Sherman must prove allegations: health minister

Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky says MLA Raj Sherman must immediately provide proof that doctors were paid to keep quiet about cancer patient deaths
Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky speaks to reporters after an event at Edmonton City Hall Tuesday. (CBC)

Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky said Tuesday that MLA Raj Sherman must immediately provide proof that doctors were paid to keep quiet about cancer patient deaths.

"Let's not play any games with this," Zwozdesky said Tuesday. "If there are some documents out there that we should know about, I encourage whoever to bring it forward."

Sherman, the independent MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark and an emergency room doctor, stood up during question period on Monday and alleged that 250 lung cancer patients died waiting for surgery in the early part of the last decade.

Sherman said physicians were paid millions of dollars to keep quiet about the deaths and that the payouts were hidden in a second set of financial records — although he toned down some of those allegations in interviews Tuesday.

"I didn't say there was hush money. I didn't say there was bribery and I didn't say there were bags of money," Sherman told host Peter Brown on CBC Radio's Radio Active Tuesday afternoon.

"It's about non-disclosure agreements that are signed. When you work for a region, you are forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Which means you cannot disclose."

During Monday's question period, Sherman also alleged that the former CEO of the disbanded Capital Health region, Sheila Weatherill, the registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Trevor Theman, and former health ministers Gary Mar and Iris Evans were aware of what was going on.

"I think those organizations and the people that have been named deserve to have a fuller explanation of what has been alleged," Zwozdesky said.

MLA Raj Sherman made the allegations during question period on Monday. (CBC)
Zwozdesky said he has never heard these accusations before. When contacted by CBC News Monday, Theman said he had also never heard about a coverup. He added he wasn't the registrar when Mar was minister of health.

Evans also had no idea what Sherman is talking about.

"Absolutely nothing whatsoever. I would not be able to be a minister of the Crown if I were to do something that was deliberate or wilfully damaging," she said. "It's just incomprehensible."

Attempts by CBC News to contact Weatherill and Mar on Tuesday were not successful.

The allegations also surprised people in the office of Alberta's Auditor General.

"As an auditor, you're always concerned when you hear the word 'two sets of books,'" said the assistant auditor general responsible for health, Doug Wylie.

"These are very serious allegations, obviously and obviously, as the auditor of the financial statements, we take them very seriously. We are not aware of two sets of books."

Sherman said he plans to table evidence about his allegations in the legislature next week. He wants a written promise from the health minister that his sources will not suffer any consequences for providing the information.

Sherman has sat in the legislature as an independent MLA since he was turfed from the Progressive Conservative caucus last November for speaking out against long emergency room wait times.