Raj Sherman

Three Alberta political parties laid low by three political leaders in three years. You couldn’t make this stuff up!

Raj Sherman made it a last-place trifecta this morning, stepping down as leader of the Alberta Liberal Party effective immediately and promising not to run again as MLA for the Edmonton-Meadowlark riding once a general election is called, which is likely to be soon.

One assumes there were sighs of relief all ’round in Alberta Liberal circles, what’s left of them.

Alison Redford had already very nearly finished off the ruling Progressive Conservative Party, although they seem to have recovered very nicely under Premier Jim Prentice since she was fired by her own caucus last March. Danielle Smith did much the same thing to the Wildrose opposition on Dec. 17, and the jury is still out on whether that party can recover.

Only the Alberta NDP has managed a leadership transition since the 2012 provincial general election without leaving blood on the floor. In October, New Democrats chose Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley to replace Brian Mason, who stepped down after serving as leader since 2004. He remains MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood.

As for Dr. Sherman, now 48, the young Emergency Room doctor and Tory MLA who stood up to Premier Ed Stelmach, then became Alberta Liberal leader in 2011 in an ill-considered party leadership race that allowed non-members to vote, never really gained traction as a leader.

He had a reputation for being, to put it charitably, a one-man show. He thought he had all the answers – especially when it came to health care — and for a spell he was able to persuade a lot of Albertans this was so. Alas, it soon became apparent he spoke well, but he didn’t really listen.

The Liberals — a once credible opposition party — squeaked past the 61-seat 2012 Redford Government majority with five seats, more than most observers had expected before the vote. The Wildrose Party became the opposition with 17; New Democrats won four.

Dr. Sherman was a decent enough person, although at times it seemed his political judgment could be almost as spectacularly bad as Ms. Redford’s turned out to be. Increasingly, under his leadership, the Liberal Party came to be seen as a group of independent MLAs who shared office space.

While Dr. Sherman took over the leadership with plenty of good will — he was always personally popular with large numbers of Albertans — even before the 2012 election it seemed unlikely he would take the party far.

Over time, he earned a reputation as a party leader who made startling revelations and strident claims about the conduct of the government or the health care system, and then didn’t – or, as in the case of retired Judge John Z. Vertes’ preferential health care inquiry, couldn’t — back them up.

With two of the five remaining Liberal MLAs about to quit to run for the Liberal Party of Canada in the next federal election — Darshan Kang from Calgary-McCall and Kent Hehr from Calgary-Centre — it really was starting to look as if the Alberta Liberals were done like dinner.

Under Dr. Sherman, the party has fallen behind the NDP in both fund-raising and popularity. Elections Alberta is currently investigating allegations Dr. Sherman broke political contribution limits by donating $15,000 of his own money to the party.

Why Dr. Sherman picked today in particular to put an end to the misery is not entirely clear, although it seems likely the real question is whether he was pushed… or shoved.

Veteran Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman is said to be the most likely interim leader, if she wants the job.

This leaves both the already much reduced Liberals and the five-member Wildrose rump in the position of requiring a leadership election in a time period when Premier Prentice is likely to call a swift, early general election.

Supporters of those two opposition parties are likely to scream that Mr. Prentice ought to give them each a chance to choose new leaders before proceeding to an election, but that would require him to acknowledge that either of them even exists. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that kind of consideration to enter into the premier’s electoral calculus.

With pressure on MLAs from the coming election’s anticipated tight time schedule, it was a busy day on the Alberta election file, with MLAs and would-be MLAs announcing or discussing their intentions. Among them, in no particular order:

–    Doug Griffiths, former PC leadership candidate and Redford Government minister, quit as MLA for Battle River-Wainwright, effective now. The 42-year-old said it’s time for some fresh faces in the PC caucus – you know, like recently elected Education Minister Gordon Dirks, 67, and Health Minister Stephen Mandel, 69.

–    Mary Anne Jablonski, five-term MLA for Red Deer North said she did not intend to run again in the next election.

–    Ditto for Donna Kennedy-Glans, one-term Tory MLA for Calgary-Varsity.

–    Derek Fildebrandt, who as Alberta director of the supposedly non-partisan Canadian Taxpayers Federation was a hardy perennial of the Canadian outrage industry until late last year when he resigned after reports he was planning to run for office, announced he would run for the Wildrose Party in Strathmore-Brooks east of Calgary. Mr. Fildebrandt is a high-profile candidate, suggesting there may be some life in the old party yet, even without the leader he once admired.

–    Guy Boutilier, at various times PC, Independent and Wildrose MLA for Fort McMurray, a cabinet minister under Ralph Klein, mayor of the northern oil city and until recently a city councillor there – he resigned when constituents reported he no longer really lived in the city — was dropping hints he might run against PC MLA Mike Allen in Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. This could prove interesting, since “Guy Boots” has always had a strong following in Fort Mac and Mr. Allen was only recently readmitted to the Tory caucus after being arrested on prostitution charges while on government business in Minnesota in 2013.

–    Joe Anglin, Independent MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre “fired” by the Wildrose Party last summer when party members chose his constituency association president to replace him, said he would seek the PC nomination in the riding. This is something, one imagines, the PCs would prefer to do without.

I’m in Ottawa on business, and I suggested there might not be many posts this week for that reason. But who can ignore this stuff? This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...