Winners and losers on byelection night

Now that the mini-referendum for Jim Prentice is over, let’s study the entrails (disgusting image, I know) to discern the winners and losers of the night.

WINNER: The PCs and Jim Prentice

The other parties will find all sorts of good things to say about how they fared, but this was objectively a bad news night for almost everyone. They will say it was no surprise that Prentice won in a safe Tory seat, and that Stephen Mandel won in Edmonton’s only safe Tory seat. But if voters really want to send a message to a government, they do it via byelection, where you can give the government a firm slap on the wrist and a stern rebuke. For example, when Ralph Klein retired, his old seat went to a Liberal. So, it can happen, and the PC opponents did everything they could to make it happen. While the failures to defeat the Tories in Edmonton-Whitemud and Calgary-Foothills were not entirely unexpected, the margins of victory for the PCs were impressive. The real wins for the PCs were in the toss-up ridings, where Tories were returned. If there was going to be a message sent anywhere, it would have been in those two constituencies. But they won both. So, message sent: all is forgiven, keep up the good work. Sheesh.

LOSER: Danielle Smith and the Wildrose

Is the bloom off the Wildrose? Signs point to yes.

The Wildrose failed to win the toss-up ridings of Calgary-West and Calgary-Elbow. Although they came close in Calgary-West, they came in THIRD in Calgary-Elbow, behind the Alberta Party party candidate. (This is where you may ask: there’s an Alberta Party?) In Edmonton-Whitemud, they trailed the NDP; not a surprise, to be sure, but a disappointment. The Wildrose is having a very hard time making any headway in Edmonton, which does not bode well for their future.

They came close, but at the saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Wildrosers may start to privately discuss whether Danielle Smith, who has been the golden girl of Alberta politics, has lost her glow. If you can’t win a byelection against a supposedly unpopular, supposedly out of touch, unquestionably ancient government, when will you win? Maybe Albertans are getting tired of Smith and her attack dog mentality, and her permanently snarling MLAs. At some point, the public starts to wonder if you’re government material, or if you’re better suited to opposition status. The Wildrose is beginning to have that permanent opposition look.

WINNER/LOSER: The New Democrats

The New Democrats, with the always willing participation of the media, will paint Monday night as a triumph. Sure, they didn’t win (didn’t really expect to, they’ll say), but look at the result in Edmonton-Whitemud, where they finished second! Clearly, the NDP dearly wanted to win Whitemud, and a solid second place makes them optimistic for the future. But look elsewhere, and by elsewhere I mean anywhere other than Edmonton. In Calgary, the party remains a joke. Pathetic fourth place finishes in two ridings, and a humiliating FIFTH place in the other. Overall, they garnered a mere 9% of the popular vote. There are positive signs for the NDs in Edmonton, but no pulse at all outside of it. That’s OK with the NDs, really. They are quite content to shore up their Edmonton base and ignore everywhere else.

LOSER: The Alberta Liberals
While the NDs can find reason for optimism, there are no positives for the Liberals. Once upon a time (10 years ago next month, to be exact), the Liberals were the government-in-waiting, the party with the best chance of unseating the Tories. But after unexpected Stelmach tsunami of 2008, and the near-death experience of 2012, the party has become an afterthought. Monday night, they finished third in two ridings, and fourth in the other two.

WINNER/LOSER The Alberta Party

An impressive second place showing by the party leader in Calgary-Elbow (that’s good), and nothing at all elsewhere (that’s bad). But does anybody really care about yet another political party?

There is still plenty of time before the next election, but this mini-referendum on the state of Alberta politics gives a boost to the Tories. The commentators who were writing political obituaries for the PCs may have to revise their narrative. Go figure.

Now is the time for all good Liberals to come to the aid of their party.

Important note: The following blog is intended only for people who usually vote Liberal, but who are thinking of switching their vote to either the PCs (to stop the Wildrose) or to the Wildrose (to defeat the PCs). Unwavering PC supporters, bedrock Wildrose supporters and compulsive NDP backers, please leave the virtual room. This blog is only for members of the immediate family, however distant they may be. Thank you.

Dear Friends:

There are dark clouds on the horizon for the Alberta Liberal party. I am afraid that your party is headed for the perfect electoral storm.

If you’ve voted Liberal in the past (and consistently there are about 250,000 to 270,000 of you), you’ve no doubt done so for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you like the party, or the platform, or the leader. Maybe you just hate the PCs, or you’ve always voted Liberal. Or, most likely, you like the candidate. For a variety of reasons, the Liberals have enjoyed the second-highest vote total in every election since 1989. It’s a sign that the Liberals, despite the widespread view that the Liberal name is “toxic”, have a solid core of support.

But going into this pivotal election, the polls show the Liberal vote is collapsing. From a traditional base of support of anywhere from 25-30 per cent, Liberal support is now in the low 10s. This is potentially catastrophic.

Why has it fallen so low? The party policies are sound, the leader is dynamic (yes, he carries some baggage, but you can’t deny the guy has charisma), and many of the candidates are outstanding. So, why is the party that you’ve supported in the past teetering on the brink?

Clearly, the Liberals are caught in a squeeze. The Wildrose has staked out the right, and the New Democrats are in their customary slot on the soft-left.  But now, in the customary Liberal position in the progressive middle, along come the PCs, trying hard to reinvent themselves as truly ‘progressive’ Conservatives.  The Liberals find themselves vying for the affections of the electorate against an old trollop who thinks plastic surgery and implants have made her more appealing. And it seems to be working.

But that’s only half the problem. Clearly, thousands of traditional Liberal voters are taking the “strategic voting” route.  Eager to finally end the PC reign of error, some Liberal faithful are parking their votes — just this once — with the Wildrose. And with the Wildrose surging in the polls, thousands of traditional Liberal voters are voting — just this once — for the PCs to stop our slide into the 19th century.

Well, if you are one of those people, let me just say … DON’T DO IT.

This is NOT the time to abandon ship. If anything, the Liberals need your vote now more than ever.

In several Edmonton and Calgary ridings, the Liberals are still in a position to win. For years, Liberals have dreamt of the day when a vote split on the right would allow Liberals to sneak up the middle. Well, despite the poll numbers, that possibility still exists in several ridings — but only if the traditional Liberal vote holds. If thousands of Liberal voters decide to vote for a party they fundamentally disagree with, in an attempt to stop another party they fundamentally disagree with, then thousands of Liberal votes will be lost. And with it, some very fine public servants may be sent to the sidelines.

Now some of you are certainly saying, “Maurice, you’re too personally invested in this.” I don’t deny this. I was a Liberal MLA, and I got to know a lot of outstanding people in the political field. So, yes, it’s personal. But I wouldn’t urge you to vote for a candidate I know to be a dud. You’ll just have to trust me on this.

So, Liberal voters, stay the course and please vote for the following:

• Raj Sherman, Edmonton-Meadowlark. I don’t know Raj very well, but it is vital that the leader of the party, the strongest voice for health care in the Legislature, be returned to the Legislature.

Weslyn Mather, Edmonton-Mill Woods. A genuinely inspiring person, and as dedicated a public servant as you will ever find.

Mo Elsalhy, Edmonton-McClung. Tremendous work ethic and a guy who genuinely cares about his constituents.

Rick Miller, Edmonton-Rutherford. Just the kind of person you want representing you in the legislature and in your neighbourhood.

Bruce Miller, Edmonton-Glenora. Another former MLA of unfailing integrity, and an all-round great guy.

Laurie Blakeman, Edmonton-Centre. Relentless thorn in the side of whatever party that will be in power, Blakeman is also the ultimate constituency person. A champion of the arts community as well.

David Swann, Calgary-Mountain View.  I doubt if I’ve ever met a man who cares more deeply for humanity than David Swann. A legislature without him would be badly diminished.

Kent Hehr, Calgary-Buffalo. Again I only know Kent fleetingly, but he is an extraordinary person and an excellent representative.

I don’t know Josipa Petrunic in Edmonton-Gold Bar, or Arif Khan in Edmonton- Riverview, but from what I’ve heard about them, you can’t go wrong. And in Red Deer, I hope the Liberal voters in Red Deer North realize that Michael Dawe, one of Red Deer’s best-known citizens, has a chance to benefit from the Wildrose/PC vote split.

I’m not going to recommend every Liberal running, because a) I don’t know them all, and b) I honestly don’t know how many of them deserve your support. But for those of you reading in any of the above-mentioned constituencies, now is not the time to abandon the party in the faint hope of “stopping” a candidate, or trying to alter the outcome of the election. Vote for someone, not against.

Stand your ground, Liberals, or you may not have any ground left to stand on by Monday.

On the Journal’s bias, and Pastoor’s departure.

Does the Edmonton Journal have an anti-Alberta Liberal party bias?

I’ll answer my own question: yes, it does.

For a number of years, I’ve noticed what short shrift Alberta Liberals get from Journal reporters and editors. When I was an MLA, there were countless times when the Journal didn’t bother to talk to Liberal MLAs about important issues, or, when they did, the comments were either buried or edited out of the piece. I thought it was just lousy reporting, but it has gone far beyond that now.

Take today’s coverage of the opening of the Legislature, which was typical of the Journal’s recent tact. The front-page story concerned the flood of legislation dumped on the legislature, accurately described as “an information dump critics say stifles debate and undermines democracy”.

The subhead declared “Wildrose leader slams move”, and five paragraphs in came the obligatory comment from NDP leader Brian Mason, the Journal’s favourite politician. Then came a statement from Wildrose leader Danielle Smith. The story went on for several hundred more words — without a single comment from the Alberta Liberals.

Why is this odd? Because the Liberals are the OFFICIAL OPPOSITION. And Raj Sherman is the LEADER OF THE OFFICIAL OPPOSITION. The Liberals, despite the loss of Bridget Pastoor (more on that later) are still the second party in the Legislature, with more seats than the NDs and Wildrose combined. But not a word from a Liberal MLA.

The only extensive mention of the Liberals came in Graham Thompson’s column, which he devoted primarily to Pastoor’s departure. This is not surprising, in that Thompson never misses a chance to dump on the Liberals. (If you want to read a superior column on provincial politics, check out Don Braid in the Calgary Herald.)

The Journal’s anti-Liberal bias has been on display for some time. Just a few weeks ago, I read a story (can’t remember the topic) online at the Journal, which contained a comment from a Liberal MLA. When the story appeared in the paper, the quote disappeared. This, sadly, is not uncommon.

The Journal has decided, based on opinion polls, that the Wildrose Alliance (four members, three of whom were elected as Tories, and whose leader is not in the legislature) is the Official Opposition, and the NDP (two members, third in voting last election) is the back-up party, and the go-to people for quotes on anything. The Liberals (second in seats and votes in the last election) will be included as an afterthought … if they get in at all.

I’m not saying that the ALP deserves to get top placement in every story, or that they should be allowed a comment for everything, or that its continuing struggles do not deserve coverage. But willfully ignoring the no. 2 party is unfair, and bad journalism. I admit to being biased, but the Journal shouldn’t be.

Now, on to the departure of Bridget Pastoor.

Pastoor’s departure is a blow to the party, no doubt. Losing an MLA from a nine-person caucus hurts, and it hurts Raj Sherman’s leadership. But if you look at Pastoor’s quotes, it says a lot more about her than it does about him.

“It certainly is not any reflection on Raj,” Pastoor said. “I have very, very deep respect for somebody who believes so strongly in what he did. He put everything on the table and left. That takes a lot of courage, and a lot of guts.”

Former leader Kevin Taft quoted Pastoor as saying that when she departed, Pastoor looked right at Sherman and said:  ‘Raj, you are a great leader and you’ll do really well in the next election.”

Incredibly, she downplayed the party switch, saying it is like going from one brand of car to another, which displays her quite stunning lack of understanding of politics.

So, what kind of person walks out on a “great leader” and someone for whom she has “great respect”, and people she has worked with, some for almost eight years?  I don’t want to go too negative on Bridget — I worked with her for four years, and I liked her — but I’ve lost a lot of respect for her. Dumping your party, your leader, and your co-workers for no other reason than you like the leader of the other party is pathetic.

 

Friendly tips on cabinet making for Redford.

Wouldn’t you just love to be a fly on the wall in the office of new premier Alison Redford?

I imagine a steady stream of supplicants parading into her office to offer congratulations. There will be plenty of “I knew you could do it” and “You’re just what this party needs now”, and the occasional “You go, girl!” from clueless backbenchers who still think “You go, girl!” is hip.

What she won’t be hearing is “So, where’s my cabinet post?” Redford enters the premier’s office with zero support from anyone in cabinet, meaning every last one of them is feeling a little tight around the collar right now. Redford is going to announce her cabinet next Wednesday, and since it’s such a difficult decision, I’d like to offer a suggestion.

Don’t go for a wholesale change. Just fine tune and tinker, but don’t start over. Seriously.

Let’s take a look at this situation. We are going to have an election next year, probably in the spring.  That’s six months, maybe a few more if the price of oil tanks. Now, let’s assume she makes wholesale changes in her cabinet, exchanging someone like Luke Ouellette with someone with an ability to put together an English sentence. It takes months for an MLA to get a grasp on his or her portfolio, longer if they’re an Edmonton MLA with their diminished mental capacity. It takes a long time for the bureaucracy to train a new minister. It’s not unlike training a puppy; you’ve got to whack them across the nose with a newspaper a few times before they stop messing the carpet. So the new guys and gals will just barely get themselves used to the new job then it’s time to go to the polls. What purpose has been served? (As well, now that she has agreed to a fall session that starts on Oct. 21, her new cabinet will have zero time to get a handle on their portfolios before they face the house.)

But doesn’t keeping essentially the same cabinet spell status quo to the public, you ask? Maybe, but if she changes everyone, she sends a signal that the government has been terrible and needs to be changed. And she can also make the point that keeping most of the same people in place will save the government hundreds of thousands of dollars in business cards and stationary alone.

But if she doesn’t put her people in place, isn’t there the chance that some ministers will work against her? I don’t think so. As long as she controls the levers of power, any minister who wants to keep his or her job post-election will do as they are told. There are exceptions, of course. Snarling Ron Liepert has restated his opposition to a public inquiry into health care abuse allegations from Raj Sherman (could it be that he’s afraid of what they might find?), so Liepert should probably get the heave-ho just to make a point.

Then there’s the question of Parson Ted Morton. Does she bring the reputed leader of the right wing back into cabinet? I say no. Morton, by his poor performance in the leadership campaign, has shown that he’s a spent force. My guess is that at his age, and after two failed leadership runs, he’ll probably not run next time or join the Wildrose to cause trouble. Morton is very smart and a tough performer in the legislature, but his day is done.

So here’s what I’d do. Make a few select changes just to send a bit of a message — maybe turf Liepert to show ‘em who’s boss, turf a couple of the weaker performers and bring in a few select Calgarians like the smart and long-overlooked Neil Brown (sorry, Edmonton, but there is no one to promote amongst the backbench lapdogs this city elected last election), give Doug Griffith and Doug Horner front bench seats to show how magnanimous you are — and leave it at that.

With only a fall session likely before a spring election, this is no time to make massive changes. Just tinker with the cabinet, and soon enough everyone but political junkies and the media will have forgotten who’s in charge of what.

 

Sherman deserved the win. But does he know what he’s in for?

The doctor is in. Does he has the prescription for the ailing party?

Final thoughts on the Liberal leadership race:

Yesterday, I pondered going to the U of A to attend the coronation announcement for the new leader of the Alberta Liberal Party. I didn’t go because I didn’t want to wander around looking for a parking spot, then pay through the nose for it, and attend an event that seemed to have no agenda.

Apparently, judging from the pathetic ‘crowd’ of 150 people, I wasn’t alone. Holding the event at the university, in a cavernous hall with terrible acoustics, is just the kind of thing that makes voters think that the ALP is not ready for prime time. Or even late-night infomercial time.

I’m no event organizer, but even I know that a crowd of 150 people looks a lot bigger when crowded into a smaller room than dispersed inside a much too big room. Better to turn people away at the door because there is no room than to have too much room. Why did the ALP hold this event at a huge gymnasium? I can just imaging the conversation: “We’re signing up thousands of supporters, and we’re going to get a HUGE crowd! Let’s get the biggest room possible!”

Sigh.

The choice of venue was just one of many miscalculations surrounding this leadership race that makes me just roll my eyes about the party. I tried to watch the event (such as it was) online. The feed consisted of one wide shot (as they say in the movies) that was frequently obscured by the backs of photographers. Worse yet was the sound, which bounced back and reverbed to the point of being incomprehensible. I would have liked to have heard David Swann’s swan song, but I could barely make out a word.

The announcement itself was botched as well. Executive director Corey Hogan made the announcement, which is odd; I would have thought the party president or a member of the executive would have made it. He raced up the stage, and with no fanfare or dramatics, announced the first ballot results of the victory for Raj Sherman. I really wasn’t sure it this was the final result, or the first ballot, or what the hell it was. Again, I tried to listen to Sherman’s speech, but gave up.

And what of the great experiment, opening up the leadership vote to “supporters”? This is a mixed bag. The fact only about 8,600 of 29,000 supporters and party members bothered to go online to vote points to an epic fail. I’m sure the online voting system cost the party plenty, and it forfeited thousands of dollars in real memberships that would have been sold in the traditional way. If this bold or foolhardy move is to be judged a success or failure, well, only time will tell. The party now has 29,000 names in its database — what it will do with them remains to be seen.

And what of Raj Sherman, the new leader? Why did he win?

Well, for starters, he wanted it more, as they say in sports circles. Say what you like about demon dialers and the other tricks of the political trade, but the fact is that you have to use these kinds of things to succeed in politics these days. Sherman wasn’t without the personal touch; I got a call from a volunteer wanting to know if I voted, and then another call on Friday, (And props to Hugh MacDonald; I wasn’t home, but I got a call from Hughie himself wanting to know if I had voted on Saturday). I was disappointed by Laurie Blakeman’s campaign. She clearly knows how to win and she’s a survivor, but her campaign seemed to me to be tepid and perfunctory. (This is surely the last we’ve heard from the Bill Harvey. Let’s hope this petulant putz severs ties with the party for good.)

But no matter how much Sherman may have wanted it, he wouldn’t have gotten it if the party members didn’t want him. Sherman is the biggest gamble as a leader the party has ever taken, and that is exactly the point. The last two leaders, Kevin Taft and David Swann, are fine, intelligent, thoughtful men for whom I have the utmost respect. And it’s no insult to them to say that they are not what you would call charismatic; few people have it (I know I don’t). Sherman has it. He has a forceful personality, full of confidence bordering on arrogance. He’s a wildcard, though. With Taft and Swann, you knew what you were getting. Sherman is an all-in gamble. He will be tough to work for, and rough around the edges. And he won’t do things the Liberal way. Which is another reason why he won.

Word of advice: Do NOT vote for Bill Harvey.

Bill Harvey
Get this man to a graphic designer, stat!

I’m not big on telling people what to do, particularly when it comes to whom to vote for in a leadership race. I’m happy to offer opinions (you might have noticed) but I’m not going to tell you who to vote for. But I will make one exception when it comes to ALP leadership candidate Bill Harvey.

Here’s my advice: don’t vote for Bill Harvey.

Or, to put it a way he might understand: DO NOT VOTE FOR BILL HARVEY!

Why would I make such a bold statement? Until I got a poison pen piece of literature — filled with CAPITALIZED WORDS and and BOLDFACE CAPITALS and BOLDFACED CAPITALIZED UNDERLINED WORDS — from the Bill Harvey campaign, I hadn’t given him much thought. But his literature has done exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to do; it turned me against the guy.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Harvey, he’s a Calgary Liberal who has run for the ALP twice in Calgary East (according to his literature, he increased his vote between 2004 and 2008; what he doesn’t say it that he increased it a grand total of 0.30 per cent). He mentions at length and ad naseum that he worked for Laurence Decore in the 1980s, and he wants to return the party to its Decore glory years. All this is fine; glad he’s devoted to the party, happy he has thrown his hat into the ring twice. Harvey is somewhat to the right of every other candidate. Hell, he’s somewhat to the right of Danielle Smith. (He wants a provincial police force, our own pension plan, and control over immigration. In other words, the Republic of Albertastan.)

He has some good ideas, but mostly he’s way too far right for any party that calls itself liberal. But a range of opinions is healthy for a leadership debate.

But here’s why is say DON’T VOTE FOR BILL HARVEY.

His newsletter, written by the co-chair of the Harvey campaign (who is unnamed, except for an indecipherable signature at the bottom of the letter), rails against one candidate. Care to guess who it is? Here’s an example of one paragraph, complete with underlines and boldface type:

“We knew going into this race that our main opponent was going to get plenty of media because he is a former Alberta Progressive Conservative MLA and is known for his grandstanding! In any race there are always front runners and it has become a two way race between Bill Harvey and Tory defector and one issue candidate Raj Sherman.”

Harvey’s newsletter goes on to extol his virtues, even quoting Grant MacEwan poli-sci guy Chaldeans Mensah (yes, him again) as saying he is the one “most in line with the mood of Alberta” (Mensah apparently believes he has his finger on the pulse of the province) . Mensah is also quoted as saying Harvey could “capture the political centre”, which again proves Mensah doesn’t pay much attention to the actual policies of the people he talks about.

Back to Sherman. I think singling out one candidate is bad form, hardly conducive to party unity. But the clincher comes at the end of the letter, in a section called “DO YOU REALLY KNOW THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BILL AND RAJ? REALLY?

According to the newsletter, Bill Harvey is a “Business Owner, Met Payroll, Created Jobs”; Raj Sherman has “No Business Experience.” (Apparently, becoming a doctor is something any chump can do.)

Bill Harvey “Supports Freedom Of Speech And Freedom Of Religion; Raj Sherman “Opposes Freedom Of Speech And Freedom Of Religion”.  (No supporting evidence offered.)

Bill Harvey is “Reaching Out To All Albertans”; Raj Sherman is “Is Alienating Voters”.

Bill Harvey “Believes In Tax Breaks for Seniors & Veterans”; Raj Sherman “Wants To Spend Tax Dollars On Sex Changes”. (No mention of how Harvey feels about sex changes for senior veterans.)

Bill Harvey is “Promoting New Ideas”; Raj Sherman is “Not Open To New Ideas”.

This might be the worst, most amateurish, most divisive, most full of shit piece of political propaganda I have ever seen. If Bill Harvey is surrounding himself with people like whoever wrote this juvenile tripe, then he clearly isn’t remotely ready to run a political party.

Coincidentally, on the same day I received some propaganda from Hugh MacDonald (Hugh’s campaign was smart enough to save on postage and send one piece addressed to the four voters in my house, while fiscally conservative Bill Harvey sent four separate letters). Hugh’s piece was professional, appealing and upbeat. No vicious slagging of other candidates, just info about Hugh. The contrast couldn’t have been stronger.

I have yet to vote (I’ll do it, ALP … no need to nag). I’m still not sure who to vote for, but the one I will NOT BE VOTING FOR IS BILL HARVEY! And neither should you.

Alberta Liberal forum only muddies the waters for this voter.

On Wednesday night, I went outside of my comfort zone (my house) to attend the Alberta Liberal Party all-candidates leadership forum at Grant MacEwan downtown. As a dues-paying member of the ALP (not just one of fair weather ‘supporters’ the party has signed up for the purposes of boosting interest in the leadership race), I admit to being torn on my choice. I thought seeing the candidates in action might clear things up.

It didn’t. I anything, I’m more confused than ever.

I easily eliminated the two Calgary candidates, Bruce Payne and Bill Harvey. Payne seemed sincere but unimpressive; when someone asked a question about the airport closure, he said he was under the impression that the public voted to keep it open, but the city decided to close it. That did not endear him to an Edmonton audience. (Note: would you airport people PLEASE give it up and move on?) Bill Harvey, who described himself as a salesman and who actually used the term “okey-dokey”, didn’t have a scrap of literature available. (His financial disclosure statement, posted online, shows zero dollars raised. I believe it.) A pretty poor sales job, I would say.

As expected, it really comes town to three: MLAs Hugh MacDonald, Laurie Blakeman, and Raj Sherman.

Hugh MacDonald jumped up a notch in my estimation. Hugh clearly really wants to win this thing. He looked poised, and spoke with his usual steely-eyed conviction. However, I wasn’t wild about one of Hughie’s “facts”. He rightly pointed out that the Legislature some time ago gave the province the OK to enter into lawsuits against Big Tobacco, but has done nothing about it since. He then went on to say all the wonderful things the province could do with the “$3 billion” we would get from Big Tobacco in a lawsuit. Where the hell did that number come from? I have heard of one person who was awarded $3 billion in a lawsuit against tobacco, which will no doubt be overturned.  To suggest that Alberta is passing up on $3 billion in free money is vintage Hughie. Otherwise, Hugh impressed. He said he has sold (that’s sold, not given away) more than 1,000 memberships. His disclosure statement shows he has raised $15,000 from unions, which is impressive and shows he’s got credibility with union types. My experience with Hugh is that he was always a bit of a lone wolf, but I go the distinct feeling this lone wolf genuinely wants to lead the pack.

Laurie Blakeman is another strong contender, and with 14 years as an MLA, she certainly deserves serious consideration. Laurie was, as always, poised and articulate and never at a loss for an answer. Laurie is bursting with ideas, and most of them are solid. She told the crowd that it is insane for the party to keep doing what it has been doing for years, and I agree. (Exactly what the party could do differently is a topic for another blog.) She’s smart, knows a lot about just about everything in government, but lacks that common touch. Hugh made a joke about playing hockey, and how he plays centre and can pass to guys on the right wing or the left; sporting references like that might as well be in Swahili with Laurie. That’s not a fatal flaw in a leader, but it hurts.

And then there’s Raj, the wildest of the wild cards.

Raj can certainly be accused of being a one-trick pony — but, as he says, what a pony it is. He is the health care candidate, which is great if health care happens to be the dominant issue come election time, not so great if it’s not. But, he showed a greater depth of knowledge than I expected when answering some of the questions from the floor. However, his speaking style needs polishing. But there’s no questioning his energy, and he’s a guy with lots of ideas. But keeping him on message might be a chore for an entire army of political consultants. Raj was taken to task for voicing support for Wildrose Alliance MLA Guy Boutilier, a rookie mistake, as Hugh called it. (The Edmonton Journal played this up big, calling it a “blistering exchange”; blistering it was not.)

Unfortunately for me, the forum was not every enlightening. I’m not interested in the candidate’s views on the issues; realistically, there will be very little difference between them. Policy comes from the bottom up, not the top down. What I wanted to hear was some discussion on the party. Should the party run a candidate in all ridings (as Bruce Payne says) or concentrate on winnable ridings and quality candidates (as Blakeman says)? I want to know their ideas for building the party, raising the funds, all that boring old stuff that makes up the backbone of a political party. How would they build up the constituency associations? How would they recruit candidates? That’s the kind of stuff I wanted to hear.

So, two hours and one sore ass later (very uncomfortable chairs), I’m no closer to picking a favourite, or even the order of preference.  I’m glad that, out of a field of five, there are three strong candidates with enough strengths and weaknesses to make it an interesting race.

But who’s on first? I still don’t know.     

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.

Points of disorder

For a guy who really hated being under the dome, I have developed a strange fascination with what’s going on in there.

Take Monday, for example.

These guys are supposed to be discussing important matters of government business, a.k.a. your business. But Monday’s afternoon session, following the marathon of last Wednesday (it was never Thursday in the Leg, since Wednesday never ended) was bound to be interesting.

It started off well, with a nice little grenade lobbed into the government ranks by the Alberta Liberals, who revealed the existence of a government power point presentation that suggested the government was actively thinking about a whole raft of private medicine initiatives. Stelmach’s explanation was so lame, and he looked so defeated, that it was almost like he had no idea the document existed. Or maybe he just looked like a guy who was prepared to take yet another beating.

After QP, things got interesting, if not downright bizarre.

First, there were dozens — literally dozens — of tablings, indicating the government is clearing the table to shut down the whole show at a moment’s notice. Then came the points of order on previously asked questions.

The first government complaint was put forward to Dave Hancock, who is an excellent, if longwinded, speaker. His complaint was that Rob Anderson, the ex-Tory who seems to have a profound hate on for his old mates, asked inappropriate questions regarding the Raj Sherman fiasco. After Hancock made his impassioned ‘we’re all friends in here’ speech, which went on at length, Anderson rose to defend himself, also at length. Then Fred Horne, the “friend” of Sherman who made the phone call that triggered the whole “nuts or not” debate, gave HIS side of the story.

Since Calgary Varsity Liberal MLA Harry Chase was mentioned by Hancock, he was given the chance to speak. Which, of course, he did.

Then, for no apparent reason, NDer Brian Mason barged in and prattled on for a while with his opinion on the point of order. By now, Pope Kenneth the Infallible looked as exasperated as Mr. Wilson was with Dennis the Menace, but he let him speak. Now, of course, Pope Kenneth has opened Pandora’s box, and he’s just a guy who can’t say no. Enter Edmonton Gold Bar Liberal Hugh MacDonald, who probably felt compelled to join the fray since Mason had spoken. With cartoon steam almost coming out of his ears, Pope Kenneth then had to allow Guy Boutillier of the WAP to have his say, and later Paul Hinman of the WAP, who opened up a whole new can of worms by saying he interpreted Horne’s comments about Sherman to indicate that Horne thought Sherman might have been suicidal. (Kowalski mocked Hinman for the comment, but to be fair, when I heard Horne’s comments, I thought the same thing.)

Well, by now we’ve heard from just about everyone except the star of the show, Raj Sherman. The good doctor then rose to make his statement, stating that he was not suicidal or homicidal (strange, but that’s what he said).

So, after about an hour or so, Pope Kenneth was ready to rule, which was that there was no point of order. So that left TWO MORE points of order, one of which was from an alleged infraction from last week. At this point, I had gone on with my life, only to return just in time to hear Pope Kenneth say that Twitter was just a passing fad, and “a game that somebody is making a pile of money on.”

Just another day in paradise.