Friday, September 03, 2004

Next election will be my last: Klein

Alberta Premier 'retired already,' opposition charges


CALGARY — Alberta Premier Ralph Klein confirmed today that the next election will be his political swan song.

Asked by reporters if the vote, expected as early as November, will be his last, he replied, "If I am alive, yes. Yes, absolutely. Yes, I'm ready to retire."

Klein, 61, also said if he wins, he plans to serve out his full term unless his health fails.

There had been speculation that Klein, currently Canada's longest serving premier, would step aside a year or two after the vote.

Should he win, he will leave politics never having felt the sting of defeat.

Since pulling off a stunning upset in the Calgary mayoralty race in 1980, Klein has won a total of seven consecutive elections and a leadership race.

He is now going to the polls to win a fourth mandate for the provincial Tories. His party has captured an increasing number of seats in each of his last three elections.

Klein said the vote will be in the fall or the spring.

"I'm leaning toward November. It could be March. It depends on how soon and how smoothly we get the nominations out of the way to make sure all the constituencies are ready to go," he said.

Alberta's Liberal Opposition, however, say Klein has effectively retired already.

"He's not attending the health conference. He's governing through surveys. He's just not engaged in his job," said Liberal Leader Kevin Taft.

Klein has said he will attend only one day of the three-day meeting later this month with Prime Minister Paul Martin and the premiers on health care.

Also recently, the government sent out a survey asking Albertans what should be done with budget surpluses now that money has been set aside to pay off the remaining few million dollars of Alberta's $23-billion debt.

Klein has promised to follow Albertans' wishes.

Voters will be going to the polls as Alberta rides a wave of prosperity.

Last week, the Tories announced they expect a $3-billion surplus this fiscal year. That figure could easily reach $4 billion if oil and gas prices maintain current levels.

Recent announcements have allocated millions of dollars for teachers and seniors.

While Klein has been a political fixture in Canada for years, he has not always been fighting on the hustings.

The son of a professional wrestler, he toyed in his teens with flying military jets, enlisted briefly in the Armed Forces and then jumped into public relations jobs, starting with the Red Cross.

He eventually became a reporter for Calgary's CFCN-TV, developing a reputation for breaking stories, before running for mayor in 1980. He was re-elected twice.

Looking for a new challenge, he switched to provincial politics in 1989 and was appointed environment minister under then-premier Don Getty.

He was treated as an outsider by some of the Tory old guard, but the former Liberal supporter reinvented himself as a neo-conservative.

He worked hard at making friends within the government — especially with rural backbenchers ignored by the party elite. Those friends helped gather party faithful in a second-round ballot to replace Getty in 1992.

Klein defeated front-runner Nancy Betkowski and went on to win three elections for the Tories.

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