Ralph Klein irresponsibly expressed his support for the American war effort against Iraq and Saddam Hussein in a letter to American Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci last week. Scathing response came from the Prime Minister's Office and Klein was quick to offer an unapologetic response: "I'm entitled to my opinion."
Unfortunately, in this case, he's not.
There are a couple issues here. First, Jean Chretien's office is correct in stating that the premier of Alberta does not speak for Canada on international issues, nor should he. Klein's focus should be provincial, and he should stick to issues that fall under that domain. While he's allowed to hold an opinion, it is not his place to express that opinion to foreign diplomats; the federal government is our voice on the national stage. From a domain perspective, Klein's statements were out of line, especially since a vast majority of Canadians (recent polls say 70 per cent) support Canada's current position on the issue.
However, there's more to the debate than that. Arguably, if the vast majority of Albertans or Canadians supported the U.S.-led war on Iraq, we should almost expect Klein to vocally express his dissent from the prime minister. Unfortunately, opinion polls show that Canadians do not want war without a second UN resolution, and they do not support George W. Bush. And while some Albertans may hold conflicting views, we certainly don't have a clear consensus.
If Klein starts passing bills in the legislature or drafting letters to U.S. ambassadors, he is no longer representing his opinion. He is representing the opinions of the entire province.
The letter named not only Klein but the "Alberta Government" as fervent supporters of Bush's "leadership in the war on terrorism and tyranny." The current lack of concrete evidence linking Hussein to terrorism aside, this implies that Albertans hold this position. Unfortunately, Klein does not speak for me on this issue, as I'm sure he does not speak for a clear majority of Alberta's citizens and voters.
Klein needs to realize that when he speaks in public, he is representing his electorate, whether he's outside an Edmonton homeless shelter, speaking to media or writing letters to politicians. And when he expresses an opinion, it is not enough to simply agree with himself. Ralph Klein is a politician, and voters must agree with him too. And until that happens, perhaps Klein should make a serious effort to hold his often incriminating and embarrassing tongue and listen to his constituents.