If you weren’t convinced by part one … well, here’s part two. It should do the trick.
Team Advantage discusses the last half of Ralph Klein’s reign, which includes deregulating electricity, foot-dragging on LGBTQ rights, drunkenly yelling at unhoused people, dinosaur farts, I HEART ALBERTA BEEF, pie-throwing, “paid in full,” misogynistic jokes, Ralph Bucks, the flat tax, and more!
Ralph Klein: I would side with Rob.
how many Ralph Bucks does he get?
[cash register noise]
Ralph: And Lisa gets 200, and Rick gets 200.
[cash register noise]
Ralph: But, from my point of view, the environmentalists are winning.
[intro music begins]
Kate: The Alberta Advantage is a bi-monthly political commentary podcast that offers analysis on Calgarian and Albertan politics from a left-wing perspective.
[intro music ends]
Stephen: Hi everyone, and welcome to the Alberta Advantage podcast. Today we’ll talk about the latter half of Ralph Klein’s government. An episode had come out of where the first years of his reign were covered, so we’ll be talking about the late period era of Ralph Klein. My name is Stephen Magusiak, and around the table today with Team Advantage we have:
Kate: And I’m Kate. Welcome, folks. Alright, let’s just jump right in. I’m so ready to be mad about Ralph Klein again. The first Ralph Klein episode raised my blood pressure a lot, I had a lot of very serious medical issues because of how mad I was, and I’m excited to do it again.
Stephen: I’m looking forward to it because I grew up in late-period Ralph, kind of politically came of age. I don’t know if anyone else —
Patrick: I grew
up during these exact years, the latter half of the Ralph Klein era. So my
whole political identity was just being forged as this crazy stuff was going
on. And I kind of had a sense that, “This is not normal, this is not how the
rest of the country carries on, there is something a little bit weird about our
Stephen: And you also know the despair, just feeling like this is never going to change, this is just how Alberta will be run forever. You can literally run a campaign based on nothing, win a majority government with zero mandate to do anything, and people just eat it up, even if it gets like 12% of eligible voters; this is just an unbreakable cycle, the PC government.
Patrick: Yeah, it was absolutely stunning. You’d read about how politics carried out all around the world — people fighting for things they really cared about — and then there was politics in Alberta, where every three or four years we’d have an election, people showed up and voted for the same party. For 43, 44 years. And there didn’t seem to be anything to vote for, and no one seemed to be interested in voting against, and it just kept happening, and I could not explain it. It was just this incredible, weird wrinkle in the whole continent, really.
Kate: So, for this second half of Ralph Klein — the later days of Klein, no longer young Klein — we’re going to be looking at a historical period that is roughly from the year 2000, so the turn of the millenium, to about 2006. And there is a lot to go over, so, I mean, let’s dive right in with the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Patrick: [sighs] This is the dumbest shit. All I’ve got to say about this. So the Taxpayer Protection Act, Act that the Klein PCs introduced in 2000, and basically the idea is that you must hold a referendum if the province wants to implement a sales tax. Alberta being the one province in the whole country that does not have a sales tax; all part of the Alberta Advantage, as it were. And yes, I mean, technically this is binding of the government, but it’s not ever going to be binding on a majority government, right? If a government really wanted to raise the sales tax—
Kate: They could repeal the Act first.
you could probably do that in the same Act, right? You know, pass an Act that
repeals the requirement to have a referendum and then implements a sales tax
all in the same shot. And there’s other stuff like this on the books in Alberta
as well, it’s just nonsense. But very, very popular. “Ralph Klein gonna raise
your taxes! All right, then!”
Kate: My favourite part of it in contemporary terms is that Jason Kenney recently tried to claim credit for this Act even though he was an MP at the time and would have been in Ottawa and would have had nothing to do with it. So that’s just some classic Jason Kenney for ya, I think, with a little bit of that Ralph Klein era in it.
Stephen: Kenney is relying very heavily on capitalizing off this legacy that we’re going to be going over today.
Kate: The thing with this, though, that I want to go into a little bit, is I actually don’t think Alberta should have a sales tax; I’m not particularly keen on one, because they’re a very regressive form of taxes. It’s a very kind of centrist, middle-of-the-way, wonkish sort of policy solution. I mean, on one hand, it is a very stable source of revenue for the government, but on the other hand, it’s a very regressive tax, and it hits low-income and working-class people the hardest.
Patrick: I agree completely. And I mean, at the federal level in Canada, we have mechanisms that are supposed to adjust for this — there’s a bunch of things that the federal sales tax doesn’t apply to, and you can get your GST rebate if you don’t make a lot of money — but it adds bureaucracy, it costs money, there’s a layer of bureaucracy in between people getting this tax rebate, if you’re extremely disadvantaged and you’re not filing a tax return regularly, you might not even know that there are these dollars available for you. So there’s a layer of bureaucracy that you can just eliminate by just not having this thing, as well.
Kate: Yeah, and just tax rich people.
Kate: You know, rich people should just pay more money in corporate and income tax, and I shouldn’t have to pay, I don’t know, an extra sales tax when I buy candy bars at the grocery store.
it’s pretty much the only area of tax where it is more affordable to live in
Alberta versus the rest of the country, because the income tax is, of course,
higher. And we’ll get into that. But it’s nice to just go to the grocery store,
buy something, and it’s not an extra expense that you’re not accounting for.
Patrick: I know that Public Interest Alberta has been pushing for one, pushing for Alberta just to have a penny provincial sales tax, but honestly, I think a more graduated income tax — so, higher income taxes for very wealthy people and possibly also other forms of land tax or other taxing wealth, ways of ensuring that the most well-off are doing the most to support our society — that’s the way to go.
Kate: Yeah, I think that’s a really key distinction that I like a lot, is this idea of taxing wealth, because not all taxes are created equal, and you should be taxing, basically, capital, right? Not just taxing everyone with the same brush. And that’s, of course, that Klein-style political theatre relies on people not drawing distinctions between those different types of tax. Like, all tax is bad. It’s bad when your kid has to pay PST on the slurpee at 7-11, but it’s also bad when millionaires have to pay land tax on the land they’re plundering for its natural resources.
Patrick: So we started off with something that Ralph Klein did that we’re actually basically positive about. Are your heads spinning yet?
electricity deregulation. Klein begins deregulating electricity in 1998 and, as
deregulation approached in late the year 2000, power prices literally soar. So
at first you get these $20/month rebates to consumers until about 2020, but
power prices actually doubled in the first year prior to deregulation coming
into effect. So if your power bill is doubling, getting that $20/month rebate
is basically a drop in the pond of increased profits for these massive, massive
electricity companies. And it’s also worth pointing out that that $20/month
rebate comes out of public money that could be better used to spend on other
things like hospitals and schools and roads, and then maybe the government
could use its legislative power to, I don’t fucking know, regulate the market.
It’s just this weird circular logic of how public money is used.
Stephen: People are so comfortable with being ripped off by the private sector through service fees and through collusion scandals and that sort of thing, but if it’s a tax, like a $13 carbon tax, it’s outrageous. But if it’s an extra $92 on the bill, then…
Bodie: Well, my question is — like you said, when these electricity prices were soaring, what was the right wing demagoguery — how were they justifying this?
Patrick: They would be justifying it something to the effect of, “The private sector can do this more efficiently than the public sector can.” And that’s always been the public rationale that will be floated around for this sort of thing, but the real, actual rationale is that these things are valuable, this is some valuable real estate that you possess in a regulated system that can be privatized, can be sold off, can be operated on terms that are more friendly to people making lots of money. Because there’s an incentive to run it that way, they have an incentive to get their claws into legislatures and make it so.
think one of the interesting things about this for me is, because of that
neoliberal turn of the 70s and 80s, a lot of people feel more comfortable with
things being in the hands of the private sector, is because they feel like they
have more access to companies than to the government. Right? Like, you can call
up a customer service representative who is technically responsible for your
power bill and yell at them, and it’s probably some poor young woman working in
a call center, but people don’t feel like they have that same access to their
government, nor do they really feel that they have the same license to treat
their government in that way, or to demand those things of them. So I think
there’s almost this sort of weird cultural access piece with things being
handled at the private sector, not just efficiency. Even right-wing groups like
the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses are against electricity
deregulation at the time because it’s seen as being this unfair burden on small
businesses, who are dealing with these soaring energy costs. And by 2003 — so
we’re a couple years into energy deregulation — community halls, ice areas,
curling rinks, a lot of them were facing shutdown because they had power bills
that had tripled or quadrupled. So, clearly, the market hadn’t, you know,
settled out into this magical equilibrium point over years of electricity
deregulation. Companies had just taken advantage of deregulation to gouge
consumers, like they always do.
Patrick: One of the other consequences that comes with deregulation is that the public loses control over decisions that are made in terms of building up the power grid, too. And this was kind of brought to a head when the current government decided that they were going to start phasing out coal. Well, because there was no government influence over what kinds of power plants were being built, we kept building coal power plants right into this millenium, much later than we should have. The most recent coal power plant that opened in Alberta was in 2011. And these are facilities that have a 40 to 50 year lifespan; you build these things, you’re locked into this infrastructure. And basically, what’s happening now is the government is paying these people to shut their plants down early, effectively.
Kate: It ends up being this huge waste of public money, because then the government has to basically deal with private companies rather than, if we just owned it all and regulated it all in the first place, you wouldn’t have to spend all this money doing business with people who shouldn’t even be in the picture to begin with.
Patrick: Yeah, and you lose the power to make decisions about it too, right? If you want to run a greener power grid, then, well, that’s kind of a political decision; you make that on a level that is above the market, right?
Kate: Yeah, and these electricity companies are accountable to no one but their shareholders, right? They’re not accountable to us. They don’t care what my power bill is like. They don’t care what kind of planet we live on. They want to make money for their shareholders. One of the things I’d also like to discuss a little bit about energy de-regulation is actually the shutting off of power plants and manipulating power prices, because recently-ish — so about three years ago, in 2015 — TransAlta actually paid a $56,000,000 settlement to the province for manipulating power prices and insider trading in 2010. So, basically, what they were doing is they were shutting down power plants at peak periods, and that’s something that was only possible because of this deregulation of the Klein era.
Karen: Mhm. I
guess they would refer to them as “brownouts;” so it’s, like, the hottest day
of summer and everyone’s using their AC unit, and then everybody loses their
power, and it’s not the weather, there’s no reason people can understand, but
it’s the market mysteriously working.
Stephen: One of them had apparently happened during the Calgary Stampede on a 30 degree day when people were on the Sky Ride, so people were stuck on the Sky Ride, just dangling there for two hours.
Kate: You know what I always say: I love how efficiently the private sector allocates goods and resources.
Stephen: Yeah. I love how the conspiracies just happen in plain sight.
Kate: Ralph Klein did a lot of this. We went over it in our first episode. He fucked with public utilities a lot; like, things that, by all rights, should be ours, should be publicly owned by the people of Alberta, because those are services that are essential for life in this province. And, oftentimes, they are created through our labour and our natural resources. And it’s just so disgusting to me that Ralph Klein basically chopped them up and sold them off to the highest bidder, and then turned around and made us pay for it. It’s just absolutely sickening.
Stephen: Basically, it’s like Uber-style surge pricing, but with electricity. That’s what happened, right?
Patrick: Except it’s even worse than that, because it’s like if you’re Uber, but you can decide how many cars are on the road, you can decide to cut the number of cars on the road in half, so that the prices go right through the roof. TransAlta, electricity company, paid 56 million dollars in a settlement to the province, but Edmonton Journal, at the time, reported that the market impact was somewhere between 40 million and 160 million dollars, and this doesn’t — whatever math they were using to compute this didn’t include the full impact that it would’ve had on the power market. So they may have still made a hundred million bucks in profit off of messing with power plants, off of turning them off at inopportune times. And this was done through deregulation. That is a serious chunk of coin that —
Kate: — that
they stole from us, and then they used that money to keep getting their buddies
elected into government. Like, people wonder why we had a PC government for 44
years; it’s because they kept selling off our public utilities, and then the people
they sold them to then, all of a sudden, have this money, and they owe a favour
to their friends in government.
Patrick: And there is evidence, here and there, of an executive here meeting with an MLA or a minister there and getting terms, getting bits and pieces in place that really help them to do what they’ve done. So, we’re not all sitting in a room wearing tinfoil hats, there is actually a paper trail.
Patrick: So the last two things I’ll say about electricity deregulation — it’s actually a very rare thing, Alberta is one of the very few jurisdictions in North America, or anywhere in the world, that has a completely deregulated market, one of the others being California. And TransAlta, the same power company, paid 149 million dollars to California Public Utilities for its role in manipulating electricity prices down in the States — 2000, 2001. And this was in the middle of an electricity crisis that was going on at the time. And one last little bit of good news as far as electricity goes — the Notley government is finally taking some steps to start reversing, partly reregulating parts of our electricity market. So there is a chance we will no longer have to deal with this kind of nonsense and will be able to make more rational decisions about how power is going to be administered in this province.
Kate: Let’s go on to something equally as enraging. So, the specific incident that we are referring to here is the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Vriend vs Alberta in 1998. So it found that the exclusion of sexual orientation in Alberta’s human rights legislation violated the Charter. So Klein’s first response to this was by suggesting that he would use the Charter’s notwithstanding clause — and the Charter’s notwithstanding clause is basically, I don’t know a ton about Canadian constitutional law, but as far as I understand it, it’s kind of a legal, roundabout trick that provinces can use to stop SCC, or Supreme Court of Canada, decisions from applying to them.
Patrick: Yeah. Basically, the notwithstanding clause was a compromise that landed in our Constitution in order to get the thing repatriated at all, and the basic idea is that a provincial government can temporarily decide to ignore a provision of the Constitution if they want to, is my understanding of it. There’s a little bit more to it than that, but that’s the heart of it. It’s been very very rarely used, always draws lots and lots of fire and attention when it does, and so the fact that Ralph Klein would consider using the notwithstanding clause on something as hateful as stopping LGBT people from getting married is pretty awful.
Stephen: This might have been part of — I personally think that his stance on this might have been internal party pressure. I think that Klein’s attitude towards government was very much “mind the store,” and his advice to his would-be successors when he finally was stepping down was, “Don’t go into these social issues, just stick to jobs and the economy, bla bla bla.” But he is balancing a caucus of very regressive people; he’s got Ted Morton hanging around his wings, he has to give him something.
Stockwell Day, Ken Kowalski; all these really, truly wretched men who are very
— it’s hard to overemphasize how socially conservative these people are. Think,
like, the worst stereotype of socially conservative people you have in your
mind; it’s like that. It’s like, Bible College, all that kind of stuff.
Stephen: Yeah. Klein’s opinions on LGBTQ rights probably were not chill, but I guess maybe we can agree his agenda wasn’t necessarily reckless, right?
Kate: You don’t think Ralph Klein would have spent the political capital on this if he wasn’t being internally pressured by people much more socially conservative than him in his caucus.
Stephen: Yeah, ‘cause they had quite a bit of power, and he has to keep — like, these factions were warring the entire time he was there, and didn’t even necessarily like him, they tried to submarine him in that leadership review, right, in towards the end of his days. So, I mean, he did have to play the politician that way sometimes. Yeah, he called for a national referandum on the issue of same-sex marriage, and Paul Martin and Steven Harper both shot the idea down of putting the issue to a referandum.
Bodie: I think it’s a matter of just rallying the base, just screaming into the void but hoping that other people will hear you and appreciate what you’re saying, because I’m from Saskatchewan, and you don’t know how much Brad Wall goes on about about the carbon tax and how he’s going to take on the federal government and challenge it and all this. And, of course, we all know that he would never win, and secondly, it’s a huge waste of money, but these conservatives, who know that they have social conservatives in their base, just use these sort of issues to get everybody riled up.
Kate: Right, and get people volunteering and donating the money. Because they need these people to turn around and vote for them, even if they’re never really going to get what they want from a conservative government. That was basically the amazing balancing act of the Progressive Conservatives for, like, 44 years, is keeping all these deeply socially conservative people voting for them, but trying to throw them, just, the smallest, smallest scraps possible.
Stephen: Yeah, my read on that is that none of these factions particularly loved Klein himself, but they recognized his popular power and his ability to bring in consecutive majority governments every single time, and so…
to me, shows how well conservatives understand politics on a pretty base level.
Like, they understand that politics is inherently the place of conflict between
warring ideas, and you have to do these things to keep people happy. Otherwise,
they will not show up and vote for you. And I think they understand it in a way
that, often, a lot of center and center-left parties really don’t get.
Stephen: I think I have to disagree. I think politics is about people coming together and working together to create a better future for all of us.
Kate: I’m gonna throw a beer can at your head.
Stephen: Your position on this is, frankly, quite cynical, and I’m disappointed.
Bodie: What is the centrist mantra; fiscally conservative, socially liberal? You know that’s bullshit.
we’ll let absolutely any fucking crazy bastard into our party. left wing, right
wing, we’re a home for everyone. We stand for nothing!
Kate: Alright, well, we’ll avoid just bashing centrists for now.
Stephen: I just
can’t help it.
Karen: Another two-part episode.
Bodie: Low-hanging fruit.
the lowest-hanging fruit.
Patrick: One other little side note on LGBT rights in Alberta. Alberta was the absolutely dead last province to add sexual orientation to its Bill of Rights, basically putting it as protected grounds. You can’t discriminate against someone on those grounds. And it was added only in 2009. Seven years later than the next most recent province. Everyone else got on top of it decades ahead of us. And that kind of reflects Ralph Klein’s whole approach to this. Like we’ve discussed, he wasn’t really, really wedded to the idea that gay and lesbian people should be wedded, he was just draggin his feet on something that he knew was popular with his base, and he knew that, if he said the right thing here and there, he could cash some support, and that’s what mattered most.
Karen: Yeah, when he was literally gone, that’s when they added the Bill of Rights.
man, if the PCs were good at anything, it was dragging their feet. They
governed for 44 years by dragging their feet.
Stephen: It’s like their whole thing, yeah. When he talked about invoking the Notwithstanding Clause, he’s talking about trying to attack a Supreme Court decision. That’s, like — it’s empty, there’s nothing he can do. This is just him talking, and like, banging his sword on his shield.
Kate: Yeah, which is his whole mode of politics.
Stephen: Yeah, and it works here. I mean, Kenney trying to do the same thing; it’s always us vs Ottawa. Brad Wall’s capitalizing on this; like, that’s part of his legacy, is stoking western alienation.
even the LGBT stuff is definitely one of something that Kenney’s done to virtue
signal to his base, but they can’t do anything about it at this point.
Patrick: Worth noting two things about that, thought. First of all, it’s not a completely empty threat; the notwithstanding Clause is a thing, and even if — I mean, Klein never ended up doing this, but even if he had, just as a raised middle finger to Ottawa, it would have had the actual effect of allowing the Alberta government to ignore this Supreme Court decision if he wanted to. And —
Kate: But I
think the thing there is that Klein — this is just my belief — I don’t think
Kleing actually ever intended to use it. I literally just think he was waving
it around to show people he was a bigot ‘cause he thought it would play well.
Like, I really don’t think that he ever intended to go as far as using the
notwithstanding clause. And that doesn’t mean that’s not still a very harmful
and reactionary and bigoted thing to do, but it’s sort of, I think, important
to realize that he wasn’t gonna do it, that he wasn’t actually willing to spend
the political capital on that. He was just trying to pacify his base,
Stephen: Yeah, he probably wanted nothing more than for the issue to just go away, one way or the other.
Patrick: And, yeah; the other thing worth noting is that
the whole idea of doing a referendum, of having a referendum on something that
the Supreme court has decided is a decision, is a right, is really kind of
bizarre when you think about it on its own, right? We’ve decided that this is a
right that’s not going to be infringed anymore, and oh, well I guess we’ll just
vote on that and decide whether we really want it. Kind of a strange notion.
Kate: Alright, so — moving on to probably one of the most disgusting and the most infamous Ralph Klein incidents. So, at about 1:00 am on Dec. 12th, 2001, a visibly intoxicated Ralph Klein has his chauffeur drive him to the Herb Jamieson Centre, which is a government-supported shelter for homeless men. Witnesses say that, soon after entering the Centre, Klein begins shouting and swearing at a number of these unhoused people. He’s slurring his words, he’s yelling repeatedly at them to get jobs, he’s throwing money on the floor, and he eventually storms out.
Stephen: This is probably — when someone talks about Ralph Klein’s legacy, or even just mentions Ralph Klein, this comes to mind so quickly because it just so perfectly sums up Ralph Klein.
Kate: Yeah. A woman who was in the shelter at the time with her boyfriend said that Klein was, like, putting them down like they’re worthless. And what she said that I think is very key is, “They do everything they can to help themselves, and maybe if he’d helped them a little instead of cutting back on everything, they wouldn’t be here.” So basically directly tying the austerity of Ralph Klein’s politics to these peoples’ situation, which Ralph Klein then had the gall to go in there and drunkenly yell at these people and throw money at them. It’s fucking despicable.
Stephen: Yeah. He’s just a vile, contemptuous man.
Patrick: And the absolutely mindblowing thing about this — and the also completely quintessential Ralph Klein thing about this — is that he managed to turn it into a positive for him. After this was all over, he came out and said, “Yes, I have a problem with drinking, and this is what led me to do these terrible things.” And he got an incredible amount of public sympathy for this. It was just unreal. And, you know what? Good on you for recognizing that you had an issue, but that doesn’t excuse any of the stuff that you did.
Kate: Yeah, but I mean, the fact of the matter is that, when I get drunk, I do not go into homeless shelters and yell at people, because I’m not a fucking piece of shit. Being drunk does not give you politics you don’t have when you’re not drunk, it just kind of lowers your inhibitions. Ralph Klein believed all those things, and you know he believed all those things because his politics was full of nothing but material contempt for these people that made their lives worse.
Bodie: Stephen mentioned that he rallied a lot of public sympathy after because he mentioned that he had an issue with drinking. So these are his actual opinions. I’ve actually never heard this story before, so it’s all a lot to take in at once, but I’ll say that —
Stephen: It was quite shocking.
Bodie: — the public sympathy doesn’t surprise me because having contempt for homeless people and the disadvantaged and the non-propertied in capitalism is not an aberration, that’s how it’s supposed to work. You’re supposed to hate poor people because the ruling class wants us to believe that people who don’t participate or don’t succeed in this society are broken or wrong.
Kate: Absolutely. And they want you to fear being like that so you toe the line. One of the most disgusting things to this for me, besides the actual incident, is how media responded to it. So there’s a Globe and Mail piece on this from the time, and it says, “It’s hard not to have at least a sneaking admiration for Alberta premier Ralph Klein.” It’s like, no it’s fucking not!
very easy not to have a sneaking admiration for Ralph Klein!
Stephen: Centrism is just so cool, hey? Like, the Globe and Mail’s going to take that position, that’s —
Kate: Yeah. Or, what else did they say? “When the dust settles, the now-infamous trip seems destined to become the stuff of political legend in the province rather than scorn.” I mean, that just shows you how disposable the Globe and Mail thinks unhoused people are. One of the other things, too, is Klein gets all this support from it, he manages to spin it in a good PR story, he’s getting people in the G&M writing that they have admiration for him. But what would have happened if these roles had been reversed? Like, if a drunk, homeless person had invaded the premier’s home late at night and verbally abused Ralph Klein. First of all, if that person was Black or Indigenous or a person of colour, they for sure would have been killed by the police, and, at the very least, would face home invasion charges, would be jailed. The ability of Ralph Klein to do that is political capital that just does not exist for anyone else in society besides, like, extremely powerful, rich white men.
Bodie: So in 2002, Ralph Klein made the following statement on climate change. He says, “You know, my science is limited to the fact that I know that, eons ago, there was an Ice Age. I know that for sure. I know that, at one time, the Arctic was the tropics. And I guess I wonder what caused that. Was it dinosaur farts? I don’t know.” Ralph Klein, 2002.
Stephen: “Oh, I’m just asking questions.”
Kate: Ralph Klein is the dumbest person alive.
that’s, like, he made the dinosaur farts joke several times in the media. He
finds this so funny.
Patrick: Ralph Klein — he doesn’t know.
change was, politically, very easy to deny until around 2006, when all these
horrifying studies were coming off the news wires and it was getting impossible
Kate: Well, I mean, the thing here, basically, is sort of that it was politically easy for Ralph Klein to deny climate change, so he did.
Patrick: Yeah. He gets a tiny bit of credit for doing it with a little bit more style than everyone else was doing at the time, but, I mean, honestly not that remarkable.
Kate: This, to me, is one of the least egregious and also least surprising things about Ralph Klein. I mean, it’s sort of horrendously egregious in that climate change is going to change us all if we don’t take a serious look at how we allocate resources and energy, but it’s not particularly egregious in its delivery compared to other things we’ve mentioned, and it’s so deeply unsurprising. Someone could say this now and I’d be unsurprised.
Patrick: One crisis that Ralph did preside over was the 2003 mad cow disease problem. In that year, an animal was confirmed to have mad cow disease. It was on its way through a slaughterhouse; it was screened, detected that it had this disease, was removed, deemed not fit for human consumption. As a consequence of this animal being detected, the US and Japan and South Korea and Australia, and others, implemented temporary bans on Canadian beef. And Ralph Klein went to the media and said, “I guess any self-respecting rancher would have shot, shovelled, and shut up, but he didn’t do that.”
Stephen: Lesson here is that the farmer should have just broken the law just to make Ralph Klein’s life easier.
Kate: It’s also, like — mad cow disease is fucking dangerous. You know? It is basically like rabies for people, you know? That could have easily killed someone, and easily killed a lot of people, if it had caused an epidemic.
Patrick: It is an incurable disease, it is very difficult to destroy by cooking — if not completely impossible to destroy — very dangerous for it to actually get out there, and that’s why we have systems in place to detect these things and prevent it from entering our food supply.
Kate: It’s just, like, that conserative disdain for regulation being taken to its logical conclusion, because Ralph Klein’s not smart enough to realize that you should stop at a certain point ‘cause it’s kind of publically untenable. And you see what the logical consequence of complete deregulation is. And it’s a world that’s very unsafe.
Stephen: Yeah, so he offers to pay $10,000,000,000 to any Japanese citizen who comes to Canada and gets ill due to beef traced back to mad cow. He starts with five billion, then he says, “No, make it ten billion Canadian.”
Patrick: Yeah, that’ll do it, Ralph.
also speaking in Japan. He’s like, “Yeah, someone can come here, and if they
get mad cow disease —”
Stephen: Is he in Japan when he says this?
Kate: — yeah, “—and I’ll give them ten billion dollars.”
Stephen: Now-international buffoon Ralph Klein.
Kate: Alright, so here’s the good shit. The best part of this episode. In July 2003, a hero of the people hurls a banana cream pie into Ralph Klein’s face at a stampede breakfast in Calgary. Three people were initially charged; charges against two were dropped, with only the single pie-thrower receiving a thirty-day jail term, which he ended up serving on weekends. I love this guy.
Patrick: Can we invent a medal that we bestow on — can we have an award that we create as part of the —
and we have a medal, and we give it to people who throw pies at politicians we
Patrick: Who do anything! Who do anything that really scratches an itch for us, right? We can play some trumpety classical music and have a little ceremony where we bestow it in flowery language. This is a thing we should do, I think.
Stephen: Christopher, we all think you’re cool, none of us can pronounce your last name.
Kate: Yeah, please come on our podcast. Genuinely a people’s hero. Just an iconic moment of the Ralph Klein era. So satisfying.
Stephen: Yeah, ok, so this is one of the most — I hate the word “iconic”, but when you think of Ralph Klein, you’re gonna think of the image of him looking like kind of a, he has a goofy expression on his face, he’s wearing his little cowboy hat, and he’s holding up a big sign that says “Paid In Full” announcing that we had paid off, supposedly, our debt. So, I mean, the image — it’s impossible not to think of George Bush and his fighter pilots on that aircraft carrier with the “Mission Accomplished.”
Kate: And, like George Bush and his fucking “Mission Accomplished” banner, a total lie, right?
Stephen: Total lie, yeah. Absolutely.
Ralph Klein announces — it’s July 2004, he says, “Alberta’s debt has been paid
in full.” Infrastructure debt, though — so that’s deferred maintenance on
buildings we need, that’s why it’s infrastructure — was at 6.5 billion dollars.
So rural facilities were being underused — this is a system so manipulated by
politics — hospitals are crumbling, the general hospital’s literally blown up,
and, in 2015, that problem grew to about a potential 16 billion, depending on
Stephen: Right. And let’s also keep in mind that what accomplishment there is in this — this was at a time when Alberta was hauling in massive windfalls every year of, like, 7 billion dollar surpluses from oil prices rising. So times were good when he paid it “in full”, quote quote.
Kate: And, more to the point, who cares about paying off the debt?
Stephen: And who the fuck cares about the debt? Yeah, like, honestly, I don’t give a shit.
Kate: Yeah, it’s just an entirely manufactured conservative talking point, it’s not real money. But what is real is the infrastructure, like schools, and roads, and bridges, and the boilers that heat buildings, and the hospitals that take care of people. We need that stuff. We don’t need to pay off the public debt.
Patrick: It is completely enraging. I mean, there’s a reason why no other province — why no other country, practically — pays off their debt in one shot. And it’s because it makes sense, it makes sense to take on a little bit of debt to have stuff now rather than waiting ‘til you can afford it later, because your people have needs that need to be met now, and Ralph Klein made a decision to not do that.
Kate: Yeah, I like to think of it as — yeah, Ralph Klein literally took infrastructure away from us that we could have used and that we desperately needed. And he used it literally for a cheap political stunt. That’s, like, the only political utility of paying off the debt like that.
Stephen: Yeah, so it’s his only accomplishment and it’s bullshit, basically.
Kate: Yeah, ‘cause what really matters with debt, if you want to go down this road, is basically the debt to GDP ratio.And Alberta has never been in a situation where our debt to GDP ratio has ever been even approaching anything close to a problem. So, you know — I know the numbers get really big and they sound super impressive, but at the end of the day, it’s just not an issue in this country.
Patrick: Yeah, and serving no useful purpose. I mean, it served exactly two purposes. One, it gave him a great photo opportunity. And the other is it scratched this ideological urge that some right-wing folks have to just never let the government get into any sort of debt whatsoever.
2004, there was a government report on healthcare, and it recommended higher
healthcare premiums and a new healthcare deductible. So, basically, attacks on
healthcare use. So if you — correct me if I’m wrong — if you use the healthcare
system less, you got a deductible on your taxes. Which is absolutely wild,
because that deductible is only going to be used by people who are a) filing
their taxes and have software or, like, people who help them file their taxes,
and b) it’s part of this very conservative idea wherein you individualize
health, so it’s this idea that your health completely relies on the individual
choices that you have made as a person. So you know, if you work out a bunch,
you’ll never get into a car accident or anything like that. But, in actuality,
there’s social determinants of health, you know? People’s access to clean
water, to housing, to food; that impacts how healthy they are. What hours they work,
where they work, what kind of labour they do. So none of this really holds up
to any kind of scrutiny, and it’s all — it’s so deeply ideological, it’s
Karen: Yeah. I mean, you hope that your friends, your family who randomly get cancer because it just happens, there’s no indication that could happen, but that you would want them to be looked after fully because that’s what we’re all paying into, to have everyone healthy and have the best outcome, so.
Kate: Yeah, that’s the idea of the social safety net, is the social safety net is there for everyone, regardless of their individual choices.
Karen: Exactly, yeah.
Kate: But basically — so, in addition to this healthcare deductible, there was also what they call the “third way”, so it was to allow for these parallel private services to run alongside the public system. So if you could pay, you could skip the queue and the wait and the public system and purchase these surgeries or these procedures in this parallel private system. And by allowing rich people to opt out of this system, you basically just rob the public system of patients who are generally healthier — rich people are generally healthier than poor people — and also you rob the public system of people with political capital who will fight for things like less wait times, things like that, because people feel like they can opt out. And they can. They can very literally go take all their money that they have and go buy it somewhere else.
Patrick: And there’s lots to be said about failures in the public health system, ways that it could be improved, but this is one of those “Nixon goes to China” moments where you want someone who cares about the system, you want someone who knows about the system, to be taking any steps to adjusting the system, as opposed to someone who’s committed to destroying the system. It’s much better in progressive hands, to evolve how the healthcare system works, than conservaative hands.
Kate: Exactly. And that goes down to the deep political question at the heart of it, is, “Do you think everyone should have access to publicly-owned healthcare?” And if your answer to that is “no,” then your solutions to the real problems we face in our public medicare system are going to be to dismantle it piece by piece, to privatize it piece by piece, to create this third way. But if your answer is, “Yes, I think healthcare should be publicly provided for free at point of access,” then there’s absolutely solutions to the problems we face that don’t involve this third way. And it’s our responsibility as people who are left-wing to show up to bat for those solutions, I think.
Bucks. Prosperity Bonus, also known as the Ralph Bucks; we all got $400, every
man, woman, and child in the province, just because we had a 6.8 billion dollar
surplus from incredibly high oil prices one year.
Patrick: And they literally could not come up with a better thing to do with the money.
Stephen: This is at a point late in the Klein regime, exactly, where he was just so void of ideas. There’s absolutely no vision, nothing he wanted to accomplish; just kinda chugging along, minding the store. “We get massive windfalls every year from high global oil prices, let’s just give everyone $400! That’s the best use of public funds we can think of.” And so, basically, Best Buy had a really good year in Alberta, and that was about it.
about these numbers for a little bit. This 6.8 billion dollar surplus was
mainly due to really high natural gas prices. And at this time in 2006, we
didn’t really have the hydraulic fracturing technology that we have today, and
as a result, natural gas was actually much scarcer than it is today, and that’s
why we had these really high prices. And just think about these numbers for a moment;
the provincial government ran a 6.8 billion dollar surplus. The cost of Ralph
Bucks clocked in at about 1.4 billion dollars. That money should’ve landed in a
heritage fund, should’ve landed in rainy day funds. Because now we’ve hit the
“bust” part of the “boom/bust” cycle, and our government has to run these 10
billion dollar deficits every year just to keep the lights on the way they were
before. We should have been saving all this wealth. And it’s not like this was
a surprise, it’s not like no one knew this was coming. This was obviously the
right thing to do at the time. And Ralph Klein did not have the vision to do it
or the nerve to do it
Karen: Alright, so back to memorable Ralph Klein moments. So he was quoted as saying, on Belinda Stronach, who was a conservative MP who crossed the floor to the Liberals in 2006, “Now, Belinda has roasted me as a conservative, but of course, now she’s a Liberal,” which — something that he said during the Calgary Homeless Foundation roast, so great context. “And I wasn’t surprised she crossed the floor, because I don’t think she’s ever had a Conservative bone in her body — well, except for one.” This joke didn’t go over super well, and he immediately over-explained it by saying that it’s speaking of Peter McKay, who was Foreign Affairs Minister at the time, and kind of another notorious Conservative figure.
Kate: So I hadn’t heard of this anecdote until we started recording this podcast, and every — it’s like an onion of fucked up-ness. Every part of it is so perfect —
Patrick: — It’s
just fucking gross!
Karen: It’s a roast!
Kate: He’s at a Calgary Homeless Foundation roast? What the hell is that? The joke itself — like, dude, what the hell? The fact that he then over-explains it, he’s like, “By the way, you know, the bone in her body, the part of the joke that you all groaned at, that’s Peter McKay. Do you all understand? Do you all understand the joke?”
Kate: It’s just — it’s so perfect. It’s so perfectly horrible.
Stephen: I apologize for going down a side road here, but remember the Belinda Stronach-Peter McKay thing, and then they broke up and it was a huge falling out, and the media really sympathetically followed Peter McKay around while he was making himself seem like a spurned, sad ex-boyfriend. So he invites the media down to come talk to him at his house while he’s out walking his dog and reflecting on life post-breakup, and then it turned out that the dog, which was a golden retriever or some shit, actually belonged to his neighbour. So he pretended to own a dog —
Karen: Oh no.
Stephen: — for the sake of this media —
Karen: Oh man. Well, apparently, now, he’s —
Stephen: —stroke piece where they make him out to seem —
Karen: — yeah,
he’s married to a former Miss World Canada model now, so I don’t know.
Kate: Bodie, you look like you have a sudden headache that has become onset.
Bodie: Yeah. Like you said, the onion — like, where is the fucking center in this thing?
Stephen: It’s incredible. So anyway, back to —
coming to, basically, the creaky end of Klein. But one of his most enduring
legacies, and one of the big things I think we have to talk about, is the flat
tax. So after he balanced the budget through brutal, brutal austerity that we
go over in “Ralph Klein: Part 1”, Klein’s government introduced a 10% flat
income tax in 2001.
Patrick: A flat income tax is one of the most — again , I use this phrase often with Ralph Klein — enraging things that he did for people who were earning money in what would be the lowest tax bracket in any other province, you are actually paying much more in income taxes in Alberta. That was the Alberta Advantage. And, meanwhile, the amount of money that you were paying if you were in one of the very, very top tax brackets, either federally or in any other province, is much, much less. This was a massive boon to people who were making lots and lots of money.
Stephen: Yeah. It’s the transfer of wealth —
Alberta Advantage is stealing from the poor to give to the rich. It’s like a
reverse Robin Hood. On the surface, a flat tax sounds fine because you say,
“Ok, everyone pays 10%. But if you’re wealthier, 10% of a higher number is more
money. So rich people are paying, technically, with the 10% flat tax rate, more
Patrick: But consider what that 10% means to a person on, say, a $20,000 salary versus a person who’s on a $100,000 salary.
Karen: Exactly. Mhm.
Patrick: If you’re on a $20,000; 2000 bucks, that is a serious chunk of coin in terms of your daily living. That has a very large effect on your ability to afford a decent place to live and afford decent food to eat and afford to move yourself around with transport. If you are on a $100,000 salary and your 10% tax is $10,000, well, it’s a larger number, yes, but in absolute terms, you’ve got so much money that it’s not going to make so big of a difference. And that is why —
Patrick: And that is why this sort of flat tax is actually incredibly unequal. And, just as a point of reference, Ontario, currently, today, their lowest tax bracket is 5.05%. Half of our 10% tax bracket. Their tax bracket goes up to $42,000. So if you’re earning anything like an ordinary, middle-class wage, your income tax— your proportionate provincial income tax — basically doubles if you move to Alberta.
Kate: The UCP, of course, wants your life to be worse, so they’ve actually floated bringing back the flat tax in their policy draft. So this would take 850 million dollars a year from government coffers, and it would overwhelmingly benefit the top 1% of earners. Like, we’re not even talking about your standard rich person; we’re talking about very, very rich people.
Stephen: They threw it out there, and then they kinda cowered away from it, which I thought was odd. They didn’t stand by their horrible policy.
Karen: Well, it was a trial balloon, I guess.
Stephen: I guess they were just testing, just floating the balloon, yep.
Kate: Let’s do the math of this UCP policy draft. They’re going to eliminate the carbon tax, they’re going to eliminate progressive income taxes, they’re going to roll corporate taxes back from 12% to 10%, but they’re also going to eliminate the deficit. That means they’re going to gut our public services. We would see austerity like we did in the Klein days. Food bank use skyrocketing. Public sector employees being laid off, being forced to swallow these huge salary reductions. Just — austery for us and handouts for their rich friends.
Patrick: There’s a reason why Kenney and company do not publish a shadow budget, and it’s because it would force them to detail just how they’re going to balance this, you know, 12 billion dollar hole in the budget.
Stephen: Fucking plainly, yeah. They know that they cannot put this on paper and have it make any fucking sense.
Karen: Well, they had the Wild Rose shadow budgets that didn’t make sense because it was just, like, magic money, it didn’t come from anywhere.
do they come up with this shadow budget?
Kate: Yeah, oil will be, uh, $200 a barrel.
that’ll fix it. So I can see why they don’t want to repeat it, but it’s not
like most of these people have not put it together, these numbers or these
kinds of documents. They have a record of it.
Stephen: Well, Kenney says that they’re just — what did he call shadow budgets? He called them gimmicks.
Karen: Oh. And he doesn’t like gimmicks at all.
Stephen: Yeah, he doesn’t like gimmicks. He’s okay with filling up a jerry can on New Year’s Eve to show that he’s saving 35 cents, but putting together a shadow budget that shows how he intends to govern, that’s just a gimmick.
yeah, it’s a gimmick. You’re the government in waiting. It’s your job to take
over if anything does wrong or if you need to, and it’s just too much work,
it’s too much of a gimmick to do your job and figure out what it would be like
if you actually had this responsibility and you want the job.
Stephen: Because they know they can’t actually show us the hell world they intend to create for us.
Kate: Yeah, cause people would say, “I don’t want that. I don’t want to live in this hell world.” Speaking of the NDP; so, they have materially rejected aspects of Klein’s legacy. So they’ve opted for deficit spending and infrastructure investments. Do we think they’ve done enough to politically attack Klein’s legacy? Have they done enough to erode this common-sense idea that Ralph Klein is popular?
Karen: No. [laughs]
Kate: Yeah, I’m also gonna say no. It’s a very leading question, for sure.
Karen: Yeah. I mean, they still have definitely a deference to Klein and, kind of, a political attitude that he represents, and I don’t think there’s been enough discussion, dismantling, of the ideas we’ve been talking about in this episode, that it’s just common sense assumptions and how we can have those conversations on the doorstep, and it’s not sacred, and it’s not forbidden to just talk about public-laid policies and history, and —
parties will say what they’re gonna say, they’ll have the messaging they’re
gonna have, but, to a certain degree, the project of reevaluating Ralph Klein
and assessing what his legacy is in the public — to a certain degree, that’s
not a political party’s job. That’s a discussion that mainly happens in the media
and is, itself, mediated between individuals, or is mediated by big media
outlets. And they are not the friends of progressives in this province.
Kate: Yeah, well, that’s why you need an extra-parliamentary left. You need organizations that aren’t in the legislature, who share your ideas to an extent that they can create an atmosphere and an environment that is going to be more hospitable for your legislative paths. That’s what the NDP really needs in this province, in my opinion.
Kate: Alright! So, to end our two-episode tour of the one and only Ralph Klein, the man we all hate: if you could design Ralph Klein’s tombstone, what would you put on it? Let’s start with Karen.
Karen: “Here lies a bum and creep.”
Patrick: “Maintenance on this tombstone has been deferred forever, so I hope they built it well the first time, because it’s never getting patched up.”
Bodie: Here lies Ralph Klein. Get a job.
Kate: Ok, so — clearly, it would be just incredibly, incredibly impolite to encourage people disrespect this man’s great legacy. So, instead, we would like to recommend this delightful place where you can remember all of the things Ralph Klein did and pay your respects in the manner that you see fit. So it’s at Eton Brook Memorial Gardens And Funeral Home, Township Road 242, Rocky View County, Division Number 6, Alberta. And it’s open 24 hours, so feel free to pop by there, you know, late at night, when the cops won’t be around; it’ll be just you and the legacy of the great Ralph Klein. On behalf of everyone at Team Advantage, thank you so much for listening to this second of two episodes on the late, not so great, Ralph Klein. Perhaps we will see you when we’re paying our respects to Ralph Klein. Bye, everyone!