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Meet Alberta PC leadership candidate Richard Starke: Thoughtful, centrist, kind to animals...and thus probably doomed

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Richard Starke

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, 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 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.

Stelmach was also honourable, thoughtful, sensible and cautiously centrist. Stelmach came from Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, the mostly rural riding right next door to Vermilion-Lloydminster directly to the west. When 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 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, 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 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 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 Starke? Ummmmm...well, he was briefly a cabinet member under 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, 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.

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 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," 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." 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 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. 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's he? -- Ed.) a Calgary lawyer. If Nelson has a campaign website, I didn't find it. ByronNelson.ca 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, 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.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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