By KEN CHAMPAN
It’s been about two months now since Dr. Raj Sherman was expelled from the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. A lot happened leading up to that event and a lot more has happened since. There is a potential for a political game-changer in Alberta depending on what MLA Sherman decides to do about his political future.
Behind the scenes, Alberta’s political culture is proving to be both chaotic and volatile — all political parties feel the political landscape shifting beneath their feet as the governing Tories prepares for a budget, a new session and an election. Albertans are showing a renewed interest in politics because the election outcome — it is to be held in March 2012, or sooner if Premier Ed Stelmach can find a reason or a ruse — outcome is not a foregone conclusion this time.
Expelled from Tory caucus.
The open question in the meantime is: What will Raj Sherman do?
Sherman was expelled from the Tory caucus last November for lashing out at his own party’s health policies.
If his goal is to fix the health care crisis and reform the system, he has six options. He is running again so that eliminates the option of quitting politics and returning to medicine. He can stay independent but that is unlikely. Sherman recognizes it is hard to make real change and get re-elected as a lone wolf in our political system.
Returning to the PCs comes with conditions imposed by the party, not the least of which is a retraction of his comments and that he apologize to former health minister Ron Liepert for saying he was “rude” to front line health care staff. The last is a silly condition considering the severity of the real health care issues Sherman wants to tackle. But that bridge to the PCs is pretty much burned. Any effort to repair that damage will require him to quit talking to the public and that takes away any capacity to achieve his health care reform agenda.
He could join the Liberals or the NDP. He would have no trouble sustaining media attention in the NDP, at least for a while. Sherman would only have influence as an NDP MLA. But as there is no realistic scenario for the NDP to form government, what would be the point? The Alberta Liberals are a good philosophical fit but they are in such internal turmoil they can’t focus attention, get traction or have any serious political momentum in the next election. They should be soaring in popularity as the alternative given the hard shift to the right by both the PCs and Wildrose Alliance and their leader is a physician in the face of the public outcry for health care reform. Seems unlikely the Liberals are a serious political alternative for Sherman if he wants to make a difference now.
That leaves the Wildrose Alliance Party and the Alberta Party. Again there is no easy answer for Sherman. The Wildrose Alliance has some political momentum but a history towards privatizing health care, even though current party policy tries to deny that history and intent. Could a social progressive like Sherman fit in the hardcore social conservative Wildrose caucus? They don’t even share the same fiscal philosophy. Sherman is not a libertarian, monetarist, climate change denier, all core values of the Wildrose Alliance. But if Wildrose is destined to be the next government, perhaps Sherman can cut a deal to be free to do what he wants, say what he wants and still stop any Wildrose privatization process. He is new to party politics, but he is not so naive to think any such deal is easy to get or to enforce.
Most likely to stay independent?
Finally there is the Alberta Party. This new citizens’ movement of moderate and progressive Albertans is intent on providing a viable political alternative to the Wildrose Alliance and PCs. Sherman has the best fit philosophically here but he has to determine if the Alberta Party is a flash in the pan or a real deal that he can help form and configure from the ground floor. The Alberta Party is in the middle of a grassroots policy development process, a province wide constituency organization drive and is just starting its leadership race to be decided in Edmonton on May 28. Can the Alberta Party be ready and able; not just willing to be competitive in the March 2012 election? Yet another gamble for the good doctor in his quest for effective health care reform and a better democracy for Alberta.
Sherman will probably stay Independent for a while and keep talking to Albertans, the Wildrose and the Alberta Party while he bides his time. For maximum political and policy impact he should decide which party he will join before the next session starts in late February. Stay tuned Alberta. This is far from over and promises to get even more interesting.
Ken Chapman is a policy consultant, lawyer, blogger and member of the Alberta Party. Troy Media