Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman

Raj Sherman makes no bones about it. He got into politics to help fix Alberta's health care system.
Former Tory MLA Raj Sherman became the leader of the Alberta Liberals in September 2011. (John Ulan/Canadian Press)

Raj Sherman makes no bones about it: he got into politics to help fix Alberta’s health care system.

But the emergency room doctor has another challenge in the upcoming provincial election: ensuring the Official Opposition Liberal party he heads doesn’t fall into third-party status.

Sherman, 45,  first won his Edmonton-Meadowlark legislature seat as a Progressive Conservative candidate in 2008.

But he was turfed from the party after publicly accusing former Premier Ed Stelmach and others about mishandling the province’s health care system, in particular the nagging issue of lengthy wait times for care in hospital emergencies and for surgeries.

Sherman carried his crusade to fix the health system into the leadership race for the Alberta Liberal Party. 

Following a campaign where opponents attacked him for being a one-issue candidate and a party intruder, Sherman captured nearly 55 per cent of the ballots cast to become the new leader, replacing David Swann to head the eight-member caucus.

'We're coming back'

Political pundits say Sherman faces an uphill task rebuilding a party that hasn’t held power in Alberta for 90 years.

Polls repeatedly suggest the conservative Wildrose Party has supplanted the Liberals as the main challenge to the governing Progressive Conservatives, while the left-of-centre NDP and upstart centrist Alberta Party may bleed some of the anti-government vote.

As well, party finances are in disarray compared to the other main parties. And with a provincial election on the horizon in mid-March, Sherman was still admitting the party was short of finding candidates in a surprising 30 to 40 ridings, gaps he was hoping to fill, or at least reduce.

"We’re coming back," vows Sherman. He adds that unlike the other main parties, "The Sherman Liberals are not in the pockets of industry or in the pockets of unions."

Sherman, or "The Shermanator" as some supporters have dubbed him, bristles at the suggestion he’s a one-issue politician. That’s despite the fact he says health care is the No. 1 issue in the upcoming election – and who voters can trust to fix it.

And it’s true that his party – even before the election was called -  released a glossy, 40-page election platform, covering everything from its plans to expand home care, end school fees, introduce MLA recall legislation and increase taxes for large corporations and for individuals making more than $100,000 a year.

Emergency medicine doctor

Sherman was born in India. But his family moved to the Lower Mainland of British Columbia in 1975 when he was a youngster.

He moved to Edmonton in the 1980s to study at the University of Alberta, graduating from the faculty of medicine in 1990. He specialized in family and emergency medicine.

Sherman has continued to practise medicine on weekends since entering provincial politics. His medical career has also included stints as president of the Alberta Medical Association emergency medicine section, and as a AMA Health Issues Council member.

He owns a small construction business building and designing custom-made houses. A basketball and soccer coach, he also serves as a director of the Society for Helping Lives in Poverty.

Sherman married while he was still in medical school at the age of 21. The marriage ended, but he has two children – a son and a daughter.