re-elected in 1983 and 1986 with amongst the largest pluralities in the city’s history, Klein’s major accomplishments included the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, Calgary's Light Rail Transit System, and protection of the Bow River.
Ralph P. Klein was elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly for Calgary-Elbow on March 20, 1989 and on April 14, 1989 was appointed Minister of Environment. In that portfolio, Klein oversaw the development of the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. Klein was re-elected as the Member for Calgary-Elbow in the general elections of June 15, 1993, March 11, 1997, March 12, 2001 and November 22, 2004.
After becoming Premier in 1992, Klein also served as Minister of Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs (1993-1994); Minister of Economic Development and Tourism (1994-1995); Minister Responsible for International Trade Offices (1994-1995); and Minister Responsible for the Public Affairs Bureau (1996-2006).
In 2000, Bill 11, the controversial Health Care Protection Act, was passed during the May 10 evening sitting of the Legislative Assembly. As Members debated, Albertans protested, registering their deep concern for the future of public health care. Government House Leader David Hancock moved closure on the debate, which exposed the Alberta Government to pointed criticism. The Bill 11 controversy pitted the Klein Government against federal forces in Ottawa, led by Prime Minister J. J. Jean Chrétien (1993–2003) and federal Minister of Health Allan Rock (1997–2002), and divided opinion amongst Canadians nationwide.
From the spring of 2003 through 2005, the Klein Government contended with the economically devastating ‘mad-cow’ disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE),first reported in Alberta on May 20, 2003. With the United States, the largest export market for Canadian beef, closing its border to live Canadian cattle and other beef products, the Klein Government participated in a federal-provincial compensation program for beef producers while working to open the border to the south.
On July 12, 2004, Premier Klein, surrounded by his caucus, announced that Alberta had retired the remainder of the $23 billion provincial debt. Funds totalling $3 billion dollars would be set aside and protected by legislation to remit fully Alberta’s debt, which a decade earlier had totalled $8,400 for “every man, woman and child in Alberta.”
It was during his tenure as Premier that the Province of Alberta celebrated its centennial in 2005. It was marked by a historic visit by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, when she became the first reigning monarch to address the Legislative Assembly. The centennial of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta was commemorated in 2006.
On September 20, 2006, the Honourable Ralph P. Klein announced his intention to resign from the Office of Premier of Alberta, this resignation to be effective when his successor was sworn in. On the Premier’s last day in the Chamber, August 31, 2006, the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, the Honourable Kenneth R. Kowalski, presented Klein with the chair that he had occupied as Premier. On December 14, 2006, Ed Stelmach was sworn in as Alberta’s 13th Premier, ending Mr. Klein’s tenure as Premier. He continued to serve as Member for Calgary-Elbow until his resignation on January 15, 2007.
Over the years, Mr. Klein received a number of honours and awards. In 1986, he received the Order of St. John. In 1988, he was inducted into the Olympic Order, received the Alberta Achievement Award, and received the Lion’s Club Medal of Distinction for Service to Humanity. In 1989, he was selected as Calgarian of the Decade by the Calgary Herald. In 1992, he received the Governor General’s Award, and in 1993, he became the second white person in history to be adopted into the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation and was given the name Otskoipiiksi (Bluebird). In 1994, Premier Klein was named Man of the Year by the International Young Entrepreneurs Organization; was awarded the Colin M. Brown Freedom Medal by the National Citizens Coalition; and was named B’nai B’rith’s Citizen of the Year. In 1995, he was named Calgary’s Outstanding Citizen of the Century, and the first recipient of the Fraser Institute’s International Fiscal Performance Award. In 1996, the Blood Tribe made Ralph Klein an honourary chief in the Kainai Chieftainship.
In 2007, Mount Royal University endowed the Ralph Klein Chair in Media Studies in his honour. He was bestowed with the Distinguished Citizen Award by Bow Valley College that same year. In 2008, he was made an Officer of the Order of the Legion of Honour by the Government of France. In 2010, the Ralph Klein Centre at Olds College named in his honour. Also in 2010, the electoral division of Calgary-Klein was named in his honour. The Ralph Klein Legacy Park in Calgary was dedicated in his name in 2010. He was awarded an Honourary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Calgary in 2011.
In 2010, Ralph Klein was invested into the Alberta Order of Excellence and in 2012, he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada.
On March 29, 2013, at the age of 70, Ralph Klein passed away in Calgary.