By Nicki Thomas, Edmonton JournalA Liberal government would appoint an independent advocate for seniors in Alberta, party leader Raj Sherman announced Wednesday in Edmonton.The proposed position would report directly to the legislature. It would come with a budget of $10 million as well as the power to compel public inquiries. The Liberals have already called for increased funding for home care and long-term care, and guaranteed timely access to surgery and emergency services. The advocate would help seniors “who have fallen through the cracks” navigate government bureaucracy, Sherman said.“First you have to create a system where you fund seniors’ care. And the hope is that no seniors drop through the cracks. If they do, then there’s place for them to go,” he said.Noel Somerville, chairman of the seniors task force for Public Interest Alberta, called the proposal, an idea his organization has been pushing for seven years, “long overdue.” He said it’s crucial that an advocate remain apolitical, reporting to the legislature rather than the minister of seniors.An independent advocate “would go a long way to addressing so many of the problems we’re seeing on a daily basis,” Somerville said.Earlier in the day, Sherman was in Red Deer, where he proposed new incentives to put doctors into general practice and into small towns.In an interview after the announcement, Sherman said he wants to link the province’s two medical schools at University of Calgary and University of Alberta to colleges and hospitals in smaller centres to allow students to do several years of their training and residency in centres such as Red Deer and Lethbridge.“Let’s get you out of the major cities and let’s train you along with the rest of the health team and let’s invest in more residency spots in rural Alberta. The evidence is that if you train them there, they will actually stay there, 60 per cent,” he said.Sherman said too many current medical students in the province are training as specialists, then leaving the province. He wants two-thirds of the students training as family doctors.Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said her party has a similar program in its platform to provide incentives to doctors to live and work in smaller communities.“We have a similar kind of policy. I think the competition for talent is going to get fierce, especially as we start to see more retirees leaving the workplace than new graduates entering the workplace,” she said.Smith said Wildrose would consider matching the federal government’s initiative to rebate loan debt for doctors and nurses who go to rural communities.Meanwhile, Sherman dismissed a Calgary Herald-Edmonton Journal poll putting the Tories and Wildrose nearly tied at 29 per cent and 26 per cent respectively, and the Liberals at 9.5 per cent.“These polls have bouncing up and down for everybody. The poll that counts is on election day,” he said. “From our point of view, we have our game plan and we’re going to stick to it. Our goal is to make this election about the issues, the solutions to the problems Albertans face, while the PCs and Wildrose go through a nasty divorce.”With files from James Woods and Darcy HentonBy Nicki Thomas, Edmonton Journalnthomas@edmontonjournal.comThis article was published in the Edmonton Journal on March 28, 2012. Read the full article on the Edmonton Journal website.