Raj Sherman is not crazy.
OK, maybe anybody who wants to lead the Alberta Liberals has to be just a little bit crazy, but I’m talking about real, certifiable, lock-‘em-up loony. Raj Sherman is not a candidate for the rubber room, despite what you might have heard if you’ve been around Alberta politics for any length of time. Rumours are mother’s milk to politics, and Sherman has been the subject of more than his fair share.
If you’re reading this blog, you know Raj Sherman: Renegade MD story. He was elected in 2008 as a PC MLA in Meadowlark (no, he did not run against me; I didn’t run for re-election) on a mandate of fixing the health care system from the inside. He had a spectacular falling out with the ruling party (among other concerns, he is convinced that the PCs are planning to privatize the health care system) that dominated the political agenda for weeks, and turned Sherman into a political star. He sat as an independent while every party from the Wildrose to the NDP to the Socreds wooed him, before choosing to join the Liberals. He is now one of five in the running for the leadership.
As a member of the Liberal party, I’ve been pondering who to vote for in the leadership race. To be honest, Sherman was not on my radar because of the stories I heard about him, and his rather late conversion to the ALP cause. Last Friday, I was having coffee with my dad at a McDonald’s (Hey, I’m unemployed. It’s what we do.) when in walked Steve, an old Liberal supporter I know. He waxed enthusiastic about Sherman, but I told him I was skeptical. He told me I had to meet with him to get the full story.
Well, lo and behold, later that night I get a call from Raj Sherman. We set up a coffee date for the next day (Starbucks this time) for a no-holds-barred discussion.
This was my first meeting with Sherman, and I was a little unprepared for the hurricane that is Raj Sherman. ER doctor, politician, athlete, coach, house builder, would-be opposition leader, Raj Sherman is not the type of guy to do things in half-measures. I had expected to chat for about an hour; he was still going strong after two-and-a-half hours. I had to take a pee break at the 90-minute mark.
We talked about a lot of stuff — his Liberal credentials (solid federally, weaker provincially), his plans for the party (he wants a candidate in every riding and has big election plans), his campaign (signing up lots of new members), his interactions with the other Liberal MLAs (solid, he says) — but what I really wanted to ask about were the rumours, specifically one that goes that he snapped in the ER at the Royal Alex, and had to be restrained by security.
According to Sherman, here’s the real story.
In 1999, fed up with a deteriorating system at the Royal Alex, Sherman became a persistent thorn in the side of the administration. That year, based on what he says was an unfounded complaint from a patient (which he says he was never shown) he was told to leave the hospital because he was incapable of performing his duties as a doctor. He’s convinced it was just a way to get rid of a troublesome doc.
Shortly after being told not to come into work, in October 1999, Sherman found himself suffering the classic signs of a heart attack. He went to ER at the Royal Alex, and was found to have sky-high blood pressure. He was convinced he was on the verge of a heart attack, but the attending doctor disagreed. Angry that he wasn’t getting the care he desperately needed, he told the doctor that he was going to voluntarily discharge himself and go to the University Hospital. But the doctor “made the presumption that I was crazy”, he says, and filled out a mental health certificate, which gives the doctor the right to restrain a patient for their own good. Sherman says security guards tied him to his bed to keep him from leaving. Forty-five minutes later, a psychiatrist showed up and revoked the certificate because he did not find Sherman to be either manic or psychotic. If the psychiatrist had also signed the form, Sherman would have been held for 72 hours, and his career as a doctor would most certainly have been over.
After being released, Sherman went home, thinking “I can’t even get medical care in my own province.” In December, while in Quebec, he ended up in the cardiac ward for three days. He took a voluntary leave of absence from the hospital to get his health back.
And so, the legend of Raj Sherman wigging out in emergency was born.
Sherman says has all the paperwork to prove his story (and was prepared to launch a $5 million suit against the province until he was talked out of it), and the mere fact that he was allowed to continue to practice medicine certainly corroborates his story. He says there are no complaints filed against him with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, he has been given a clean bill of health by the same organization. He still works every Sunday in ER, and says that after 100,000 patients, there isn’t a single complaint against him with the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
And finally, as Sherman points out, if he really did have a psychotic episode and mental health skeletons in his closet, would the provincial Tories have wooed him to join the party, and run in Meadowlark? Good point.
The health scare has a happy ending. Realizing that his life was out of whack, Sherman cut out nights in ER, took up yoga and vegetarianism, got back into sports, and basically turned his health around. But it’s clear in conversation with Sherman that the whole incident, which goes back a dozen years now, still angers him enough that it almost brings his blood pressure back up.
Raj Sherman has felt the wrath of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, and not only lived to tell about it, but thrived. The Tories tried to destroy his reputation by launching a whisper campaign about his mental health, which only served, ironically, to bolster his public image.
So is Raj Sherman the right person to run the Liberal party today? I still don’t know.
You’ve heard of Type A personalities? Raj Sherman is a Type AAA. He is the type of person who would attract and alienate people in equal numbers. But with his knowledge of how the Tories work and where the health care skeletons are buried, he could be the PCs’ worst nightmare. (He promises a knockout punch in an election debate if former health minister Gary Mar is the PC leader.) And he certainly breaks the mold of the two most recent Liberal leaders, David Swann and Kevin Taft, who were both cerebral, soft-spoken men essentially devoid of ego. Sherman is sharp, but he’s not the retiring type and his ego is, shall we say, robust.
I can’t say if Raj Sherman is the right person for the job right now (I admire both Hugh MacDonald and Laurie Blakeman), but I’m convinced that he’s not crazy, and has never been crazy … running for the Liberal leadership to the contrary.