The other leadership race: Can the Alberta Liberals survive Raj Sherman as leader?

Your blogger with Dr. Sherman, back in the day. Below: Hugh MacDonald, Laurie Blakeman.

Can the Alberta Liberals survive the election of Raj Sherman as their leader?

This question has to be asked because the probability now seems quite high that Dr. Sherman will in fact win the Liberal leadership on Sept. 10.

Dr. Sherman has said and various media have reported that the former Tory MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark has registered about 18,000 of the party’s approximately 27,000 eligible voters. The number of eligible voters is so high for a party with low membership and relatively weak support because the party adopted rules that allow even non-party-members to vote without paying a fee.

And Dr. Sherman is without doubt popular among many members of the Alberta general public, thanks to his very public rebellion last fall against Premier Ed Stelmach and the rest of the Conservative caucus over their handling of the health care file. The perception that a campaign was orchestrated against him by Tory insiders who tried to question his mental stability hasn’t hurt his Liberal candidacy, given the party’s liberal voting rules, one bit!

In addition, Dr. Sherman is an engaging and intelligent man whom people tend to react to with favour. As an Emergency Room physician involved in a high-profile battle with his own party over health policy, a lot of Albertans give him some credit for knowing what he’s talking about. So, unlike all of the other candidates – including a couple of veteran Alberta Liberal MLAs who have served their party well through thick and thin – he now possesses extremely high name recognition.

Moreover, none of his opponents seem to have been able to inspire the public imagination. Opposing him are the two hardworking but relatively low-profile Liberal representatives – Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald and Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman – and two virtual unknowns from Calgary, Bill Harvey and Bruce Payne. Mr. Payne is both an evangelical preacher and trade unionist, and Mr. Harvey seems determined to occupy a position to the right of the Wildrose Alliance.

So it is said here that if all those voters show up in 11 days, high name recognition plus a wide-open voting process plus lots of supporters from outside the party’s traditional ranks plus low-impact opponents will add up to a slam-dunk victory for Dr. Sherman when the Liberals replace outgoing leader Dr. David Swann, also a physician.

That will generate some headlines, but it ain’t necessarily good news for the Alberta Liberal Party. This is because there are several pretty obvious problems with Dr. Sherman as a leader from the Liberals’ perspective.

Above all, he’s a one-issue politician who doesn’t really care about the party or any other policy except his prescriptions for health care. What’s more, while lots of potential Liberal leadership voters may be comfortable with his insistence that he’s the guy with all the answers, one imagines a shrewd opponent could work pretty effectively with that in a general election.

Remember, this is a guy who said, apparently without irony, that “within 24 months, I can fix the health system. … I am the national expert.”

Related to this is the fact that Dr. Sherman is not really a Liberal – he’s a Tory who became an Independent when he had a very public bust-up over health policy with the party under whose banner he ran.

Some readers will ask, what’s the big deal? And it’s true, lots of politicians change horses in mid-stream in Alberta politics. But the Liberals, who for years have managed to hang on to a deeply loyal core vote mostly in the Edmonton area, are in very shaky condition right now. There’s another party – the Alberta Party – that essentially shares their program and includes many of their former members. Their caucus appears to be crumbling at a moment when it should have been able to hope to make significant gains.

In such circumstances, can the Alberta Liberals really thrive under a leader who could care less about traditional Liberal values and positions, let alone traditions, and whose legislative interest does not extend beyond one single policy area?

Finally, there is the delicate matter of Dr. Sherman’s mercurial nature. There is no doubt that he was treated shabbily by some members of his former party, who really seem to have made an effort to spread the notion he was suffering from mental instability. His credibility was not hurt by the media revelations soon thereafter that such accusations seemed to be standard operating procedure in certain quarters when any physician dared to criticize the health care system.

But no sensible person can read Dr. Sherman’s Nov. 17, 2010, email without thinking that, at the very least, sending it was an impulsive decision that displayed questionable judgment.

This combination of factors bodes ill for the Alberta Liberals if they choose Dr. Sherman over Mr. MacDonald or Ms. Blakeman, both of whom have what it would take to preserve the party’s traditional vote and lead it through this difficult period until a more charismatic leader emerges.

It seems probable that if this speculation is right and Dr. Sherman wins, the party will enjoy a small boost from the media attention that will follow the election. It will likely last about a week – until the Conservative leadership vote seven days later generates its own excitement.

It seems unlikely Dr. Sherman will be able to sustain things much longer than that with a one-issue campaign, and that traditional party supporters will abandon ship soon thereafter with an impulsive captain unconcerned about their ideas and traditions at the helm. Indeed, signs of such fissures were becoming apparent at the final party all-candidates’ forum, last night in Calgary.

If this happens, it will be a disaster for the party, and quite possibly the end of the Alberta Liberals.

Sorry, but no matter how good he looks this week, Raj Sherman still doesn’t have what it takes to be a successful Liberal leader and the Liberals will regret it if they choose him.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

9 Comments on "The other leadership race: Can the Alberta Liberals survive Raj Sherman as leader?"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Dave, sorry, but this is a baseless, pxss poor article. Union contract negotiations must be coming up and this article has taken the lowest common denominator and threw it at this man. Dont' feed me no crxp about not wanting to post or talk about associations, it is very relevant to the votes and the money involved and the extremely biased nature of this article. Let's call a spade a spade. Did the Tories ask somebody from the left, associated with Unions, who have some upcoming contract negotiations to help them shape public opinion or throw their votes in a particular direction, its happened before, isn't that how stelmach got voted in? Give your head a shake your stand and where its coming from is about as clear as a glass of water. It is the collective acts that defines a man, you have completely lost touch with that and sought to malign him personally. Is it any wonder, any barely reads the drivel here? Everyone is dirty here, its time to cleanup. One article's baseless opinion is neither relevant, or based on any merit. Have a nice day.

  2. Democracy Watcher says:

    When Sherman left the Tories, you called him the most "powerful man in Alberta politics" almost the same week, he chose not to join the NDP, but the Liberals and then you were saying "he is not a leader". Not much different today. Sherman united the entire opposition, including the WRA, the NDP and Libs on numerous occassions. On that alone, not to mention that this man has literally challenged the entire gov't himself, HE is THE Leader to lead Alberta. If a drunk, a pig farmer or a jock can do it, and given what sherman has done for advocating for Albertans, he has more than proven his mettle and brass and shown to be more than fit for command.

  3. workeradvocate says:

    Rabble babble bibble babble. Your article is riddled with innuendo, laced with inferences and shameless self promotion.

    Raj Sherman will transform the Alberta Liberal party and will transform politics in Alberta. He is articulate, 'profilic', talented, prolific and refreshing.

    He knows 'where the skeletons are hanging' and at the very least is not afraid to talk about it. [remember Lyle Oberg aka Alliance reformatory]

  4. Alberta Watcher says:

    The Sherman tank is coming through, I hope it squashes and snaps the pcs down the middle. He is the only credible man in politics today and for the last 10 years. Sherman is THE ONE who can transform Alberta into something much better. I trust him.

  5. Anonymous says:

    What a terrible article. David, you've slipped, and slipped badly.

    You seem to have ignored Bruce Payne–probably because he's the biggest threat to you and the NDP.

    You've thrown up baseless thoughts and pointless observations. This seems like a blog posting made less out of a will to make a good, informative piece than to cough up some NDP hackery.

    David, I'm not impressed.

  6. Chris LaBossiere says:

    David:

    Looks like you have upset some of the Sherman supporters. Fans perhaps.

    I don't have a horse in this race, but I share your concern about Sherman's ability to truly lead this party. My considerable experience working with Dr. Sherman in the fall, where on any given day he was joining the Alberta Party, leading it, rejoining the PC Party or leading it, (the Alberta Liberals were a late option for him), I found he lacked the personal conviction to a party as much as to his personal role in politics.

    I think he's brilliant in many ways, but I wouldn't trust him to lead a team, let alone do the important work of being on one. I'm no fan of the Liberal Party, but I would think they would be lucky to have a leader who at least respects the TEAM behind the "for the people" brand they have built. Both MacDonald or Blakeman represent that.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Wow, Dave, your blog sure got the Sherman camp's attention! Too bad they don't seem inclined to deal with the substance of what you say. I'll take anyone whom says they can fix healthcare inside of twelve months with a very big grain of salt. Especially when his solutions are basically to pay doctors more.

  8. Whiners says:

    @anon(August 31, 2011 10:33 PM)

    Sherman said he would fix healthcare in 24 months and you are wrong, he DID say, Dr.s do not need more money. He said we need more focus on primary care, that means a restructuring with change of management.

    @ChrisLaboissier, like Dave Climenhaga, you guys are sour grapes he did not join guys. BTW, Chris, you will never called on to do anything great. If you can look past your sour grapes and jealousy, what Sherman did WAS great, NOT one politician ever stood up for Albertans in this way. To me, that speaks volumes. Politics is more than parties, it is about serving society and the people.

    Sorry Chris, neither you or any of the AB party will be fit to lead a cow. What one single politician from any party, any individual can touch what Sherman has done? You guys have been outclassed and outshined and can't handle it. Cheer up buckaroo's perhaps in a 100yrs, maybe NDP or AP will come to office, but NOT today.

  9. Ronmac says:

    "The Sherman tank is coming through, I hope it squashes and snaps the pcs down the middle…"

    Bad analogy. The Sherman were probably the worst tanks in WWII. High profile, easy target, a tendency to burst into flames when hit…they didn't call them Ronsons for nothing.

    You sure don't want a leader who will "flameout" when the going gets tough.

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