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Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein hospitalized

Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein has been hospitalized to deal with problems relating to lung congestion and dementia, one of his close friends said Friday.

Rod Love, Klein’s confidante and former political right-hand man, said the 68-year-old Klein has been hospitalized twice in recent weeks due mainly to his chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.

“It’s related to a lifetime of smoking. It’s a chronic lung condition that at times makes it difficult to breathe,” Love said in an interview.

Klein is also afflicted with aphasia, a form of progressive dementia that was diagnosed this spring.

“Neither of these conditions are curable. They’re both chronic disorders,” said Love.

“He’s been managing them, but the last couple of weeks he’s just been feeling unwell, and (Klein’s wife) Colleen and the doctors felt it would be prudent just to get him into the hospital and get things stabilized.”

Klein has made few public appearances in recent months and friends say sometimes he has trouble putting names to faces and occasionally slurs his speech.

At celebrations last month to say farewell to outgoing premier Ed Stelmach, Klein sent a video that Stelmach viewed privately.

Stelmach sent best wishes from he and his wife Friday.

“Marie and I send our love and prayers to our dear friends Ralph and Colleen Klein as they deal with Ralph’s health issues,” Stelmach said on Twitter.

Klein was premier from 1992 to 2006 and became a national figure for his folksy charm and sharp tongue.

When he was Calgary mayor in 1982, he blamed “creeps and bums” from Eastern Canada for driving up the city’s crime rate.

He became a hero to conservatives nationwide in the early 1990s when he ruthlessly chopped government spending to balance the books. In the years that followed, windfall oil and gas profits allowed the Tories to wipe out $23 billion in accumulated debt.

A balanced bottom line has been Klein’s political legacy.

He retired in 2006 following a lukewarm vote of support from party members at a leadership review.

Critics said that after the debt dragon had been slain, Klein didn’t have the fire in the belly to take on emerging issues including health-care reform and planning the infrastructure needed for hundreds of thousands of newcomers arriving in Alberta to share in the petro-prosperity.

In office, Klein admitted he fought with his demons, including smoking and a drinking problem.

Love said Klein has his good days and bad days.

“If he gets lots of rest he’s fine, but if he gets run down a little bit it can sort of catch up to him

“The last couple of weeks he hasn’t been hitting on all cylinders.”