Just like the proverbial bad penny, Raj Sherman always turns up.

Dr. Sherman in 2011 during his tenure as as Alberta Liberal leader, trying to make a very small crowd look like a big one (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Now he’s turned up as the United Conservative Party’s candidate in Edmonton-Whitemud, whether the UCP likes it or not. 

It can only have been pure ineptitude on the part of the UCP’s strategic brain trust to allow Dr. Sherman to beat two other candidates, one of them a party staffer seemingly recruited to ensure he didn’t get the job, to win the nomination in the southwest Edmonton riding

Now Dr. Sherman will have another chance to use his Liberal-red Dodge Ram pickup truck adorned with his face, a pumpjack and Edmonton’s skyline on one side, and the same face, some farm equipment and a Calgary skyline on the other.

The truck, a weird counterpoint to former premier Jason Kenney’s Tory blue Dodge Ram pickup, got the colourful wrap for Dr. Sherman’s planned bid to seek the leadership of the United Conservative Party last spring when the former premier resigned after his party leadership review vote went south. 

The UCP, prudently, said no thank you to Dr. Sherman, diplomatically telling the former Alberta Liberal Party leader and Progressive Conservative junior minister that he didn’t quite meet their technical requirements to seek the party’s top job, which thanks to the UCP’s majority in the Legislature came with the keys to the Premier’s Office.

Former premier Jason Kenney with his Dodge Ram pickup, in Tory blue (Photo: Twitter).

This seems like a case of a party that disparages red tape being saved by the stuff.

For the Edmonton-Whitemud nomination vote, though, Dr. Sherman made sure he obeyed all the party’s rules, was allowed to take part in the race, and now that he’s won it fair and square, there’s not much the UCP can do about him except pray discreetly for an NDP win in the riding. 

Fortunately for all concerned, that shouldn’t be a problem. The NDP’s Edmonton-Whitemud MLA, Rakhi Pancholi, would be extremely difficult to dislodge. She is popular, capable, articulate, and a good fit with the prevailing progressive mood in the city of Edmonton. 

One should never say never, though. Anything can happen in politics. But Ms. Pancholi’s re-election is probably about as close to assured as you can get in Alberta politics. In the event of a NDP victory in the general election, she is likely to be invited to join Leader Rachel Notley’s cabinet.

Dr. Sherman, who is by all accounts a highly competent Emergency Room physician and a decent human being, is nevertheless a menace to any political party associated with him.

Edmonton-Whitemud NDP MLA Rakhi Pancholi (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Readers not familiar with Dr. Sherman’s record may think this is unfair, or even cruel, to say. Alas, I am deadly serious. His political career exemplifies the journalistic cliche “a trail of devastation” one of which he has left in his wake. 

Elected in 2008 in the riding of Edmonton-Meadowlark, Dr. Sherman at first appeared to have a promising career in the Progressive Conservative Party. Well-spoken and respected for his medical work, he was named by Premier Ed Stelmach as Parliamentary Secretary to the minister of health and wellness, Ron Liepert.

But within two years, Dr. Sherman was starting to show the erratic tendency that would be the hallmark of his political life.

In 2010, he gave premier Stelmach little choice but to fire him after he penned a rambling, sometimes incoherent email attacking his own party’s failure to reduce Emergency Room wait times and mailed it to, well, almost everyone.

Given the boot by Mr. Stelmach, Dr. Sherman followed up with a media interview attacking Alberta Health Services Board chair Ken Hughes and Mr. Liepert, who is nowadays a low-profile Conservative MP in Ottawa. 

Progressive Conservative premier Ed Stelmach (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In 2011, Dr. Sherman took a notion to run for the leadership of the Alberta Liberal Party, whose leader David Swann wanted to retire.

The Liberals had two good candidates for the job, capable MLAs Laurie Blakeman and Hugh Macdonald. However, the party had foolishly decided to allow anybody to vote for their new leader, including non-members.

So on Sept. 10, 2011, thanks to that brainstorm, Dr. Sherman won the Liberal leadership on the first ballot and became leader of the Opposition.

Dr. Sherman was a disaster in that role, partly because he believed he had all the answers – especially when it came to the problems of health care. For a spell he managed to persuade quite a few Albertans that was so. It didn’t last.

At one point Dr. Sherman tried to change the party’s name to the Liberalberta Party. That didn’t work out either, for reasons that are probably obvious. 

In the 2012 provincial election, Alison Redford’s PCs formed the government with 61 seats. The Liberals – not long before a credible opposition party – managed to win only five seats with Dr. Sherman at the helm. Still, that surprise kept the party’s heart pumping for another three years.

Dr. David Swann, the Alberta Liberals’ last leader, and the party’s last Alberta MLA (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Meanwhile, however, The Wildrose Party led by Danielle Smith, who is now the UCP premier, managed to win 17 seats, enough to become Official Opposition. The NDP won four.

Dr. Sherman soon earned a reputation as a party leader who made startling revelations and strident claims about the conduct of the government and the health care system, then couldn’t back them up.

He didn’t seem all that interested in leading the party, either, which was described at the time as a group of independents who shared office space.

Dr. Sherman’s performance in the 2013 preferential health care inquiry was underwhelming, to say the least. 

His accusations, which contributed to the inquiry being called, amounted to very little, with retired Judge John Z. Vertes concluding there were only a few minor incidents of patients receiving preferential access to care.

In January 2015, not long before the election that brought the NDP to power, Dr. Sherman decided to pull the plug on the Liberals, quitting as leader and saying he wouldn’t run again as an MLA.

On May 5, 2015, the NDP won a majority government in a general election. The Liberals elected only one MLA, an outcome for which Dr. Sherman certainly deserves much of the credit. Dr. Swann, the only Liberal still standing, was pressed back into service as interim leader.

In the 2019 election, Dr. Swann didn’t seek re-election and the Liberals failed to elect a single MLA.

It’s safe to predict that in the May 29 election, at least in Edmonton-Whitemud, a lot of former Alberta Liberals will be working hard to ensure Ms. Pancholi is re-elected. 

Join the Conversation


  1. Nothing quite says man of the people like someone using the money saved up from years of being paid by the government to go and buy, sorry lease, a big truck to drive around rural Alberta. Of course, Kenney’s lease of that big blue truck has long ended and for now his political career is also over.

    Now Sherman, whose truck shtick perhaps led to Kenney’s several years later is still driving around looking for another political party to drive into the ground. He was a PC MLA and cabinet minister, Alberta Liberal leader and then apparently flirted with the Alberta Party. So that’s three parties he associated with that are now comatose or nearly so. He might be an emergency room doctor, but he seems to have the opposite effect on the parties he joins. Everything he touches politicly turns too crud.

    Of course, he was not completely responsible for all those parties troubles, but where he goes bad fortune seems to follow. So to loosely paraphrase what Bette Davis supposedly said about her nemesis Joan Crawford’s demise, I will finally say something good about Sherman. He is now a UCP candidate, that is … good.

  2. I’m guessing the UCP brain trust decided it would create the least amount of negative press to let Dr. Sherman run for the nomination, presumably unsuccessfully, than face flak from disallowing him as a candidate. That he won the nomination was probably a surprise, but as David points out, all Dr. Sherman has won is the right to lose to Ms. Pancholi. I do wonder if things would have been different if Dr. Sherman had run in a riding that is actually in play, like Sherwood Park.

    It would also be interesting to know some of the inside information that led to Dr. Sherman’s nomination victory. Did he just sell more memberships, or are the existing members expressing their discontent with the Take Back Alberta faction?

  3. Mr Sherman needs to read the room and just go away. It’s the continual political comeback story that no one asked for, save for Sherman himself.

    Whatever his motivation is to constantly seek public office it sure ain’t the desire to serve society and the public good.

    1. On the contrary, it appears to me that Dr. Sherman has a burning drive to serve society. However, it also seems to me that he (and perhaps in his mind only he) absolutely knows what needs to be done to best do that. Regardless of whether any of the things he believes needs to be done are actually positive, that leads to positions that do not allow for any form of compromise. I suppose, in that sense, the UCP may be more in accord with his personality than previous endeavors. As Dr. Norman Ward, the “Dean” of Canadian Political Scientists, once said, “Politics is the art of balancing competing interests.”

      1. “On the contrary, it appears to me that Dr. Sherman has a burning drive to serve society”

        No one can be certain but it seems to me that if someone is so desperate for a seat in the Legislature that they will align themselves with ANY party just to get in then the true goal is simply to get a spot at the public trough.

        1. Firth: I know Dr. Sherman, and I don’t believe that is the case. Dr. Sherman sincerely believes he has all the answers and wants to be in a position where he can help us by bestowing them upon us. The problem he faces from my perspective is that I believe he is delusional about that. Regardless, as I wrote, it’s unlikely that he’ll be elected and be in a position to be much more than a nuisance. He had a reasonably successful a career in politics and if I were to give him advice , it would be to rest on his laurels and find some other more dignified outlet for his charitable urges. That said, I’d far rather see Quixotic campaigns like Dr. Sherman’s than some of the actual neo-Nazis who are likely to crawl out of the woodwork and seek UCP nominations in safe NDP ridings for their own nefarious purposes. DJC

  4. “A trail of devastation” sounds like a good motto for the UCP and a fitting description of it previous and current leaders. For this reason, leadership of the UCP is likely in his future. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try and try again.

  5. “[The Alberta Liberal Party] had foolishly decided to allow anybody to vote for their new leader, including non-members”. This has become quite the trend, with political parties all across Canada of all political stripes, and at both federal and provincial levels, adopting the “one-member [or “supporter”], one-vote” system for their party leadership contests, which are predicated on the IMHO absurd notion that the more memberships a leadership candidate “sells” — as though membership in a political party were a piece of Tupperware — the more likely they are to lead the party to victory in the next election.

    But while this has worked from time to time — like the dude named Justin who became leader of the 3rd-place Liberal Party of Canada, and then astonishingly won an election and became Prime Minister — it has also led to some flaming political disasters. Party leadership races run under this system result in people who have never been involved in party politics and know nothing of the party’s values, policies or culture, choosing the next leader of that party, who can then go on to become a First Minister or Leader of HM Loyal Opposition.

    It’s an excess of democracy, in a paradoxical way, in that it leads to an undemocratic scenario in which the party leader is a power unto themselves that owes no allegiance to the party’s electoral caucus nor to its long-time members and activists.

    In terms of membership “sales”, I can see some value to this being a criterion for the election of a party President or Secretary/Treasurer, or a comparable office at the consistency association level. After all, those posts are part of the party machinery and instrumental in fundraising, party governance, and policy development between elections. But for choosing candidates for electoral office in a leadership role? Completely inappropriate.

    The old system of delegated conventions usually had the benefit of ensuring those choosing the party Leader were invested in the party and its values. It also became a check on the Leader in office, in that his or her caucus mates retained independent sources of power within the party apparatus and could if necessary show an ineffective or incompetent leader the door.

    Just my two (or 20, given the length of my post) cents.

  6. Mr Sherman is the kind of personality who keeps politics interesting. That politics ever needed respite from stultifying dullness seems incredible today but, if nothing else, Sherman might usefully exemplify the threat of Chinese influence on Canadian elections that the CPC’s most recently defeated leader, the now-former leader Erin O’Toole has been recently banging on about (while his replacement leader PP shadow boxes on his hallucinatory 6000-km Border Wall)—but probably only in the “may-you-live-in-interesting-times” sense, which is much, much older than 5G or weather balloons.

    Still, a curse is an influence of sorts, insignificant as it might be. After all, Tamara Litch and the Soldiers of Odium were once influential.

  7. We moved to St. Albert from Devon in 1998 and Lois Hole convinced me to join the Liberal Party, knowing how fed up I was with what Klein did to my Conservative party. I couldn’t believe the stupidity I found. They seemed to have the attitude that all they had to do is wait until Albertans were sick of Klein and they would win without doing anything. It didn’t work.

    1. Alan: I moved to St. Albert just a few years after you did, in the early Naughts, and I too joined the Alberta Liberals for a spell. I must say I didn’t find the St. Albert Liberals stupid. On the contrary, there were some very bright people there, and most of them were very nice. But they seemed to me almost as conservative as the Conservatives of the day and unreasonably hostile to the NDP. But in the political context of the time, I suppose the Dippers were arguably more a threat to them than the Conservatives. Their record in the period was better than in most other Alberta ridings, electing Liberal MLAs in 1993 (Len Bracko) and 2004 (Jack Flaherty). DJC

      1. David. Jack Flaherty credited me with helping him win the election in only 3 weeks of campaigning because of letters I put in the St. Albert Gazette. I also did a lot of telephone calling for him. Knowing that Mary O’Neill was planning on holding a meeting at the senior centre to discuss how wonderful deregulation was going to be for all of us I wrote a letter to the Gazette outlining the concerns my father, a power plant engineer, had with it and what it would do to us. Dad had already passed away but every thing he said would happened has happened. Brian Mason’s father, Bob, an electrical engineer contacted me and said it was a brilliant letter and he would have asked the same questions. Ironically I went to B. C. the day after writing it for a two week holiday and when I got home O’Neil had left 4 messages on my answering machine and she sounded desperate. She wanted me to meet with her behind closed doors to discuss my concerns, but I refused and told her to answer my concerns in the Gazette so everyone could read them which she refused to do. When I contacted Bob Mason to see if he was at the meeting , he said that almost everyone at her meeting was holding a copy of my letter and they were demanding that she answer the questions I was asking and she wouldn’t.
        I certainly agree that there were a lot of intelligent people involved with that Liberal Party. Chris Brown, and Bob Russell , Len Bracko always said that him and I always thought a lot alike. They tried to get me to run before they got Jack to and I refused. I told them that I would continue with writing my letters pointing out what they were doing to us and asked them to comment on my letters and add anything I might have missed, yet never once did any of them respond to one single letter. In 2003 Lawyer Marilyn Burns contacted me and told me that my letters were being circulated around a lot of law offices in the province because they thought they were fantastic and asked me to run in the 2004 election as leader of the Alberta Alliance Party. Once again I refused knowing my wife retiring in two years and we planned to do a lot of travelling and we have. In 2003 one of Lougheed’s former MLAs said he had also read some of my letters and was impressed. His name was Gerry something from Lac La Biche . He said “The dirtiest trick Klein could have played on the Alberta people was deregulation of electricity. This will cost us billions. Just think what it will do to our education and health care budgets. Schools and hospitals use a lot of electricity”. The last figure I heard was it had cost us an extra $40 billion and that was about 10 years ago.I wonder if he know about the orphan wells mess?

  8. Experienced? He’s been around a few blocks a few times.

    Caring? He’s a doctor, occassionally.

    Decisive? Let’s step back from that one for a while.

  9. Can he pump his own gas? If so he is more qualified than Kenney, came across that video again the other day still makes me laugh.

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