By Christopher Walsh
The cold steel doors are about to open, sending Raj Sherman into a concrete room full of hundreds of desperate souls.
In a long narrow hallway, between the kitchen and the cafeteria, the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre’s manager, Jordan Hamilton, has a few final words before he swipes his card and opens the door.
The Alberta Liberal leader has just completed a thorough tour of the facilities, carefully stepping between sleeping, live carcasses at times and quizzing Hamilton about the needs of Canada’s largest homeless shelter.
Hamilton is telling Sherman just how important his visit is, what it means in the larger scope of not only politics, but hope and possibly inspiration.
“This could help them care a little more about themselves,” he says. “So much so that they might better cope with their mental health challenges, they might take a giant step and cope with an addiction. But the first step is showing you care. Walking through this door, you’re not only doing that …”
Sherman understands. He cuts off Hamilton’s theatrics.
“Absolutely,” he says. “Shall we go through?”
“Yes, please,” Hamilton says and swipes his card to gain access to the cafeteria.
“Can we talk to a couple of them?”
“Please do,” he says.
Sherman finds a man sitting at the first table in the cafeteria with a half eaten bag of potato chips in front of him and engages in conversation. Another man, in his 50s, at the next table starts the grumblings.
I may or may not be responsible for what happened next.
“Oh, it’s voting time,” the malcontent says. “Premier! Wow! So we got a bunch of politicians here?”
Just one, he’s told, but he really doesn’t care because he already knows who he’s voting for.
“What’s her name; Redford,” the man recalls, adding that the Wildrose are “full of hot air”.
“2015,” he scoffs, and I begin to think this might be his prophecy. “We’ll all be dead by the time she wants to give us three bills.”
“What about Sherman?” I ask innocently enough.
“Is he a Liberal? I hate the Liberals,” the man says, further elaborating that the federal parties are the same as the provincial parties.
“It’s all bullshit anyways. Put ‘em all in jail!” he starts to yell.
“Who do you want to see in jail?” I inquire.
“All those politicians that have robbed that $1,000 a month must go to jail! Send them to prison, just like they do to us!”
Raj turns around at this point.
“What’s your name?” he asks.
Sherman shakes Daniel’s hand, as the man grows even more irate about jailing politicians.
“Daniel, listen,” Sherman says, trying to calm the man. “They put us on those committees, I was on that and I said, ‘look, I’m sorry’. I gave the money back, with interest. I say cut the golden handshakes. We’ve got to raise taxes on the rich and the big companies to look after Albertans.”
“There’s consequences,” Daniel offers, seemingly calm.
“You can do something,” Sherman says. “You can vote them out. I’m the Liberal leader. I gave every cent back even for the time I worked, with compound interest.”
“Well that’s respectable. But in the first place, you never should have took it.”
“You know what? You’re right, you’re right….”
“You guys are our leaders. You understand that? Stand up and be a man, take a bullet, do whatever ya gotta do, but put your fist down and say I’m not a crook, I’m not a scammer, and I’m not a liar. I’m a leader of the people and I’m not taking the fucking money! Shove it up your ass! Somebody’s gotta stand up in the fucking parliament and say you’re a bunch of crooks AND IT’S TIME YOU GO TO JAIL!!!!”
Raj Sherman steps back calmly, as everyone in the shelter drops their lunches, ends their conversations abruptly and stares.
“That’s what we said, Daniel,” he says as Daniel storms off. “So, please get out and vote.”
That kind of stuff doesn’t even shake Sherman. The ER doc is used to dealing with people suffering through mental illness and those who vote Conservative.