EDMONTON — A member of the Alberta legislature who was suspended from caucus Monday for criticizing his government colleagues over health care is refusing to back down.
“I’m not quitting and I’m not crossing the floor and I’m not going to stop advocating for patients,” said Edmonton Conservative and emergency room physician Raj Sherman.
“For me, it’s a matter of principle. I took an oath as a physician. It’s a covenant that I make to patients. I have a moral and ethical duty to report to the public what’s happening.”
Sherman will sit as an Independent after his caucus turfed him for comments he made last week. Tory whip Robin Campbell confirmed that Sherman, parliamentary assistant to the health minister, will be off the government’s benches until he meets certain conditions, although Campbell wouldn’t say what those conditions are.
“Raj was given some direction. Those directions were not followed,” said Campbell. “Raj knows what he has to do.”
“(He) was not suspended for standing up for Albertans like all of our MLAs do,” Campbell added. “This was not an advocacy issue that Raj was suspended for. This was an issue of caucus discipline and, because of that, that decision was made.”
In an email last week that became public, Sherman ripped both his government and Premier Ed Stelmach for their handling of the health file.
He later apologized for the missive and shifted his attacks to the bureaucrats who run the system. Then, on Friday, he turned his guns on former health minister — now energy minister — Ron Liepert. Sherman called him rude and offensive to front-line health staff.
“(The remarks) were hurtful and totally inappropriate,” Liepert said Monday. “You can’t just go out there and make comments … about an individual’s character without backing it up with some substance. I haven’t seen any particular incident that the member could refer to that would substantiate what he said.”
Liepert said Sherman never came to him with complaints when Liepert was the minister.
He wants Sherman to apologize and retract his statements before being allowed back into caucus.
Sherman said Liepert has heard from him before.
“We had our differences when I was his assistant,” he said. “Maybe Ron and I have to sit down together as friends over a beer and have a personal, heart-to-heart chat.”
Sherman, who said he hadn’t decided what his next move would be, didn’t sound in a retracting mood on Monday.
“The government knows what it has to do to stop me from advocating,” he said. “The system must be fixed.”
The caucus ouster is the latest twist in what Stelmach has called health-care theatrics.
Last week’s firestorm intensified when Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett refused to speak to reporters after a meeting of health leaders Friday to discuss how to improve ER wait times. Alberta Health Services is the delivery arm of the Department of Health.
A snacking Duckett was chased out of the building by reporters and across the street as he waved them off with repeated comments that he was busy “eating a cookie.” At one point, he tried to thrust the cookie in the face of a television reporter.
Current Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky called Duckett’s strange behaviour inappropriate. Critics suggested he should be fired, a call repeated in the legislature Monday, even though Duckett has apologized.
Stelmach issued a release Sunday night saying Albertans are growing tired of the “recent theatrics” surrounding efforts to eliminate long emergency room waits. He said it was time to focus on improving the situation and reducing “any unnecessary distractions.”
Liberal Opposition Leader David Swann — also a medical doctor — said Sherman’s expulsion is another example of the way the Conservative government treats its critics.
“It puts a real chill on all of those who would speak against what this premier and his government and this health minister in particular is doing.”