I love politics and I think it is a force for good. But sometimes I despair about the way politics is practiced and portrayed. When politics is all about getting and keeping power it is becomes manipulative, intimidating and even corrupt. That is politics at its lowest. When politics is about exploring new ideas, sharing wisdom to protect and empower citizens, it is at its best.
This past two weeks politics in Alberta has been at its worst, at its best and is changing faster than most of us could imagine. I am talking about the events around the courage of Dr. Raj Sherman to take a stand and expose some political truth about health care in Alberta. There is now evidence of politically motivated reactions and tactics by anonymous forces who are intent on discrediting and even destroying Dr. Sherman.
Efforts to discredit Raj by questioning his mental and emotional state are an example of politics at its worst. Dark forces are now challenging his professional capacity to practice medicine with anonymous innuendos. Sherman is fighting back by talking openly about these perverse efforts against him. That is the only way to defeat these dark forces.
Intimidation, threats and bullying is on-going from some segments of the PC government as they try to control messages and command loyalty. I know I faced this myself when I publicly announced I was no longer going to stay as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. Clients were told they would have more success in dealing with government if I was no longer involved in representing them. Long time party supporters have been suddenly and unceremoniously removed from positions on boards because they were suddenly not “acceptable” to serve. Why? Because those individuals were simply publicly speaking truth to power. Community based not-for profit agencies that rely on government funding to provide services to vulnerable citizens have been told to toe the line or there will be “consequences”- personally and organizationally. This is no way for those in authority to behave.
When this kind of coercion happens paranoia runs deep and creeps into your heart. Intimidation should not becomes “normal” in our political culture. It must be stopped. That can only happen by public exposure by those who are its victims. Silence is compliance. Speaking out against this kind of intimidation and coercion is exactly what Dr. Raj Sherman is doing now. More reason to applaud him and value his courage.
When we feel threatened by powerful forces we can even start to question the integrity of our friends. That is what has happened in the recent highly publicized conversation between Fred Horne and Dr. P. J. White, who are both friends of Raj Sherman. Many of us are friends of Raj Sherman and admire him for what he is doing. We are also aware of the enormous stress Raj is facing as he stands up against some very powerful and entrenched political forces.
With such intense feelings and threatening circumstances it is very easy to misinterpret good intentions…even of your friends. Drawing a negative conclusion is easy and often justified as a survival strategy - but it also could be a wrong conclusion. I think the wrong conclusions have been drawn around the actions and intent Fred Horne and P.J. White in sharing an authentic mutual concern for the well-being of Raj Sherman.
Some context is important in trying to better understand what is happening here. Fred is the new Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Wellness. Fred ran the new health act public consultation process this summer. P.J. White is a psychiatrist and the newly elected President of the Alberta Medical Association. In a cynical world it is easy to misinterpret the actions and intentions of Fred and P.J. as powerful people who may be part of a conspiracy to discredit Raj Sherman politically and professionally.
The other, more realistic interpretation in my opinion and based on the personal characters of Fred and P.J., is they are simply sharing a genuine concern for the well-being of a mutual friend in a difficult time In the vulnerable reality of Raj Sherman these days, one can hardly blame him for being paranoid about such a conversation taking place, even amongst good friends. To see the erosion of the benefit of the doubt about the intent of friends, shows just how sad and dysfunctional our political culture has become these days.
I have a long standing friendship with Fred Horne. I have a growing friendship with Raj Sherman and a deep respect for his character and courage. I have recently met Dr. P.J. White, under other circumstances, but we share some personal values about politics. I also admire P.J. for his personal and professional courage for standing up against the irrational political decision of Dr. Duckett and the AHS to close Alberta Hospital in Oliver. He stopped the closure.
When the conversation Fred and P.J. had about the well-being of Raj Sherman became public and a focus in the media I called both Fred and P.J. to get some first-hand content and context on what was really going on here. I am certain from my personal knowledge of both gentlemen and our recent chats that the intent of the conversation between Fred Horne and P.J. White was motivated by a shared respect for Raj Sherman and a genuine concern for his overall well-being.
But the record can and should be set straight. I hope this blog post is a step in that direction.If there is a politically motivated conspiracy to discredit Raj Sherman based on innuendo about his mental state and capacity, Fred Horne and P.J. White are not part of it. They, along with many others, and me included have reached out to personally and publicly support Raj. We are all dismayed at how low some will stoop to sustain or gain political power at the expense of others.
Raj Sherman has supporters – lots of them. He has powerful enemies too – I expect many of them. The big difference is the supporters are open and public while the enemies are anonymous and secretive. So who should the public trust? Which narrative of Raj Sherman will "win" in the court of public opinion? When seeking changes in political attitudes and culture, it is the court of public opinion that matters most. What people come to believe becomes political reality. In politics perception is reality…and that is not just a cliché.
Monday November 29th will see a Point of Privilege presented in the Alberta Legislature asking if Fred Horne is part of a political conspiracy to discredit Dr. Raj Sherman. I trust it will be debated in the spirit of supporting the political integrity, transparency, honesty and the accountability of our elected representatives. I hope it is motivated by a desire to enhance our democracy and to regain some increased respect for the institution of the Alberta Legislature. If this is not the case, it will only perpetuate the worst of our declining political culture.
I hope for better angels to prevail on all of our provincial politicians today. I am no Pollyanna but I do believe the better angels will triumph. That will only happen if the wisdom and good judgment of our elected representative overcomes the excessive partisanship that dominates our political culture these days.
Albertans are not fools and we do not think our elected representatives should be either. If there is a politically motivated whisper campaign to discredit and destroy Raj Sherman, it must stop NOW! I hope the NDP Point of Privilege Motion being heard today is the start of a new direction in our political culture. If it is merely another tactic in political gamesmanship, I will despair even deeper about the democratic deficit in this province.
So, ladies and gentlemen of the Alberta Legislature, it is time to listen to your better angels….here and now…on this issue and the many other health care concerns of Albertans. It is time to return to your task of serving the best interests of Albertans…not just personal or partisan power agendas. Rest assured we will be watching and judging you.
UPDATE NOV 29 12:35 PM - I HAVE JUST BEEN ADVISED BY SOMEONE IN THE MAIN STEAM MEDIA THAT THE NDP HAVE WITHDRAWN THEIR POINT OR PRIVILEGE THAT WAS TO GO TODAY ON IF THERE WAS AN ANTI-SHERMAN CONSPIRACY TO DISCREDIT HIM.