ALBERTA

Richard Starke, Alberta PC MLA, Refuses To Join Coalition With Wildrose Party

"I was elected as a Progressive Conservative member."

07/24/2017 16:53 EDT | Updated 07/24/2017 19:09 EDT
Dean Bennett/CP
Former Conservative MP Jason Kenney speaks at the Alberta Progressive Conservative party leadership forum while the other five leadership candidates, Stephen Khan, left to right, Sandra Jansen, Byron Nelson, Richard Starke and Donna Kennedy Glans listen in Red Deer on Nov. 5, 2016.

EDMONTON — Caucus members from Alberta's two conservative parties got together for the first time Monday, but one Progressive Conservative bowed out before the joint meeting even took place.

Richard Starke, legislature member for Vermilion-Lloydminster, said he has not been happy with policy direction under PC Leader Jason Kenney and has no faith that will change under the new United Conservative Party.

Members of the Opposition Wildrose party and the Progressive Conservatives voted in a landslide on the weekend to join forces ahead of the next election set for 2019. The new party must still be registered with Elections Alberta.

"The tone and the direction and the statements of the (PC) party are not consistent with what I believe to progressive conservatism,'' Starke said in an interview.

Facebook/Richard Starke MLA Vermilion-Lloydminster
Progressive Conservative MLA Richard Starke says he will not join the party's new coalition with the Wildrose party.

"It's demonstrating a hardness in its attitude towards a number of issues, and a level of partisanship that I don't think is constructive, and I don't think is helpful for the people of Alberta.''

He cited Kenney's comments earlier this year on gay-straight alliances in schools. Gay straight alliances are student-organized support networks to help LGBTQ students feel welcome.

Kenney had said that schools should inform parents if their children join an alliance as long as it doesn't put the child at risk. Critics said that would effectively out a child and could put them at harm of family estrangement or worse.

The tone and the direction and the statements of the (PC) party are not consistent with what I believe to progressive conservatism.Richard Starke

"As far as I'm concerned (the GSA legislation) is there to protect vulnerable students and to be ambiguous as to whether schools would be informing parents is a fundamental problem,'' said Starke.

He said he was also concerned that Kenney did not attend Pride events last month. Starke went in his place.

Starke, a two-term member of the legislature, ran and lost against Kenney for the PC party leadership on a platform of social progressivism.

He said he has concerns with Kenney's management style and focused on a promise Kenney made after his leadership win in March.

Kenney promised the PC executive to strike a committee that would advise the bargaining team that ultimately brokered a merger with the Opposition Wildrose led by Brian Jean, Starke said.

"I wanted to be on that committee and I was told I would be on that committee. That committee never met and was never constituted.''

That underscored a lack of interest in competing viewpoints, suggested Starke, who added he will stay on to sit in the legislature as the lone PC member.

Elections Alberta said he will be allowed to do so unless the PC party officially deregisters. The PC brand is to be legally subsumed by the new party and member Mike Ellis said Starke's status isn't clear.

Kenney's team declined comment.

On Monday afternoon, 22 members of the Wildrose and the seven remaining Tories held a joint meeting near the legislature and selected Wildrose house leader Nathan Cooper as interim leader until a permanent one is selected Oct. 28.

Other positions and critic portfolios are to be set in the days to come, Cooper said.

Asked about Starke's decision, Cooper noted that policies are not set, but will be hashed out and voted on by the membership.

"I hope he will think about that in the days to come.''

Jean, Kenney and conservative strategist Doug Schweitzer have already indicated they will run in the leadership race.