Portrait of former premier graces Alberta legislature

marc bence for metro calgary


Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein gives a thumbs up in front of his official portrait unveiled yesterday at the legislature.

“In this portrait, I see a man with a love for every corner of the province.”

EDMONTON - Ralph Klein has returned to the Alberta legislature to be forever immortalized in oil.

While his flight from Calgary was delayed by 20 minutes, the former premier arrived to unveil his official portrait yesterday to a packed crowd of friends, family and former Tory colleagues.

“I do apologize for being late for my own hanging,” he said to a roar of laughter and applause after a green-velvet covering was pulled back to reveal the artwork.

The portrait joined a row of paintings depicting all former premiers along the east wall of the building’s second floor.

The picture illustrates Klein in a dark suit and tie, sitting by the window of his former office. Behind him, a dream catcher hangs by the curtains — to represent his love of aboriginal culture — while the province’s signature Rocky Mountains, canola fields and bright blue sky appear out the window.

Klein said he asked the artist to take “artistic liberties” by placing the Rockies in the painting — which aren’t visible from Edmonton — since he wanted it to represent all of Alberta.

The painting was created by Xin Yu Zheng, who immigrated to Canada over 10 years ago after a successful career as an artist in China.

Through an interpreter, he told reporters that he’s honoured that Klein chose him to paint an official portrait.

“He hopes that the painting captures the premier’s true spirit,” the interpreter said.

Klein, also a former Calgary mayor, said he felt excited and nervous coming back to the political capital where he spent 14 years as premier.

“I’ve felt that way every single time I’ve stepped through these doors — even though sometimes I’ve had to walk through a crowd of protesters to do it,” he said.

Klein left behind a legacy of erasing a multi-billion dollar debt, but admitted as he left office that his government lacked an adequate plan to deal with pressures created by the current economic boom.

“In this portrait, I see a man with a love for every corner of the province,” said current Premier Ed Stelmach. “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn't be here today.”

Klein, 64, stepped down as premier in January and now works as an adviser for several right-wing think-tanks.