More concerns raised about Preston Manning’s role as chair of Alberta COVID panel

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Concerns raised about Preston Manning’s role as chair of Alberta COVID panel
WATCH: There are new concerns about the appointment of Preston Manning to oversee a COVID-19 review panel in Alberta. Critics are pointing to a fictional report Manning wrote last year about a federal investigation into the pandemic. Carolyn Kury de Castillo explains – Jan 23, 2023

More concerns are being raised about the ability of Preston Manning to remain unbiased when he chairs the panel to review the statuary basis of Alberta’s response to the public health emergency created by COVID-19.

On Jan. 19, Premier Danielle Smith announced a committee would investigate how the province responded to the pandemic, and that former Reform Party leader Preston Manning would chair it.

Manning is to pick the other panel members subject to approval by Smith.

Click to play video: 'Ex-Reform leader Preston Manning to chair review of Alberta’s COVID-19 response'
Ex-Reform leader Preston Manning to chair review of Alberta’s COVID-19 response
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The former Reform Party leader was working on a pandemic project last year too.

He wrote a fictional account of a commission that examined the federal government’s response to the pandemic. In it, he imagines the conclusions that would result from an investigation.

Preston Manning: Report of the COVID Commission

He writes about how damaging the COVID restrictions were and speculates about how public servants and politicians who put the measures in place might be held criminally or financially responsible for consequences.

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“That’s a pretty extreme view I think in the context of the debate over the pandemic response,” said University of Calgary political science professor Lisa Young.

“It’s also fairly clear that Manning has quite a bit of sympathy with some of the grievances that were articulated by members of the freedom convoy.”

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Click to play video: 'Our Stories Part 1: ‘Freedom Convoy’ in capital makes history'
Our Stories Part 1: ‘Freedom Convoy’ in capital makes history

Young says if Smith’s purpose is to hear messages that are consistent with her own, then Manning is the safe choice, but she said this panel doesn’t have the budget or chair for a thorough and independent review.

“It means that we don’t have an opportunity to really learn the lessons of the pandemic response.

“If this is primarily a political exercise, then we are left without that public policy exercise that I think many jurisdictions are likely to go through in the next few years,” Young said.

Young said the $2 million price tag would be too low for a serious examination, which would require robust public consultation.

“It would require scientific understanding and some pretty careful analysis, and $2 million doesn’t get you that far,” Young said.

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A panel website asks experts and members of the public to provide their input on one question: “What changes should be made, if any, to the laws of Alberta to better equip the province to cope with future public health emergencies?”

Global News was told Manning wasn’t available for an interview Monday, however, in a statement, Taylor Hides, communications advisor with the premier’s office, said:

“The central role of Mr. Manning as chair of the review panel will be to review the legislation outlined in the ministerial order and terms of reference and recommend amendments to better enable the province to respond to future health emergencies.

“Given his familiarity with the Alberta law, his dedication and credibility with Albertans, and his awareness of the subject matter, he was chosen to lead the review and advise how the province can better manage these situations in the future.”

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Preston Manning announces ‘citizen-led’ inquiry into Canada’s pandemic response'
COVID-19: Preston Manning announces ‘citizen-led’ inquiry into Canada’s pandemic response

The panel has a budget of $2 million, and Manning will be paid $253,000.

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“There are many better ways we could be spending a quarter of a million than paying Preston Manning to rewrite his apocalyptic populist fan fiction,” said Alberta NDP health critic David Shepherd.

This is nothing more than a political exercise.

“There is no chance that what we would see here wouldn’t anyway be an unbiassed report that would have any value for Albertans,” he said.

A final report is expected in November.

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