EDMONTON – Alberta Progressive Conservative house leader Richard Starke officially kicked off his campaign for the party leadership Thursday, saying the way forward is fixing the party, not melding it with the Wildrose.
“They’re two different parties. They’re two different cultures,” said Starke, who made the announcement in front of friends and supporters at a community hall in north Edmonton.
“A pursuit of a merger with the Wildrose is putting power ahead of principle. It is solely a mechanism to try to seek and gain political power.”
Starke was one of two candidates to make their bids official Thursday.
In Calgary, former PC legislature member Donna Kennedy-Glans announced she will run in the race, which will see a new leader picked in a delegated vote in Calgary on March 18.
Kennedy-Glans, in an interview, also said she believes, and supporters are telling her, that uniting the right is “not a pathway forward.”
Instead, she said, she is focusing on a five-point plan to rebuild bridges with party members and centrist voters and re-energize constituency associations.
“We lost a lot of votes to the left in the last election,” said Kennedy-Glans, an energy executive and consultant and a one-time PC MLA in Calgary Varsity.
“Those people voted in protest.”
The campaign race officially kicks off Saturday.
Former Calgary MP Jason Kenney and Calgary lawyer Byron Nelson are also running.
Kenney is running on a platform to dissolve the PC party and seek a merger with Wildrose to create a new conservative entity to defeat Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP in the 2019 election.
However, some segments of the party don’t see the Wildrose as a good fit, given that while both are fiscally conservative, the Wildrose are further to the right on social issues.
Nelson has said he doesn’t see a merger with the Wildrose as a solution.
Kenney has been campaigning since early July.
He has said if he wins the leadership, the merger question will be taken to PC rank and file. Members voted at the annual general meeting this past spring to not merge but to instead rebuild the party, which lost to the NDP last year after more than four decades in power.
While Starke and Kennedy-Glans disagree with Kenney on where to take the PCs, they all agree that Notley’s economic policies, particularly high debtloads, have made a bad situation much worse.
With low oil prices driving up job losses and budget deficits, the NDP have instituted a number of measures, including a broad-based carbon tax, hikes to minimum wages, billions of dollars more for capital spending, a boost to the corporate tax and a cut to the small business tax.
Alberta’s deficit this year will be almost $11 billion and the debt will be about $58 billion by the end of the decade.
Starke said a measured approach is needed.
“If you’re driving a car on glare ice, you don’t start hitting the gas and hitting the brakes and steering all over. You just hold her steady,” he said.
Glans said she is hearing the same message in Calgary.
“We have to get people back to work and we have to be really creative about how we do it,” she said.
“Every time you increase your debt, you reduce your options.”