The Stelmach government's heavy-handed reaction to criticism by an MLA with direct knowledge and experience of what he was talking about can hardly inspire confidence among the people of Alberta. Dr. Raj Sherman, the MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark, is a physician who specializes in family and emergency medicine and has continued to work part-time in hospital emergency rooms since he was elected in 2008. He was expelled from the Progressive Conservative caucus on Monday, after he spoke out about the inadequacy of hospital emergency-room services in Alberta.
As the parliamentary assistant to Gene Zwozdesky, the Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Sherman was a member of the government and should have been more discreet in communicating his views. His removal from his subcabinet position was understandable. But casting out him out of the caucus was excessive; one or two outspoken MLAs are manageable for a government that has a comfortable majority in the legislature.
Some of Dr. Sherman's comments have been too personal and too emotional, but they were sincere and based on direct observation. His seriousness is to be compared favourably with the flippancy of Stephen Duckett, the Australian health economist who is the CEO of Alberta Health Services, who declined to be scrummed on the emergency-room controversy, not by saying that political questions should be answered by politicians on the principle of ministerial responsibility, but by repeatedly invoking a cookie he wanted to finish eating.
On Friday, Alberta Health Services presented a plan to give emergency departments "surge capacity protocols," to be in effect by the end of December, But Dr. Sherman's months of frustrations culminated three days later with his suspension. The Alberta Tories would be wise to bring him back into caucus. His presence would help them disarm their opposition critics.