09/12/2011 01:13 EDT | Updated 11/12/2011 05:12 EST

Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman may put doc job on hold while rebuilds party

EDMONTON - Alberta's new official Opposition leader, who formally joined the caucus Monday, says he may hang up his stethoscope while he helps resuscitate the party from the grassroots up.

"We may have an election coming in the fall or in the spring," Raj Sherman said at the legislature, his fellow eight caucus members standing behind him.

"Working as a doctor will take a back seat."

Sherman currently handles two shifts a month at an Edmonton emergency room.

"The next step is to meet with the party executive," the 45-year-old told his first formal news conference since defeating four other candidates Saturday in a party vote to replace David Swann.

Sherman said he'll look at how past campaigns were run to develop a road map for the future.

"I've met with the campaign managers from Laurence Decore's team. We'll meet with the campaign managers of Dr. (Kevin) Taft and Dr. Swann and every Liberal leader from before.

"This is the best government that Alberta has not had."

Sherman takes over a party that observers say is heading in the wrong direction despite having the most number of opposition members in the 83-seat legislature.

There are just 10 candidates selected to run in the next election. The party garnered 26 per cent support in the 2008 vote, but recent polls suggest it has since fallen to half that.

A resurgent NDP and the new centrist Alberta Party are believed to be taking a bite out of its traditional voter base. Half the Edmonton constituency associations and two-thirds of those in Calgary are inactive and the party has no legislature members from rural regions.

Ten months ago, Sherman was sitting across the aisle as the junior health minister for the governing Progressive Conservatives. He was kicked out of caucus last November for publicly criticizing Premier Ed Stelmach, health bureaucrats and former health minister Ron Liepert for failing to deliver on promises to address long wait lists and other care problems.

He was elected leader when a 54 per cent majority of party supporters voted for him on the first ballot. He defeated fellow caucus colleagues Hugh MacDonald and Laurie Blakeman along with Calgary candidates Bruce Payne and Bill Harvey.

Harvey and MacDonald had complained during the campaign that the party was favouring Sherman's team by adding names of his supporters to the voting list after the deadline. They also said it sent out voting PIN numbers to people who had not signed up or were dead.

Harvey, a businessman who campaigned on a platform of accountability, didn't speak to reporters after the results were announced Saturday, didn't stand with the other candidates on stage and left the convention hall early.

MacDonald, a four-term legislature member, reiterated Monday that he stands united behind Sherman, but believes the vote — which allowed party and non-party members to cast a ballot online, by phone or in person — was a mess that should not be repeated by any political party.

"So many people were complaining to us that they wanted to vote, but they either couldn't get a PIN, or they did have a PIN but couldn't access the system."

MacDonald finished second to Sherman with 26 per cent of the 8,640 votes cast.

He said he still wants to know why a half-hour before the results were announced the list of eligible voters dropped by almost 2,000 names — to about 29,000 — for no apparent reason.

"Those are valid questions a guy wants answers for," MacDonald said.

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