PHOTOS: Vermilion-Lloydminster Progressive Conservative MLA Richard Starke, looking appealingly Clint-Eastwood-like in this official portrait from his website, announced yesterday he is seeking the leadership of the Alberta PC Party. Below: NDP Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt, another member of the Legislative Squeeze Box Caucus, and former Speaker Gene Zwozdesky, a caucus member back in the day. Below them: Popular singer and known accordionist Richard Starkey.

Somehow, in all the time I’ve been interested in politics in Alberta, I’ve never managed to meet Richard Starke, the retired veterinarian from Vermilion who announced yesterday he is running for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party.

That notwithstanding, I am obligated to inform readers that I have never, ever heard a bad thing about the man from anyone who knows him, left or right, young or old.

The PC MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster is universally said to be honourable, thoughtful, sensible, and cautiously centrist. In other words, he embodies the principles the word “conservative” used to convey.

As a result, Dr. Starke likely doesn’t have a ghost of a chance in a race to lead a modern conservative party of any stripe, especially one here in Alberta.

Wait! There is one bad thing I have heard about him. He plays the squeeze box! But, strangely, being an accordionist is no impediment to political success in this province. Marlin Schmidt, the NDP minister of advanced education, is also a member of the Legislative Accordion Caucus. So was Gene Zwozdesky, and the former Speaker of the House managed to get elected both as a Liberal and a Conservative!

Still, together this suggests that Dr. Starke – the only candidate to enter the race to date from a rural Alberta riding – is a fellow a lot like Ed Stelmach, PC premier of Alberta from December 2006 to October 2011.

Mr. Stelmach was also honourable, thoughtful, sensible and cautiously centrist. Mr. Stelmach came from Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, the mostly rural riding right next door to Vermilion-Lloydminster directly to the west. When Mr. Stelmach ran for the leadership of the PC Party back in 2006 he surprised everyone – including himself, presumably – by coming right up the middle and winning.

But when Mr. Stelmach tried to impose a modest royalty increase on the province’s petroleum resources, someone brewed up and financed a political entity eventually known as  the Wildrose Party and, for all intents and purposes, Mr. Stelmach was hounded out of office. He, in turn, was replaced by Alison Redford, who seemed like a good idea at the time to PC Party members.

It almost goes without saying that if Mr. Stelmach hadn’t thrown in the towel in disgust, he’d still be the premier of Alberta today.

So, obviously, if being a thoughtful and careful gentleman wasn’t enough to finish off Dr. Starke as the person to lead a modern progressive conservative party – he is, after all, one of the candidates not so enthusiastic about reconstituting the PCs as part of the Wildrose phenomenon – seemingly being somewhat like Ed Stelmach should do in his candidacy for sure.

What else can we say about the hitherto low-key Dr. Starke? Ummmmm … well, he was briefly a cabinet member under Ms. Redford’s leadership, minister of tourism.

He is 56 years old, although, if you ask me, he carries himself and dresses like a man who is somewhat older. Actually, until I looked it up, I thought he was almost as old as me, and King George was still on the throne when I was born!

Speaking of looking your age, Dr. Starke’s last name is universally pronounced “Starkey,” as in Richard Starkey. Richard Starkey is 76, but still looks youthful and hip. But, take it from me, no one is going to nickname Dr. Starke “Ringo,” even if Ringo is also an accordionist.

Dr. Starke’s campaign website only appeared yesterday. It contains the usual anodyne political platitudes and the intriguing factoids that the candidate owns two cats and a Bernese Mountain Dog. It’s not clear if this will win over cat people and dog people alike, or alienate them all.

Political observers with long memories will recall that Dr. Starke is not the first veterinarian from Vermilion to grace the Conservative benches of the Alberta Legislature.

The previous one was a fellow named Steve West. Known unkindly as “Dr. Death,” Dr. West served in various cabinet roles premier Ralph Klein’s “agent of change,” leaving a trail of devastation in whatever department he was assigned to. Remember that “change” in this context was a neoliberal code word for “destruction.” Dr. West was on of the chief architects of the Kleintastrophe of the 1990s.

So, in certain circles, I suppose, a veterinarian from Vermilion running for a job like Dr. Starke is seeking would be a bit like another barbershop owner from Fleet Street volunteering to organize the staff picnic. However, no one who feels that way is likely to have a vote in this particular election, which will be subject to the PC Party’s new and stringent voting rules.

Meanwhile, also yesterday, another Tory leadership candidate, Donna Kennedy-Glans, also chose for some reason to officially announce her candidacy in the race. Ms. Kennedy-Glans, whose candidacy had already been unofficially announced, has been written about previously in this space. So why repeat everything?

Also running is Byron Nelson (Who he? — Ed.) a Calgary lawyer. If Mr. Nelson has a campaign website, I didn’t find it. promises only it is the “future home of something quite cool.” Now that I doubt.

All three of these candidates – and a few potential ones too, a list that includes Calgary-North West MLA and former cabinet minister Sandra Jansen, former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, former PC candidate Harman Kandola and maybe even Ric McIver, the party’s interim leader – have one thing in common: they oppose the particular “unite the right” vision of former Harper Government minister Jason Kenney.

For his part, Mr. Kenney promises that upon becoming leader of the PCs, he would consider himself to have a mandate to organize a hostile reverse takeover of the PCs by the Wildrose Party, realizing the dreams of the folks who originally bankrolled that organization as a way to move Alberta ever further to the right.

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  1. A choice between Richard Starke or Jason Kenney? What to do, what to do…?

    Although I am sure there are nasty vets out there, as there are nasty members of every profession, I don’t think most vets would get away with bad behaviour for very long. The animals are just too smart for that. The vets I’ve met over the years that have cared for my animals – I’ve had dogs and cats, but not at the same time – usually have a couple of each and at the same time, too. Sounds like a good bet to help establish a peaceable kingdom, even if he’s not the king.

  2. You, the MSM and even a lot of Conservative party members really don’t get it. Most conservatives don’t want a middle of the road centrist. What’s the difference between a conservative centrist and the left?.. Maybe some more fiscal responsibility and that’s about it… You might as well vote for a party on the left. Why is it ok for the Liberals and NDP to stand on their far-left principles but not the other way around?

    1. Neither the New Democrats nor the Liberals, especially the Liberals, have “far-out left principles,” or even faintly left principles. All are parties of the market-fundamentalist right, the far-right consensus that has been manufactured by force and stealth, and by ignoring the wishes of voters whenever they do vote for change, over the past 40 years. If only we had a real party of the left, many Canadians would vote for it.

  3. Richard Starke certainly seems quite reasonable to listen to. The question is will all the candidates that want the PC party left intact split the the vote and make it easier for Jason Kenney. As for Sandra Jansen when I hear her speak I hear nothing remotely conservative being said. One thing is for sure with 66% of Albertans are against the new carbon tax being introduced by the NDP on Jan 1 is Rachel Notely going down the same road as Brian Mulroney. He brought in the GST and it cost him his job. I suspect our present Premier will experience the same result irregardless who is the leader of the PC party. Have a good day 🙂

    1. I really wish the poll that found 66% of Albertans are opposed to the carbon tax had also asked respondents if they are opposed to income tax and property tax. I think it is really surprising that 33% are in favour of a new tax personally.

      While you are certainly correct that voters punished Brian Mulroney for the GST, it must also be acknowledged that the GST did allow the subsequent Liberals to post multiple surplus budgets, and Stephen Harper’s governments would also have benefitted from a 7% GST to get over the 2008 crash. You may well be correct in your prediction of Rachel Notley’s government, but if the carbon tax is repealed by a subsequent government it will be an incredibly regressive decision.

      1. Bob, most articles I read today on the topic of ghg emission reductions state that by 2030 for Canada to reach its reduction targets the price on C02 will have to be 200 dollars a tonne. Think about that, that would be 44.5 cents per litre of gas, 10 dollars per gigajoule of natural gas. In the winter I would easily be paying over 100 dollars a month in carbon tax to heat my home which when it is -30 is essential for survival. Now that sounds regressive!

  4. He seems to check a lot of the boxes of what the Progressive Conservatives might need in a leader – a currently elected MLA, potential to appeal to rural voters and also possibly to a range of conservative and centrist voters. If he is as decent as you say that might be a handicap in becoming party leader, but it might be something that resonates with voters if he actually does manage to be elected. I actually think Albertans want a leader with some level of decency and not someone comes off as too petty or mean spirited.

    The number of candidates coming forward is a bit surprising to me and it now seems possible the “remain PC” candidates could split the vote and allow Kenney to win. However, it is also possible the remain voters could coalesce around one of the remain PC candidates and it could end up being an anybody but Kenney outcome in the end.

    I also think being an existing PC MLA could be a significant advantage in this contest as there are not that many of them now and I am not sure there are safe seats for a by-election, if a non MLA is chosen as leader. Therefore, unless they run a fantastic campaign, I don’t think the chances for former MLA’s or the never quite made it to be MLA candidates are really that good.

    Of course, Kenney as a recent MP could make the argument he is likely electable as an MLA, but the merger process he proposes is drawn out. It would make more sense for him to run as MLA after merger not before, but that would risk having no PC leader in the Legislature for quite a long time and therefore possibly ceding the spotlight to Wildrose.

  5. Both David and Farmer B raised the issue of splitting the vote. I’m guessing the PCs set up some kind of preferential balloting that makes vote splitting impossible, but that is just a guess. Does anyone know for sure?

    1. Not sure but isn’t it a delegate system? If most delegates are there to vote for a moderate, then as voting rounds proceed, won’t they coalesce around the moderate who appears to be winning?

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