Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Paging Dr. Sherman...

Alright, Nation...  I want to start this post off by being as clear as I can:

The very notion of "party discipline" is distasteful, to me.  The notion that an elected Member of the Legislative Assembly can be punished for speaking up for his or her constituents is anti-democratic, at best.

What I want to do with this post, though, is examine a little deeper...  because, as much as newspapers and partisan hacks of all stripes might like the simplest, easiest-to-understand story, I give readers of The Enlightened Savage more credit than that. You can handle grey - you don't need everything black or white.

Raj Sherman sent an email badly in need of spell-checking to his caucus colleagues and to some of his fellow physicians, which was leaked to the media. In that email, he mentioned his lack of confidence in Alberta Health Services, and that he believed the Premier had "broken his promise not only to the ER doctors, but also to the seniors, the 1.8 million Albertans who present for emergency care and their 2 million family members, and to all frontline healthcare professionals".

Sherman, the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Health & Wellness, was not punished for this criticism of AHS and the Premier. He went into a 2-and-a-half hour meeting with Premier Stelmach the next day, and came out of that meeting committed to helping the government fix the issues that plague the system.

Let's review that last paragraph again: Sherman was NOT disciplined for his criticism of the Premier.  At least, not in any measurable, on-the-books sort of way.  Critics of Stelmach will insist, and I certainly can't prove them wrong, that dissenters are dealt with behind closed doors, their upward mobility is hobbled, they're denied committee memberships, etc.  But, in front of the cameras, there was no discipline for Sherman. Just as there was no formal and public discipline when Kyle Fawcett criticised the Premier. Or when Fred Horne criticised his own government. Or when Heather Forsyth suggested, during the 2008 campaign, that Stelmach was possibly going to cost her her own seat.  Criticism of the Premier specifically, or of the government-as-a-whole, seems to be fair game (as it jolly well should be, in my opinion).

Sherman even spoke eloquently in favour of a Liberal motion for an emergency debate on the ER crisis.  He was not disciplined - again, nor SHOULD he have been.

Where Sherman runs into trouble is the next day, when he tells CTV News "The previous minister, to be honest, was quite rude and offensive to all front-line staff".

NOW Raj is in trouble.  Because he has (more or less) named another member of caucus - one other than the Premier - and criticised that member publicly.  Which is EXACTLY what got Guy Boutilier tossed from the PC caucus.  Boutilier didn't get kicked out of caucus for speaking against the Premier, or standing up for his constituents. The "line" that Guy crossed, now in more stark relief as result of the Sherman incident, was when he accused the Health Minister publicly of "talking gibberish".
I'm not going to say that I agree or disagree with where the Premier has drawn the line - I can tell you that if it were ME, I'd probably draw it elsewhere. But it's not my call.  What's important, in ANY organization, is that there are clear lines about what is and is not acceptable behaviour. What is, and what is not, tolerable.  Clearly, we've seen that criticism of the Premier or of the performance of the government as a whole, or of departments WITHIN the government, are fair game.  We saw it with Forsyth, and Fawcett, and Horne, and (at first) Sherman.  What has NOT been tolerated is criticism of individual caucus members not named "Stelmach".

One of the earliest rules you learn when you begin dating is that you never, EVER tell your partner they have to choose between you and someone else. It's not just dirty pool - it almost never ends the way you were hoping.  Whether you SAY "choose me or your friends", or whether you just force that choice through your actions, the person who forces the choice to be made, almost never ends up being the one chosen.

When you, as a PC caucus member, force the Premier to choose between you and someone else in the caucus, it's probably not going to go very well for you.

Ed can take a punch. He's done it before, and he'll likely do it again.  But he's clearly shown that you can't take swings at other members of caucus in public.

I'm not saying I like what's happened. I LIKE Raj. He's a good guy, and a good MLA.  He will remain both of those things - but he'll be those things OUTSIDE of the PC caucus, for now.

But it's consistent.  We know where the line is, and he crossed it. He's not being punished for speaking out on health care - he's being punished for publicly criticising a fellow member of caucus.

If Raj truly wants to fix the system, from the inside - he should take his medicine, learn his lesson, apologize for crossing the line, and get back in the trenches with the rest of caucus to offer his expertise to fix a broken system.

The PC's need Raj.

The question is: Does Raj think he needs the PC's?


Anonymous said...

The fight promoters in the media and on the opposition benches will, of course, bill this as caucus being proxy for the Premier. But from what has been outlined is that the caucus vote was taken without the presence of either the Premier or the Minister of Health and Wellness. Is this, then, party discipline or caucus discipline?

I would argue that being told by the Premier (or the Premier's office) that you're out means one thing and a unanimous vote by your caucus colleagues means another.

I would agree with your closing questions about who needs who most. If Dr. Sherman is truly desiring to be part of the solution, he should consider eating some crow on his personal insults to a caucus colleage and continue what appeared to be was the opening of a dialogue with both Stelmach and Zwoszdesky. Or would he take the same route as another rookie MLA, one who also was given a high profile voice, but chose to sit across the aisle and throw both tantrums and rocks?

Hank said...

Mr. Savage,

I think we should take another look at the Guy Boutilier caucus booting.

1) Look at his former Ministries. International, Environment, Municipal Affairs. What are some of Alberta's biggest problems: International rep, environment, infrastructure. And your legacy is Guy?

2) If you listen to his speeches, or try to listen to his speeches, it's all about Guy. The world revolves around Guy. When he was left out of the Cabinet did he talk about Fort Mac not being represented? No, he talked about going to Harvard with Obama. It was about Guy.

Raj Sherman is passionate about health care in Alberta. Guy is passionate about Guy.

3) Guy was kicked out for one specific reason: he leaked news from the caucus to friends in the media. The press guys (and you can narrow it down) really liked the favour and thus never mentioned it, but that's the number one reason.

So, two ridings now in Fort Mac?

Sorry for the length of this.