Kleinís Long Farewell An Indulgence His Party Could Not Afford
When 45% of delegates refused to endorse Ralph Kleinís leadership at the Alberta Progressive Conservativeís convention in Calgary March 31st, they gave voice to the notion many supporters of the party had come to believe. It was time, maybe long past time, for Ralph Klein to step down.
This is not exactly the scenario one would have wished on a man who once saved his party from likely defeat in 1993 by promising to cut the fat, and maybe a little meat as well. Klein proved to be as good as his word, and though it might be argued that the fiscal order he returned to the province might have been done more intelligently, it was accomplished..
When it came time for Ralph Klein to face the delegates and present a clear vision as to what another eighteen months under his stewardship would deliver, he failed. Where once he told it as it was, even if it made one roll their eyes at the delivery, one would be hard pressed to remember his last focused, fiery, or even coherent speech. Klein went from being the type of guy who might show up rather inebriated for an impromptu late night discussion with some homeless folks, to one being blamed for undermining Conservative efforts federally and considered by supporters as a liability to his own party during the most recent provincial campaign. His actions went from being somewhat lovable to down right irritating.
Klein has also been the beneficiary of a less than stellar opposition in the Alberta legislature. The only guy who appeared to actually compete with him, Laurence Decore, was essentially forced out himself as leader of the Alberta Liberals back in 1994. While the lack of an attractive alternative for voters to consider equated into some sizable majorities, this lack of opposition also allowed the perception to rise of a government losing its sharpness and focus. Where once there were grand strategies to attack provincial challenges, now the solutions seemed all about spending more and more, though on what they were spending it all on and for what return became a growing concern for fiscal conservatives. If the government was already spending cash like there was no tomorrow, some began to wonder just how much worse could the Liberals and NDP possibly do. Not much, at least that seemed to be the answer by a growing number of voters in the 2004 election.
Leaders must bring focus, vision, and even a level of excitement to their party, to instill confidence and trust among their supporters. When they can not longer do this, a new face needs to be called upon to renew the party, to make it as vigorous as those who seek to replace it. That is what Ralph Klein provided the Progressive Conservatives in Alberta in 1992. That is what the party needs again.
There are some who believe that Ralph Klein, after four election victories and an accomplished record, deserved the right to decide when it was time to retire. Unfortunately, the prospect of a potentially divisive two year long leadership race, with candidates banned from cabinet for the duration, proved to be too much an indulgence to afford a man no longer able to provide visionary leadership.
Such is fate, even for a man who will go down as possibly Alberta's greatest premier, and undoubtably its most popular.
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