Skip to main content
opinion

When Alberta Premier Danielle Smith announced that former Reform Party leader Preston Manning would be leading a review of the province’s COVID-19 pandemic response, few could appreciate the pure genius of the move.

Yes, the cost is steep: a budget of $2-million and a salary of $253,000 for Mr. Manning. But not many knew at the time that the arch-conservative former federal politician had already done extensive leg work in this area.

Indeed, in May of last year, Mr. Manning issued the findings of an inquiry into the federal government’s handling of the pandemic. Report of the COVID Commission, it was entitled. And it was written by Mr. Manning himself. How great is that?

Actually, not that great at all.

What Mr. Manning released was a “fictional, futuristic description of relevant political developments in the post-COVID period in Canada.” He said he wrote it to show what a real COVID commission might reveal. And judging by his fantastical account of such a probe, it would demonstrate gross overreach by Ottawa in the form of policies that infringed on people’s fundamental freedoms.

Note, Mr. Manning decided to investigate only the federal Liberals’ handling of the pandemic, ignoring provincial jurisdictions whose pandemic policies arguably had a more far-reaching impact on citizens than any Ottawa implemented. But then looking at the provinces would have put him in the uncomfortable position of having to examine the often-irrational and chaotic response of conservative regimes running those jurisdictions, not the least of which was Jason Kenney’s in Alberta.

Let’s face it: Ms. Smith’s decision to give Mr. Manning responsibility for conducting such a review is a travesty. Normally, there would be outrage over such a partisan, biased appointment. One likely to produce a partisan, biased conclusion and set of recommendations. In Alberta, people just shrug. It’s more of the same.

It’s worth examining some of Mr. Manning’s views on this topic, starting with the “COVID commission” he imagined, which, while fictional, certainly reflects his feelings on a range of issues, such as pandemic-related restrictions. At least part of it could have been written by a member of the “freedom convoy,” such are the lengths to which it goes to talk about how people’s “rights and freedoms” were “violated” by “unelected bureaucrats.”

“And millions of Canadians also suffered job and income losses, some of them permanent, as thousands of businesses were crippled or destroyed by governmental decisions to ‘lock down’ the economy,” he writes.

Among his conclusions, Mr. Manning says the federal government “grossly mismanaged” its pandemic response largely because it assigned responsibility for overseeing it to Health Canada. He blasts Ottawa for its “consistent and persistent use of ‘fear’ as the primary instrument for motivating Canadians to comply” with its health measures.

Mr. Manning has offered his pandemic viewpoints in other forums. In a conversation with a host from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy last year, he promoted groups such as the Canadian Covid Care Alliance. This would be the same organization known for spreading anti-vaccine misinformation, and heralding the virtues of unproven COVID-19 treatments such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.

Some of the same so-called cures that Ms. Smith herself once endorsed.

Last November, Mr. Manning announced that he was launching a National Citizens Inquiry into Canada’s response to COVID-19. He argued that this was necessary because governments weren’t in a position to do this because it would mean “governments would be investigating themselves.” This appears to be a concern he was able get over when Ms. Smith came calling with her $253,000 job offer.

But in announcing his own inquiry – which he has now stepped away from in light of the Alberta assignment – Mr. Manning said he was looking for testimony “particularly from experts whose alternative medical narratives or alternative scientific narratives were ignored or even censored during the pandemic.”

Cue the nutbars.

Mr. Manning is expected to issue a final report to Ms. Smith by mid-November. It’s doubtful it will excoriate the United Conservative Party government for its often messed up handling of COVID-19.

It will likely be heavy on the need to respect people’s individual liberties and light on what you do when hospitals start filling up with extremely ill people who refused to get vaccinated. You can count on the word “freedom” being used dozens if not hundreds of times in the final report.

There are certainly grounds for an examination of what Alberta could have done better in its COVID-19 response. Unfortunately, the province has decided to spend millions on a report led by someone whose well-known biases taint anything he produces.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe