Raj Sherman needs to put up or shut up

By George Brown

Off the Record

If ousted PC MLA Raj Sherman is the new face of Alberta politics, as he has held himself out to be, then based on his legislative theatrics last week, politics in Alberta is in big trouble.

Sherman didn’t play well with others in the governing Progressive Conservative caucus and was thrown out last fall by Premier Ed Stelmach after criticizing the government’s mismanagement of the health care system.

A pipsqueak independent sitting in the backbenches, Sherman has now resorted to telling whoppers in the legislature to get attention. There, he is free from society’s rules of defamation. As an elected legislator he speaks with immunity when he rises in the House. It came as a shock to everyone when Sherman alleged doctors were paid millions in hush money between 2003-06 to keep quiet about long wait times for operations and the 250 Albertans who died waiting for lung cancer surgery.

That patients on wait lists for surgery die is not news, it’s not scandalous. It’s life. That there are more cancer patients than doctors and operating rooms can quickly accommodate is a management issue, not a political one, but Albertans can’t seem to separate the two.

Sherman promised to present documents in the legislature on March 7 to back up his incredible claims. He wants immunity for his sources — something the government would not provide. How could it? Unless these whistleblowers are high-ranking bureaucrats, the government has few direct employees. The health minister cannot promise the AMA, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, or other agencies wouldn’t take punitive action against a doctor who rocked the boat, mislead the government or took part in a coverup.

The former parliamentary secretary to the health minister did not walk the talk. He traipsed into the Alberta Legislature rotunda carrying a single cardboard box with recycled emails, faxes and letters from doctors, patients and their families detailing their concerns over health care wait times.

Certainly the health minister and the government must investigate these allegations — call in the auditor general to look into the financial allegations. Successive health ministers have been loath to deal with wait time problems in Alberta hospitals. Their solution has been to throw millions of dollars at the problem, hoping somehow the money would magically attach itself to the problems and make them go away.

After he brought to light last fall the problems with emergency room wait times, Sherman, himself an ER doctor, was a hero to anyone who had ever suffered the indignity of lying on a gurney in a hospital lobby. Seniors sent him cupcakes, children wanted to rename their schools in his name, and both Gordon Lightfoot and Bob Dylan were writing songs about this health care hero. But now, until he wheels a filing cabinet full of supporting documentation into the Legislature, he will be seen as another blowhard politician.

The onus is now on Sherman to provide some shred of evidence that there has been a coverup and that members of the old Capital Health board of directors were involved. He has smeared the medical community, health board members, politicians and ministers of the Crown and offered no proof. He has joined the leagues he has opposed as damaging the credibility of the health care system. He needs to put up or shut up. Where is his proof?

Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien hit the nail on the head: “A proof is a proof. What kind of a proof? It’s a proof. A proof is a proof. And when you have a good proof, it’s because it’s proven.”

We’ll know the proof when we see it.

But Sherman — outside the House where he has to choose his words carefully — said it is not up to him to prove there is a health care conspiracy. It’s up to the other doctors to come forward, preferably before a public inquiry.

Sherman is either right and can prove his allegations; a naïve rookie politician who has received bad advice; or a pitiful bully plotting to get back at the premier for throwing him out of caucus and into political oblivion.

One thing he is not is leadership material. Sherman has mused publicly about vying for the leadership of one of the many political parties now looking for a leader. With this idiotic legislative debacle on his resumé, what political party would want any part of him?

He’s a loose cannon without balls.