Alta. MLA kicked from caucus over ER remarks

The Alberta MLA who criticized his own government over its handling of backlogs in the province's emergency rooms has been suspended from the Tory caucus.
MLA Raj Sherman speaks to CBC News after he was suspended from the Alberta Tory caucus Monday. ((CBC))

The Alberta MLA who criticized his own government over its handling of backlogs in the province's emergency rooms has been suspended from the Tory caucus.

Raj Sherman, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark and an emergency room physician, made headlines over the past week for his sharp criticism of Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach and how the province has managed long lines in the province's ERs.

"For me, it's really a matter of principle. I guess the principles of being a doctor and advocating for patients collided with the principles of politics," Sherman said.

"I don't see a reason why they would have needed to collide. I think politicians and doctors, voters and patients are one and the same. But for me it's a bit of a sad day."

Sherman said he will now sit as an Independent.

Sherman didn't follow 'direction,' caucus whip says

Last week, Sherman sent an email to his Conservative colleagues, which was leaked to the media, stating that his trust in Stelmach and the government was "severely tarnished" over the ER issue. He accused Stelmach of breaking a promise to fix problems in emergency rooms.

Sherman appeared to soften his stance following a four-hour caucus meeting Thursday morning, shifting the blame from the government to bureaucrats at the provincial health board, Alberta Health Services.

Former Alberta health minister Ron Liepert says he found Sherman's remarks about him hurtful and inappropriate. (CBC) ((CBC))
But on Friday, Sherman criticized former Alberta health minister Ron Liepert for being "rude and offensive" to front-line medical staff.

Caucus whip Robin Campbell would not disclose the reasons for Sherman's suspension, nor would he comment on whether the remarks about Liepert factored into the decision.

"This was not an advocacy issue that Raj was suspended for," he said. "This was an issue of caucus discipline and because of that, that decision was made."

Campbell said Sherman was "given direction" during Thursday's caucus meeting that was not followed. He would not say what that direction was.

Liepert would not comment on Sherman's remarks on Friday as he wanted to first hear them for himself. He now calls the comments surprising and shocking and he wants Sherman to retract them.

"I think that I would be remiss if I didn't say that they were hurtful and they were, I say, totally inappropriate," Liepert said. "You can't just go out there and make comments about individuals, about an individual's character, without backing it up with some substance."

Premier Ed Stelmach will decide who will take Sherman's position as the parliamentary assistant for health.

Tories 'bozos' for decision, opposition charges

Opposition parties were quick to criticize the Tory caucus for the decision to suspend Sherman.

"They just fired an ER doctor, the only ER doctor in the government during an ER crisis," said Wildrose Alliance MLA Rob Anderson.

"This guy has relentlessly in caucus stood up for patients in the emergency room, for patients outside the emergency room, that's all he's ever cared about is people other than himself and these bozos have the audacity to throw him out of caucus for this."

"It puts a real chill on all of those who would speak against what this premier and this government and this health minister, in particular, are doing," said Liberal Leader David Swann — who, like Sherman — is a medical doctor.

In 2002, the province fired Swann from his job as the medical officer of health for the Palliser Health Authority after speaking out in favour of the Kyoto Protocol environmental agreement.

Sherman said he stands by his criticisms of the health-care system, which he said were prompted by the government's inaction after Edmonton ER physician Paul Parks sent a letter to the health minister warning of a "catastrophic collapse" of emergency health care in Alberta.

In the letter, Parks documented numerous examples submitted by doctors where patient care was compromised by extreme ER wait times.

"Something simply had to be said," Sherman said. "I have a moral and ethical duty to say something."

Sherman has also had his own experiences with ER backlogs — he has had to take his seriously ill father to hospital emergency five times in recent months and one of those times, his father nearly died in a waiting room.

His family urged him to quit politics and he nearly resigned his job as parliamentary assistant over the ER issue.