The PC race from one Liberal’s view.

As a Liberal party supporter, I am disappointed — and a little worried — by the results of the first round of balloting to replace Ed Stelmach as captain of the unsinkable Ship Tory.

I was hoping Ted Morton would make a better showing — even winning. This has nothing to do with who I want to see as premier, and everything to do with who I wanted to see lead the Tories into the next election.

From a Liberal point of view, Doug Horner is preferable, Gary Mar troubling, and Allison Redford is a potential neutron bomb that would destroy the party. Let me explain.

The elimination of Terrible Teddy Morton from the race spells the end of Morton as a force in the PC party, and the end of a tantalizing right-wing faceoff.

Morton barely waited for Ed Stelmach’s political corpse to cool before he quit his cabinet post to run.  He was in the race for the longest, raised $1 million, and garnered only 6,962 votes, and a sad fourth place finish.

What happened to Morton? Perhaps he was seen as too old in a young field. Perhaps the party faithful was still holding it against him for not working well with Ed Stelmach. Maybe it was that hilariously ill informed Globe and Mail editorial that supported him. Or, most likely, the party just wasn’t buying what Morton was selling.

The end of Morton as a force in the party is significant. Morton represented the very conservative wing of the Progressive Conservative party, and was seen as the answer to Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Alliance. A Morton v. Smith election would have been a right v. righter battle, leaving the progressive or less-conservative field wide open for the Liberals, NDP, and the Alberta Party. But the party rank and file (and the tens of thousands of Tories For A Day) has signified they don’t want the party to go hard right to counter the Wildrose. Perhaps the Tories, riding higher in the polls lately, just don’t see the Wildrose as the threat it was once seen.

Now it’s down to three: two right of centre (but not crazy right) candidates, and one with a definite Red Tory hue.

Mar represents the city (read: Calgary) moderate right of the party. Alison Redford represents the city (read: Calgary) moderate left of the party. If Redford wins, as one longtime Liberal told the Globe’s Josh Wingrove, the Liberals might as well fold their tent and call it quits. Redford’s background is more liberal than most Liberals, and would provide a lot of progressive voters an excuse to abandon the Liberals (or the NDP, or the Alberta Party) with the hope of putting in place a more progressive government.

Horner, I think, is the most beatable from an opposition standpoint. Uncharismatic, not really rural and not really city, Horner is the least interesting candidate among the survivors. He is hampered by memories of Ed Stelmach; the party did the same thing with Dreary Eddie, and even though they won Stelmach’s only election by a huge margin, the party (read: Calgary) didn’t take to this small town nice guy. Nobody inside Fortress Tory wants another Stelmach scenario.

Regardless, Mar’s lead is so huge, and his money reserves so vast, I can’t imagine any compromise second or third place candidate overtaking him. But now he has two weeks of walking around with a bull’s eye on his back. And two weeks is an eternity in politics.

PC race fueled by money the other parties can only dream of having.

I haven’t had much to say about the PC leadership race, being preoccupied with the Liberal race. I guess that’s like saying that I’ve been ignoring the Major League Baseball playoff races because I’ve been captivated by the Edmonton Capitals run to the North American League championship. That would be true if I watched baseball, which I don’t.

I also haven’t had much to say about the PC race because I really haven’t got a clue what’s going on inside that organization. The Tories play by a different set of rules, or, as Fitzgerald said, the rich are different from you and me.

For example, in the just completed Liberal race, the five candidates raised just over $100,000 between them.  Hugh MacDonald raised about half that total; winner Raj Sherman’s biggest donor was … Raj Sherman.

On the Tory side, Doug Griffiths is being lauded for running a “shoe string” campaign, spending about $100,000, That’s one guy. A shoe string campaign that raised almost as much as all five Liberal candidates.

Here’s another comparison. PC candidate Doug Horner is reporting that he has raised about $750,000, which is $100,000 more than the Liberals spent on an entire provincial election campaign in 2008.

Horner isn’t even the biggest of the big spenders in the PC race. Ted Morton says he has raised about a million dollars. Gary Mar, the presumed front runner (who had enough money to buy a full-page at in the Journal), and Alison Redford, the possible compromise candidate, are both reporting about half-million bucks raised. We don’t know how much future also-ran Rick Orman has wasted on his doomed campaign, so the totals aren’t in yet. But collectively, the five candidates will raise and spend about $3 million on the race.  And that’s just for the leadership. I don’t know what kind of money the Wildrose will be able to raise in the next election, but it won’t be remotely close to the kind of money Alberta’s businesses and economic elite will lavish on the Tories. The financial imbalance is by far the biggest obstacle opposition parties face in Alberta.

And what of the race itself? If the polls are any indication, Mar will lead after the first ballot. I doubt, with so many candidates, that he will score a first ballot victory. But he could easily score on the second round. Unlike Ed Stelmach’s unexpected win, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere near the polarization of the party between camps as there was in the Jim Dinning v. Ted Morton slugfest. I don’t see any room for a compromise candidate, a la Stelmach. If Mar doesn’t win it on the first ballot, I think he’ll win it on the second.

But what do I know? When Ed Stelmach announced that he was going to run for the PC leadership, I honestly didn’t know what he looked like — and I was an MLA at the time. So nothing outside of a Rick Orman victory would surprise me on Saturday.

On Linda Duncan’s silence, and Alberta Liberal lists.

On this lazy Saturday morn (as opposed to my lazy Monday morn, my lazy Tuesday morn, etc.) a couple of mini-comments on provincial and federal politics.

First, the NDP honeymoon with the media appears to be ending.

After the revelation by the Globe and Mail that interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel was once a member of the Bloc Quebecois, the media has started sniffing around the Very New Democrats looking for past allegiances.

Postmedia — which used to be Canwest, which used to be Southam, or something like that — send out a survey to all 103 NDP MPs asking if they had ever held a membership in another party. Only three MPs returned the survey. A Toronto newspaper did the same, and received no replies.

And what of Linda Duncan, the Edmonton-Strathcona golden girl (she comes with her own halo) and media darling? Well, it seems St. Linda of Strathcona replied she was “not available to participate”.

Hmmm. Not available to participate in a small survey that wouldn’t take any more than a minute to fill in? Is she so busy doing good works that she doesn’t have time to tick off the “no other party” box, or whatever. This is very suspicious.

Now, I know Dippers will be crying foul about the survey, saying that it smacks of 1950s-style “are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the (fill in the blank) party?” And why, they will no doubt whine, aren’t members of all parties being asked the same question.

Those are legit questions, but the Dippers are going to have to come to the realization that they are no longer the coddled, babied and pampered third party, and are now in the big leagues. Scrutiny will be much more intense, so get used to it.

And as for Duncan, why the silence? I hope somebody in the mainstream media picks up on her silence, and asks her why she didn’t answer.

Could it be that she was once a member of …. THE COMMUNIST PARTY? Or worse….THE CONSERVATIVES? Or worse still…THE LIBERALS?

The horror, the horror…

Meanwhile, the provincial Liberals are facing some unwanted publicity, which is rare for a party that craves any kind of publicity.

It seems that the party’s idea to open up the leadership campaign to anyone who wants to vote in it, without even buying a party membership, has resulted in some questionable tactics.

As revealed first in the Globe and Mail (how does the Globe consistently beat the Journal at Alberta stories?), there are dozens of suspicious names (dead people, cats, Conservatives, dead Conservatives, dead cats) on the list of supporters. Suspicion has fallen upon Raj Sherman, who says he has rounded up 18,000 supporters. When the total number of supporters comes in at 25,000, it’s a pretty safe bet that most of the questionable entries come from the Sherman camp. Hugh MacDonald, another leadership candidate, has called the list “a joke”. Gotta love Hughie; he calls it the way he sees it, even with his own party.

Am I surprised that there are questionable names on the list? Not at all. I figured this anyone-can-join idea was going to be fraught with problems. I’ve received “demon dial” calls from the Sherman camp, and even one last week that said my name was not found on the voters list, and that I would have to register again. I don’t know where the call came from.

Sherman is hyper-aggressive, and intent on winning the leadership. Liberal leadership races are a gentleman’s (and gentlewoman’s) game. Liberals always play nice with other Liberals, and with everyone. (Maybe that’s why they have a nearly 100-year record of defeat.) It looks to me that Sherman is not using the traditional Liberal fair play handbook, and borrowing tactics from the more cutthroat Conservative race. As I wrote in my blog about Sherman, he is cut from a different cloth. It will be interesting to see if Sherman’s much more aggressive tactics will alienate, or appeal to, the party faithful.

Raj Sherman tells all about the rumours: an interview.

Raj Sherman

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.

Liberals: new politics, or desperation?

Well, it was an interesting weekend in Alberta politics. The Alberta Party held a leadership convention, and the Alberta Liberals held a policy convention. Of the two, I’d venture that the Alberta Party came out ahead, in that they actually have a leader for their party. So, maybe they’re a little short on policy, but really, does anyone care about policy?

I’ll answer that: no.

Meanwhile, my friends in the good ol’ ALP were busy “reimagining” themselves down in soggy Calgary. The Alberta Liberals are, as always, looking for ways to boost interest in their party. This has always been difficult, because it has little to offer compared to the other parties.

Joining the PCs means jumping on the bandwagon of a winning team, not unlike the thousands of new “fans” of the Vancouver Canucks. And if you join the PCs, you could brush shoulders with Ted Morton — now THAT’s worth the five bucks. Joining the NDP gives you the right to tell everyone else how to run the province, without ever having to worry about actually doing anything about it. Sanctimony is free with every membership. Joining the Wildrose gets you on the ground floor of the Cranky Old Man movement that might sweep the province. And joining the Alberta Party is cool because it still has that new party smell.

Joining the Liberals gives you a membership in an elite organization with a nearly unblemished record of abject failure. But it also marks you as a rebel, someone who isn’t afraid to use the “L” word in public. I always thought that was one of the benefits of being a Liberal, but apparently not. The young bucks in charge of the ALP these days (and it’s good news that there are young bucks in the party) have convinced the rest of the membership that actual paid membership in the ALP is so tainted that nobody wants to actually buy a membership.

The solution, as approved by the membership — give it away.

That’s right, folks. The party has opened up voting in its current leadership race, and even constituency nominations, to anyone. You don’t have to pay your five bucks; all they want is your interest, however fleeting, and your email and home addresses. As party president Erick Ambtman put is: “You’re not saying you want to marry us, but you’re saying you’re willing to date. It’s allowing people to engage with us without having to say we’re going to go all the way.”

There is no truth to the rumour that the new slogan for the Alberta Liberals will be: “We’re easy.”

Personally, I’m worried about abuse of the system. It wouldn’t take may mischievous PCs or NDPs to band together to support terrible candidates, or plant a candidate to run against a major opponent like Hugh MacDonald or Laurie Blakeman. And don’t think for a moment that they wouldn’t try to do something underhanded like that.

I am also baffled as to why the always cash-strapped party would go to this system during a leadership vote, which brings in members and money. Now, they’ll bring in members… but no money.

I’m sure all of this was discussed at length (Liberals do love to debate). The young turks say the party system in Canada is dying … except for the federal PCs, the provincial PCs, the Wildrose Alliance, etc. The move to an open membership is either a bold, visionary move, or a sign of desperation. We shall see…