Sorry, but Raj Sherman doesn’t have what it takes to be a party leader

Raj Sherman lets your blogger know what he thinks about this post.

Let’s just spit out the obvious: Raj Sherman doesn’t have what it takes to be a successful party leader.

Raj Sherman is a nice guy. The former Conservative MLA, kicked out of caucus last November, has done Albertans a great service by highlighting some of the serious problems with our health care system. But, to repeat, he just doesn’t have what is required to succeed at party leadership, let alone get elected leader.

His comments on Saturday are powerful evidence of this.

Late Saturday night, the Edmonton Journal posted a story on its website stating that Dr. Sherman had announced at a public forum on health care in Medicine Hat he was looking around for a party to lead, and by the sound of it he didn’t particularly care which one.

From the tone of the story it sounded as if the former Parliamentary Assistant for Health, then the only physician in Premier Ed Stelmach’s government, now imagines that whichever party chooses him as its leader will automatically become the next government of Alberta as a consequence.

“In the next month or so,” the Journal’s reporter stated in the traditional tone of spurious authority cultivated by all successful journalists, “Sherman said he plans to sit down with representatives of the three parties currently seeking new leaders: the Progressive Conservatives, Alberta Liberals and Alberta Party. … ‘Once I announce, I am running to eventually be premier of the province,’ Sherman said. ‘Make no mistake about it.’”

Duly noted. And since professional journalists aren’t allowed to laugh out loud, I’ll be the bearer of bad news: That’s not the way it’s going to work.

For a time there, Dr. Sherman, who still works occasional shifts as an Emergency Room physician in addition to his duties as the now-Independent MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark, was just about the most popular politician in the province.

His popularity was the result of his taking a public stand against his own Conservative party on health care at a time the entire system seemed to be crumbling. It was also partly the result of sympathy for the appalling way some members of his own party treated him, phoning up senior physicians and wondering aloud about his mental health, appearing to reconcile with him, then kicking him out of caucus, and so on.

But while that sort of thing may give a politician a bump in the public opinion polls, a leader it does not make.

Indeed, Dr. Sherman’s remarks Saturday suggest he is a man who has been reading his own press clippings and taking them too seriously. As they used to say when they crowned a pope, “sic transit gloria mundi!” Dr. Sherman may still be drawing crowds on his health-care road trip, but here’s a guess more folks come out to satisfy their curiosity than be inspired.

For things have changed since Dr. Sherman was kicked out of caucus on Nov. 22. The unpopular CEO of Alberta Health Services has been fired. The premier himself has announced he’s stepping down. And, whatever the reality behind the curtain, AHS’s new leadership seems to be doing its job with considerably less public uproar.

Regardless of why he still draws a crowd, there are other reasons Dr. Sherman is not cut out to be a party leader.

First, while he has a following among the public, he has none within any political party. Remember, it’s connected party insiders, not apolitical members of the public, who ultimately choose leaders. Even in a party that sells memberships for $5 a pop, a candidate still needs volunteers, strategists and fund-raisers.

Second, he is not tough enough. When he was skidded by Premier Stelmach, the hurt showed in his face. Related to this, perhaps, Dr. Sherman is mercurial and impulsive. The email to the world that led to his firing was not carefully thought out. Then he apologized. Then he went back to criticizing his leader. Having an emotional side is one thing; flying off the handle because you’re tired from a long trip and frustrated by a loved one’s health is not a sign of strong leadership.

Third, while Dr. Sherman is not unique in missing this obvious fact, parties, their platforms and their traditions matter. Notwithstanding their historical ability to win elections, that’s why a lot of Albertans are not Conservatives.

Dr. Sherman acts as if it doesn’t matter which party he chooses – or which one makes him the best offer. He acts as if nothing matters except the fact he’ll be premier and he’ll be able to fix everything. Well, maybe he’s onto something when he names the Tories, the Alberta Liberals and the Alberta Party as likely parties to lead, because in reality all three aren’t all that far apart on a lot of issues. But they still have differences and those differences matter.

By contrast, both the New Democrats and the Wildrose Alliance have dramatically different approaches to fixing health care. Voters should decide which one to vote for based on their policies, something Dr. Sherman appears to have missed.

Moreover, party members generally want a leader who has a history with their party, shares its values and has supported its leaders. The Tories themselves are divided on public health care, so as a public health supporter Dr. Sherman can argue he is in the mainstream there. I am not so sure he makes the grade with any of those three parties on the other issues.

Finally, while Dr. Sherman is obviously a bright and well-educated man, he doesn’t have all the answers to Alberta’s health care crisis. Alberta wouldn’t be helped by a leader who thought he did, which is the way Dr. Sherman sounds right now.

There’s still plenty wrong with health care delivery in Alberta. Dr. Sherman is a strong voice for public health care with an important role to play.

Not as a party leader, though. Not as court jester either, which is where he’s going to end up if he isn’t careful.

This post also appears on rabble.ca.

10 Comments on "Sorry, but Raj Sherman doesn’t have what it takes to be a party leader"

  1. Duncan says:

    Intresting article… truth is I don't disagree no matter how much respect I have for Dr. Sherman

  2. Anonymous says:

    David, I like your commentaries, but you are way off course on this one! Sherman is doing the right thing by carefully deliberating where to make his new political home. He knows he will not be effective, nor will he be able to bring any sort of solution creating change as a backbencher, or getting de-nutted by joining the PC Boneyard called the Alberta Party.

    I can respect your allegiance to Unions and I am a union guy myself, I do see the merits and excesses of them. This all comes down to money, the RW wants no taxes and low royalties, the Unions want high wages, all of this comes on the backs of the middle class public.

    For everybody its all about money, everybody wants to bleed cash, but no body wants to appropriate enough of it to negotiate how much should goto education, health and infrastructure. The Right, the center and Left are all corrupt.

    You know exactly what I am talking about, how is a guy who is above all of the BS supposed to work with parties that are all inherently seeking their own interest$, rather than that of the people at large. The votes obviously play a large part. Nobody wants to negotiate fairly with money, everybody wants more than their share and work as less as possible. We are corrupt as a society and inherently, there are almost none in politics that can rise above that. Sherman is one such individual, who can rise above all of that.

    Your article clearly is intended to blackball him, that is fine. But if a pigfarmer, athlete or a drunk can become a leader, a DR. with intelligents is miles above them and probably many steps ahead in the thought process than you realize.

  3. David Harrigan says:

    I am unconvinced. Maybe Raj has what it takes to be a leader. Maybe it is time for a nice guy. Maybe it is time for a softie who shows hurt. Maybe it is time for someone who speaks the truth impulsively.

    When he sent his 3 a.m. email, he probably didn't intend to point out to the world that the emperor had no clothes. But he did, and showed that the PC Government had no clue about health care.

    Perhaps I missed it, but I have heard no outrage from the PC, Alberta, or Liberal Parties about Raj's latest public musings.

    From this I conclude that once Raj has, intentionally or otherwise, once again called a spade a spade. Seems there is no real ideological differences between those three groups. Raj did't miss that people should vote based on policies – he pointed out there are no real differences between those three groups.

    Preference for social media vrs talk radio vrs upper middle class back slapping are not ideological differences.

    daveberta.ca has a great Venn digram about Danielle Smith and Ted Morton. Maybe we need to see one about the three parties.

    I have never heard Raj claim to have all the answers. I have heard him willing to speak the truth, even if it doesn't fit with political orthodoxy.

    Personally, I could not support any of the three parties he is considering.

    But if honesty, even the naivest, gets one assigned to court jester status, it is a sad day.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I believe he would bolster any party he decided to join. He would definitely give the Libs a much needed face lift and option to the mouth piece currently running. The Alberta Party needs direction and would quickly organize behind him, they're a mess. I really hope it's not the PC's, the most corrupt group around. Your motivation here as a disgruntled NDP undermines your credibility and i'm not the only one who has pointed out your smear job. The obvious thing is it won't be for you yahoos, why do you think he didn't mention you. The NDP will continue in last place, time to be delisted like the Greens.

  5. Anonymous says:

    David, the bar of public service and competancy of politicians and political will is so low in this province, especially given the low intelligence quotient in politics today, is it any wonder, the most intelligent and liked and powerful, according to your own words, politician in a long time has to take the time to think where he should go to park his allengiance?

    I don't blame the guy one bit. If is aiming for top job, obviously he has vision that the other's don't.

  6. jerrymacgp says:

    I think Dr. Sherman is putting the cart before the horse. He should decide whether to join a party, and then which one. Once he has a membership card, he should then decide whether to run for the leadership of that party, assuming of course the position is open at the time (for example, if he were to join the NDP, he would need to wait until Brian decided to step aside).

  7. Shamanthi says:

    It was interesting to read this and I am wondering if some of what he stated was taken out of context. I cannot see him blindly joining any party without valid assessment of how well it fits his values. Having a clear vision to be premier one day is a positive goal for himself. Whether he gets there or how he gets there is yet to be seen. :)

    He's already being deployed out of one political arena, I do not think he would want the same experience in another. Like you said, he is intelligent and appears to be a nice guy. I actually like that he shows emotion and compassion for others. I even admire him for saying it regardless of the outcome. It takes courage to act alone and stand alone. One can only state the truth; one cannot control other people's reaction to it. History has repeatedly shown us this.

    Apologizing if he believed he could have handled the situation better was not a sign of weakness to me. To have and show humility is better than the arrogance I have witnessed in many of our political leaders. I requested he come and speak at our AGM because he chose to risk the success of his political career to represent the needs of the people that elected him in the first place. I am actually looking forward to seeing what this man has to say about his own motivations.

    In my opinion, if we do not like the way this government leads, then we must set an example and govern ourselves differently. Raj is doing this and because of his lack of political experience he will make mistakes. Lets just hope that he will recover from them rather than become the court jester.

  8. Anonymous says:

    @Shamanthi,

    The only court jesters, are the PC's in the legislature. The biggest jesters are the quiety ones that do little to stickup for the average AB, but instead choose party loyalty over public loyalty. The true jesters are our leaders and their inablity to govern and their inablity to solve societie's problems. There is an over microscoping of Dr. Sherman's little and few comments will diminished focus on his principled stand to serve the public and the greater good. If we can forgive drunken politicians that cry because they got drunk (G. Campbell and R. Klein) and caught, surely we can forgive a politician that crys for his fellow man, given as an ER doc, he has seen the suffering of mankind in the ER, suffering of aboriginals, seniors and the poor and the rest of society that suffers waiting in the ER. This is a man of fundamental compassion. The problem with our society and media is that we don't reward kindness, honesty and intellgence, we reward abrasiveness and bad behavior.

    As journalists and media criticisors, we have lost our moral compass to improve society. We only care about politics and money, any care damn about the disparity and suffering. Some do and they don't deserve our wrath upon expressing themselves.

  9. Ian says:

    My only disagreement is with your first point. Outsiders can (but rarely, e.g. when the party is nosediving) win. Christy Clark (albeit not a complete outsider to the BC Liberals, but distanced enough in the past few years) won the BC Liberals leadership with 1 sitting MLA endorsing her and a ton of public support. Don't discount Sherman on that principle.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Raj doesn't even have what it takes to be an MLA. He should resign!

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