Photos: Vermilion-Lloydminster Progressive Conservative PC MLA and former Tory cabinet minister Richard Starke. (Photo from Dr. Starke’s Facebook page.) Below: Alberta conservative rivals and temporary co-leaders, Brian Jean and Jason Kenney (Photos: CBC); Wildrose House Leader and interim United Conservative Party Leader Nathan Cooper (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

Richard Starke, it turns out, is not just a nice guy, he’s a principled one as well.

This is not to say, I should hasten to add, that I ever thought Dr. Starke, MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster, former Tory cabinet minister and candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party, was anything but principled.

Still, now that Jason Kenney’s double reverse hostile takeover of the PC Party by the Wildrose Party last spring, and then of the Wildrose Party by the PCs last Saturday, is all but complete, one imagines MLAs from the two conservative parties are under enormous pressure to knuckle under and behave themselves. Good behaviour, of course, being in this case defined by Mr. Kenney and his minions.

Moreover, despite his obvious decency, Dr. Starke is just as clearly not an unambitious man, as the retired Prairie veterinarian’s willingness last winter and spring to run for the PC leadership against Mr. Kenney, a former Harper Government cabinet minister who is not an MLA, made clear.

So if there was an opportunity for a future high-profile cabinet portfolio, I had thought Dr. Starke was likely to stick around to see what would happen.

But Dr. Starke didn’t stick around. He said yesterday he has told the Speaker of the Legislature he intends to continue to sit as a Progressive Conservative MLA as long as there’s a Progressive Conservative Party. If it ceases to exist, he’ll sit as an Independent.

That Dr. Starke only waited until the first available business day to tell us about his plans paints a vivid picture of the real state of conservative merger movement after what Postmedia’s Don Braid, apparently letting his enthusiasm get the better of him, hailed as “a massive a consensus.” Mr. Braid’s headline writer did him one better, accurately reflecting the tone of the column: The decision, the headline hyperventilated, was “a massive and historic vote for conservative unity in Alberta.”

It wasn’t just Mr. Braid. All day Sunday and yesterday supporters of the “United Conservative Party” merger and their media auxiliary were crowing about the effect the combined new UCP caucus would have on the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley. (Not much, actually, seeing as the electoral math of a majority government won’t change at all.)

The 22 Wildrose MLAs plus the seven PCs would add up to 29, we were repeatedly reminded. Well, make that 28, now that Dr. Starke has decided to bail out.

Yesterday morning, he issued the following statement his Facebook page, which deserves to be quoted in its entirety:

“After much consideration, I have decided that I will not join the United Conservative Party Caucus,” Dr. Starke wrote.

“When I made the decision to seek elected office in 2011, I promised the constituents of Vermilion-Lloydminster that I would hold to values and principles consistent with Progressive Conservatism – the values espoused by Peter Lougheed that first drew me to the Progressive Conservative party when I was in my teens.

“In both 2012 and 2015 I was nominated by the Vermilion-Lloydminster Progressive Conservative Association as their candidate, and elected by the people of Vermilion-Lloydminster as a Progressive Conservative MLA.

“At the conclusion of the PC Leadership campaign I was assured that my voice and those of the people who supported me would be welcomed by the new leadership. I took that assurance in good faith. My experience, and that of many like-minded party members who have left or been driven from the party, is that our views are not welcome, and that the values and principles we believe in will not be part of the new party going forward.” (Emphasis added.)

“I have no way of knowing whether the leadership and policies of the new party will align with the values and principles I ran and was elected on. Without certainty in that knowledge I cannot, in good conscience, sit as a member of that party.

“I have informed the Speaker and the Legislative Assembly Office of my intentions. My first responsibility remains unchanged – to represent the people of Vermilion-Lloydminster with the commitment and integrity they deserve.” He concluded: “I am honoured to continue this endeavour.”

For this, you can count on it, Dr. Starke will be viciously excoriated by Mr. Kenney’s followers for “disloyalty” to the conservative movement – although what he has decided to do, arguably, demonstrates the opposite.

UCP supporters may also say that one MLA is just one MLA, which is true enough. Surely, though, it is a symptom of the strains below the surface in the post-progressive era of Alberta conservatism that a respected MLA and former cabinet member like Dr. Starke would walk away from the party at this hour.

He elaborated a little on his reasons to the CBC, citing Mr. Kenney’s hostility to gay-straight alliances in schools, his refusal to take part in the Edmonton Pride Parade, and statements on social media from PC Party President Len Thom that compared the province’s social studies curriculum to Hitler Youth indoctrination.

“As a veterinarian, at some point if there are so many clinical signs, you have to make a diagnosis,” Dr. Starke observed bluntly.

Presumably all this means the PCs under Mr. Kenney wouldn’t have chosen Dr. Starke as interim UCP leader in any circumstances, but they did (as suggested here they might) choose Nathan Cooper, MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills and a former Wildrose staffer, for the job. Alas, Dr. Starke might have added Mr. Cooper’s past role as spokesperson for a social conservative group opposed to what it called the “homosexual agenda” to his list of concerns.

Now, UCP supporters may argue that a leadership race is yet to take place, and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, who lately has been trying to define himself as the candidate of the party’s progressives, will be running in it, so nothing is decided. You can believe that if you wish. But is said here Mr. Jean is no match for the Kenney juggernaut, which will crush him this fall just as it crushed Dr. Starke, Stephen Khan and Sandra Jansen last spring.

Premier Notley is another matter, of course, and while it is considered heresy in conservative and journalistic circles in Alberta to say so just now, a conservative party led by the baggage-laden Mr. Kenney and abandoned by respected Tories like Dr. Starke is not a slam dunk to defeat Ms. Notley and her New Democrats.

As the determinedly right-wing Kelly McParland of the National Post, of all people, admitted yesterday, “it’s no given that Alberta’s United Conservatives will manage to reclaim all the best offices at the legislature in Edmonton come 2019.”

Mr. McParland’s reasoning is the usual conservative elitist pishposh about how voters are so dumb they can be “bought with their own money.” They’re not, of course.

But they might – just might – ignore the PACed up big-money guys now dancing the Frankenparty fandango and recognize they’re getting pretty good government in very difficult circumstances from Premier Notley and her disciplined NDP caucus.

Mr. McParland moans: “What if Notley beats the united Tories anyway?” He calls this possibility “scary.” In light of what the UCP seems to represent, many Albertans may be starting to see this differently. Perhaps Dr. Starke is one of them.

Join the Conversation


  1. I happen to agree with Kelly McParland. Alexander Fraser Tytler said it best “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from Liberty to abundance; fron abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to apathy; from apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.” In my opinion human nature is very consistent!

    1. Although discouraging, Farmer B, this is an interesting point, and we are certainly seeing it happen here with regards to government services and a lack of willingness to pay for them. As a result we see the NDP running financial deficits, and former PC governments running infrastructure deficits. Neither is sustainable, but no one is willing to bring in the tax increase necessary to make up for lost energy revenue.

      I heard the radio show when Jim Prentice made his now infamous ‘look in the mirror’ comment, and thought he was bang on. The only thing Mr. Prentice said on that show that I thought was offensive was when he repeated a Ralph Klein mantra, ‘Do more with less’.

    2. Oh, thank you for finding a 19th century blowhard full of unfounded opinions. You’ve demonstrated that selfish entitled elitists have always made grandiose sweeping and incorrect pronouncements.

      Remember kids, this was way before Trump, Sheer, Harper and Rempel,

      “…democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy…”

      So, humanity’s problems cant be distilled to one stupidly simplistic pronouncement? I don’t think so.

      Relying on Tytler (Lord Woodhouselee) an elitist Scotsman lord to make your point doesn’t add any weight to your argument.

      Do your homework and find out who he was before quoting his equally stupid pronouncement about the fall of civilizations, which to him could be directly attributable to the “Moocher class.” That was his agenda.

      Tytler would have been right at home with the likes of Romney and the other modern-day selfish neocons.

      1. Ontario is a perfect example of a government’s ability to buy votes. An over doubling of government debt since 2003 and what is their latest solution? A trial of guaranteed minimum income. The more people on your government payroll the more guaranteed votes.

        1. I think an even more egregious example occurred right here. Give people $400 and they will venerate you for generations.

          1. Bob, it certainly appears that you and I agree that voters can be bought with their own money (apparently Dave disagrees). Due to our ideological differences you consider a poorly thought out $400 cheque from Ralph as a more accurate example of vote buying than my choice which would be the roughly $2500 per Albertan the NDP is putting us in debt per year of their mandate. On the plus side we do find areas of agreement 🙂

        2. Do you hear yourself?

          Only Ontario you say? What about Ralph Bucks? What about all the boutique tax breaks for the rich by Harper.

          Buying votes in almost a universal tradition.

        3. I don’t think it’s much different from voting yourself tax cuts, but still collecting on publicly funded services.

    3. Subtract the human from human nature and you have the reason why the definite cyclical pattern of the past is about to change: the remainder is the reminder: real nature is fixing human nature right now—and none of the phases you cite will recur in 200, 2000, or two million years.

      We still have some options, but the same old cycle ain’t one, not even one more time around.

      Good side is it might be alright—if we start now.

    1. BJ or JK need to immediately create a UCP GSA to help out UCP MLAs who’ll need support.

  2. The embarrassing part of Starke’s announcement is that it took him so long to realize that he was never cut out to be a member of this extremist alt-right Frankenparty — even with the telltale signs from past legislative sittings and the bozo-eruption filled PC leadership race.

    Had he read the tea leaves accurately, following the PC leadership contest, he would have come to this conclusion months ago. Now, no one will ever accuse Richard Starke of being sagacious — “nice guy” notwithstanding.

  3. Pretty sure I recall Dr. Starke standing up in the Legislature shortly after his leadership loss to Mr. Kenney and vociferously espousing the vindictive and hateful rhetoric of the Kenney clan regarding the conduct of the Notley government. Can’t say I agree with your assertion that Dr. Starke is a man of principle. He certainly wasn’t in that moment.

  4. When Donald Trump won the Republican nomination I was quite pleased. Surely such a bozo would never win a general election, thus a Democrat victory was all but assured. That line of thought didn’t turn out so well. I have to tell myself that every time I find myself thinking our province would never support such an extremist party.

    Meanwhile, Brian Jean, who I had thought might be emerging as a bit of a moderate, has targeted the uninformed segment of the new party by promising a referendum on the equalization program.

  5. The exclusion of Mr. Starke (and I do think he decided not to join because he did clearly get the message he was not welcome) will send a message to both moderate PC’s and Albertans about the type of party UCP is. The message is something like, “we don’t really need him and we don’t intend to compromise or be moderate”. As the old saying goes, you only get once chance to make a good first impression and I think this is the initial impression UCP will give voters, whether they intend to or not.

    Over 40% of Wildrose and PC members did not actually vote for unity, so I think UCP has some convincing to do and whether they realize it or not they can ill afford to lose PC support and they should not take it for granted. Unlike the Federal unification, the Alberta PC’s actually still got twice the percentage vote of their Federal counterparts and actually more votes than the Wildrose in their last respective elections. If a majority of PC voters decide to go elsewhere (and many are not rigid right wingers), UCP will fail. I don’t think they fully appreciate that in their current eagerness to appeal to the right wing.

    Part of the idea behind unification is to eliminate alternatives, so people have no choice but to vote for UCP. However, in politics there are always other choices – there are already several other parties eager and willing to reach out to disgruntled PC voters, and new parties may also even emerge from disgruntled Wildrosers.

    It was a mistake by UCP to push out Mr. Starke and it may be one of a series of missteps or misjudgements that results in Albertans eventually passing a different judgement on them than they want.

  6. Meanwhile, another PC MLA, Grande Prairie-Wapiti’s Wayne Drysdale, hopes this new party will resemble his old one: While like Dr Starke, Mr Drysdale (who held a number of cabinet posts during the previous PC governments) is a decent fellow with a strong compassionate streak, I’m afraid his naïveté on this is glaring. The new party will be nothing like the PCs.

    What is likely to happen, IMHO, is that they will suppress their so-con sides in order not to be blindsided by bozo eruptions at the next election. Instead, they will adopt a hard right fiscal and economic policy platform, advocating Klein-era slashing & burning of public services, along with slashing government revenues, already the lowest in Canada, even further by reversing
    some NDP tax fairness measures and repealing the carbon tax. Mr Drysdale will be sadly disappointed, although his Wildrose counterpart, Grande Prairie-Smoky MLA Todd Loewen, is likely to be happier with the outcome.

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