Inside Ralph Klein’s Vault

By Tooker Gomberg, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

An unfinished yet riveting piece by Tooker about his occupation of Alberta Premier Klein’s office, to draw attention to climate change and the “Lost Doc”.

This really is the last piece Tooker wrote, but it was never completed. Although the action happened more than a year ago, it’s a story that he never did tell. Here it is… Angela


“Lock me in,” I instruct Jerry, my friend and cameraman. We wrestle with the heavy steel door. Jerry kicks out the doorstop, and before I know what’s happened, the door clangs shut with a loud rumble. I gasp, look around me, and wonder if the air will last. I jostle the handle, just to be sure. There’s no escape. I’m locked inside Ralph Klein’s vault.

It’s Tues. Dec. 3, 2002, and I’m trying to rally support for the Kyoto protocol, to protect the world’s climate from catastrophic disruption. Prime Minister Chrétien says he’ll sign the accord by the end of the year. Premier Klein of fossil-fuel-rich Alberta says, in essence: ‘over my dead body’. I say I’m prepared to take a stand.

I’m thirsty. Perhaps it’s the lack of air. The vault is the size of a large walk-in closet, and is being used as a storage room.

I discover a case of booze. Not surprising, given Klein’s history of hard drinking. What shall it be – wine, Ouzo, or Champagne?

I break open the bubbly and savor a few sips. I’m ready to celebrate. I toast Mother Earth.

I pull out my cell phone and list of Calgary media contacts and methodically begin calling. “This is Tooker Gomberg and I’m locked in Ralph Klein’s vault.”

One by one, I tell them of the “Lost Document”, the 300-page report written by the Alberta government in 1990. It addressed the question: “Could Alberta reduce its greenhouse gas emissions?”. The conclusion was startling: Alberta could not only reduce emissions by 7% (the Kyoto Protocol only required a 6% reduction from Canada), but it could do so at an enormous profit!

Klein and the Alberta Government were fear-mongering. They repeated the lie that Kyoto would destroy the Canadian economy, with 450,000 jobs lost and increases in taxes and gasoline prices.

But the Lost Document showed that Klein wasn’t being honest. Kyoto would actually be good for Alberta. With an investment of $6.7 billion, the government could realize annual savings of $2.2 billion. That’s a rate of return of over 30%. Canada Savings Bonds will get you 4% if you’re lucky. The Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, a fund that was supposed to put aside royalties from Alberta’s oil and gas industry for a rainy day, was actually losing money. Why not invest in energy efficiency instead?

The implications were enormous. And it was a Made in Alberta solution, prepared by the Alberta Government itself. Klein apparently preferred a Made in Houston solution – good for the oil and gas industry, but bad for the taxpayer, not to mention the planet.

[In the Lost Document] – properly titled “A Discussion Paper on the Potential for Reducing CO2 Emissions in Alberta, 1998-2005” – I sensed an opportunity, and an urgency. The Kyoto clock was ticking. In order for the protocol to become international law, 55 nations representing 55% of world’s greenhouse gas emissions had to sign on. If Canada signed, all that would be missing was Russia, and then it would reach the benchmark. Without Canada, the treaty would likely fall apart.

The health of the world’s climate was in the balance. I hoped the media would be interested in adding some substance to the debate, a new angle to the story they kept repeating: Chrétien for Kyoto; Klein against it.

I [had] come to Edmonton from Toronto to spend two weeks traveling Alberta, speaking about the benefits of Kyoto, energy efficiency, wind turbines and solar panels. I previewed a (nearly-completed) film I had made called “Kyoto Winds of Change”, which explored the opportunities of Kyoto. And I peddled the Lost Document.

I called a news conference at the Alberta Legislature when I delivered the Lost Document to Ralph Klein’s office, asking for a reply, asking why the recommendations had never been implemented.

Media attendance was good, perhaps because – as a former Edmonton City Councillor – I still had some profile. Security guards barred us from venturing past the entrance. Eventually a staff person came down to deliver the document to the Premier.

With Chrétien’s self-imposed Kyoto deadline looming a few weeks away, what did the media do with this blockbuster?

They ignored it. They showed no interest in investigating the claims of the report. They weren’t interested in contacting the authors to see if it was still relevant. The story was but a blip on the news radar for a day. Then it disappeared.

I was aghast. In my over twenty years in the environmental movement, the Lost Document was bigger than anything I had ever come across. And the timing was perfect to bring it to light.

So I upped the ante. A few of us set up a vigil on the front steps of the Alberta Legislature.

With our bikes and bicycle trailer, in -10 C weather, we stood, and we slept, with our sleeping bags and a solar panel, on the landing to the Alberta Legislature.

As Members of the Legislative Assembly hurried between government buildings, we distributed copies of the Lost Document. We talked about the benefits and promise of rooftop solar shingles to generate electricity without the smog and the climate damage of burning fossil fuels.

We phoned the media trying to entice them to cover the story. We challenged the Premier and MPs to debate. We asked questions.

We froze our butts 24 hours a day for a full week with little government or media interest. The Edmonton Journal did an interview, and my mug made it to the front page of the newspaper. But the Kyoto Now! sign I was holding was cropped out, and I had one quote about the Grey Cup football game that weekend. The fate of the earth was trumped by pigskin.

The Kyoto Protocol was in serious limbo. In order to become international law, Canada and Russia would have to sign on. Climate change is arguably the most important survival issue of our time, [and] Ralph Klein and Alberta were standing in the way of Canada signing on. Eventually Canada did ratify the treaty, but at that point in time it was far from clear if Chrétien would stay the course.

It was an epic struggle. On one side, the largest corporations on the planet – the oil, gas, and car industries – alongside Ralph Klein and the Government of Alberta. On the other side: the little guy from Shawinigan, intent on signing Kyoto as part of his legacy as Prime Minister of Canada; much of the Canadian public; and a little guy from Montreal, former Edmonton City Councillor and environmental activist.

I hit the road, preaching the benefits of Kyoto in Edmonton, Edson, Rocky Mt. House, Calgary, and Lethbridge. But [that] didn’t make a dent in the mantra we heard night after night on the news – that Kyoto would be dire for Alberta.

So what do you do when the earth is being terrorized, the life support systems of the planet yanked out bit by bit by powerful vested interests? What’s a conscious, concerned person to do?

When so much is as stake, isn’t an informed person obliged to act? To take a chance? To be bold? The great American writer Henry David Thoreau wrote of the duty of civil disobedience. He said that citizens should act on their consciences, to do what’s right even if it means breaking the law. “Let your life be a friction to the machine” he said.

I decided to occupy Ralph Klein’s Calgary office, to focus attention on the promise of Kyoto, on how good it could be, on how Klein was lying.

With Jerry rolling tape and [with] a suitcase full of food and water, we walked into Klein’s Calgary Elbow constituency office and spoke with Betty, his assistant. I wanted a response from the Premier about the Lost Document. She said we should be patient. After a half-hour discussion on the benefits of wind power and the dangers of burning ever-increasing amounts of coal, oil and natural gas, she told us we would have to leave.

“I’m not leaving,” I said, until I received a response from Klein. She called security. We scoped out the office, and discovered the vault…

Once locked inside, I do a number of media interviews before my cell phone goes dead. To my delight there’s a fax machine in the vault, and it’s working.

I look around and find a sheet of “Ralph Klein, Premier” letterhead. Pen in hand, I jot down that I am inside Klein’s vault to bring attention to the Lost Document which proves that Kyoto would be good for Alberta. I include the website address, and fax away to my media list. I even fax the Premier at home for good measure.

Then the lights go out, so I fax by the light of my lighter. I hear noises from outside – they are trying to open the vault. I know my time is limited.

I spy a large Stars and Stripes. I wonder if it was a gift from Klein’s Houston oil buddies. Or perhaps ExxonMobil.

After an hour-and-a-half, I hear the lever moving. I grab it, heaving my weight to prevent it from turning, and suddenly, down it goes.

A band of Calgary’s finest SWAT team, uniformed to the hilt, lunge at me, rifles perched, shouting at me to get on the ground. Pouncing on me, they pin me to the ground, slice off my knapsack, and yell, all at once. “Relax,” I shout back. “I’m trained in the art of civil disobedience. I am a non-violent protester.”

They gruffly handcuff my hands behind my back, hoist me up, and walk me into the office. There awaits a cadre of cops. One throws my winter coat over my head, like a shamed criminal, and frog-marches me out of the office into the public corridor.

The sound changes outside the office. I duck my head and the coat falls to the ground. “Why is Ralph Klein afraid of the Lost Document?” I ask the TV cameras as the police throw my coat back over my head, and lead me away to a waiting cruiser.

At the police station, I’m stripped and all my belongings are taken away from me. I’m left with a t-shirt, pants (no belt), underwear, and socks, and [am] left in a white cell, alone.

I pace the room, [and am] entertained by the graffiti on the walls. Then my heart stops: there is a big swastika scraped from the paint. It must be 2 feet square, the most obvious graffiti in the cell.

As a Jew, and an anti-racist, this deeply offends me. I stare at it, dumbfounded. I try scraping the paint off with my fingernail, but no luck.

I notice my pants have a brass button. I drop them, scrape away the swastika’s power by turning it into a square, and put my pants back on.

A few hours later, two burly cops come into my cell, towering over me, close to me. One growls, “Take off your shirt”. So I take off my shirt.

“Take off your pants”. Uh oh. What’s coming now? Are they going to humiliate me? Rape me? What?

“Take off my pants?” I ask, incredulous. “Take off your pants,” the cop bellows. I take off my pants, and throw them on the ground.

“We’re taking these as evidence. You damaged public property” and they’re off with my clothes.

After 26 hours, I’m back on the streets.

My day in court is March 1-3, 2004. I have several charges against me, including mischief – for interfering with the operation of the office – and theft, for taking a small Alberta flag, meant for constituents, worth no more than a quarter (but not, interestingly, for cracking open the champagne). And I’m being charged for damaging public property when I effaced the swastika.

I look forward to my day in court, when I can ask how long the swastika had been there, and was the person who scratched the swastika also charged with damage to public property, and why hadn’t it been removed?

But most importantly, I look forward to establishing the seriousness of the climate crisis, and the need for government actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We will get expert testimony on the contents and value of the material in the Lost Document. And we’ll argue that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms ensures our right of protest and freedom of expression.

We’ll argue that locking myself in Ralph Klein’s vault was a political act, in the long tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, from Gandhi’s salt march in India to Rosa Parks’ refusing to go to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

We have a right, and a duty, to protest when horrible things are being done by our governments. That is a cornerstone of democracy. Without political pressure, things rarely change. But with letters and petitions, articles and rallies, sit-ins and occupations, the message can get through to government to act.

Around the world, the coral reefs are dying off due to warmer ocean temperatures. The polar bears are in trouble due to warmer water and less ice to fish from. 20,000 people died in Europe in the summer of 2003 due to extreme heat, exactly the sort of weather one would expect in a climate-changed world. Alberta has been suffering through the worst droughts in its history, and serious concerns are being raised about dramatically-shrinking water resources.

The world’s climate scientists say that we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 60-80%. Kyoto is just a tiny, first step. With public involvement and pressure on politicians, perhaps Canada can begin moving.

The Lost Document shows that Kyoto is not bitter medicine, but actually an opportunity disguised as a problem. When we realize that we can save money, create employment, and protect the environment through Lost Document-type initiatives, a huge new potential is unleashed. The power to change.

(Closing paragraph about the power of individuals to make a difference, to stand up and be counted.)