EDMONTON — The chair of a taxpayer-funded panel reviewing Alberta’s COVID-19 response is urging the federal Conservatives to weaponize his findings in the next election against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s governing coalition.
Preston Manning, the former head of the Reform Party, made the pitch last week in an email sent to Conservative MPs on the same day the report from the panel he chaired was published.
The email begins with the salutation "Dear CPC friends," but the recipients list included Calgary Liberal MP George Chahal, who published the missive on social media Monday.
In the email, dated Nov. 15, Manning wrote, “If the response of the Liberal/NDP coalition to the 2020-2023 COVID crisis should become an election issue in 2024, there may be some material in this report that could be used by the CPC to say ‘what should have been done to cope with the COVID crisis and what should be done to cope with future public emergencies.'"
He added, “Some of its content may also be useful in attacking the record of the Liberal/NDP coalition in this area.”
In the email, Manning also congratulates the federal Conservatives on recent upticks in polling, adding “with any luck and some hard work you should be in government next year.”
Manning also encouraged a “closer practical relationship” between Premier Danielle Smith’s United Conservatives and the federal Conservatives to promote shared interests, adding "Everybody benefits, especially Alberta."
In a statement Monday, Manning drew a distinction between his time on the panel and off it.
“The Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel was a non-partisan panel tasked with providing advice to the Government of Alberta to improve Alberta's response to future public health emergencies," wrote Manning.
"After our work was completed, I reached out to politicians from my personal email encouraging them to review our recommendations."
Smith, asked about the email at an unrelated news conference, said she’s OK with it.
Smith noted it was sent from a non-panel email address, and said the more people who see the report’s findings, the better.
"As I understand it, (Manning) sent that out from his own personal email, so you can ask him about that," said Smith.
"But we had given Mr. Manning the latitude to be able to do his own media on (the report and) make people aware that it was available.
"It doesn't surprise me that he wants to see other politicians look at the recommendations, take them seriously and see if they would act on it."
She added: "I have no problem with him taking the steps that he did as an independent chair of that committee."
Manning’s $2-million panel was tasked by Smith with making recommendations on how laws, regulations and organizational charts could be altered to help Alberta better prepare for a future pandemic such as COVID-19.
Manning, a vocal critic of COVID restrictions affecting individual rights and freedoms, delivered a report that concluded Alberta needs to concentrate decision-making in cabinet, embrace alternative scientific theories and do more to protect personal liberties during future crises.
His comments meshed with comments by Smith during the COVID-19 pandemic when she, too, publicly questioned the efficacy of rules and gathering restrictions, particularly when compared with the potential for long-term harms to mental and physical well-being.
Smith at that time questioned the mainstream science approach to the pandemic and endorsed debunked COVID-19 treatments, such as horse dewormer ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.
During question period Monday, Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley asked Smith if Albertans should expect the next pandemic to be fought with fringe medicine, given the premier's beliefs and the Manning report.
“Does (Smith) still believe that horse dewormer is a valid treatment for COVID? And does she plan to make similar recommendations as a treatment for future health emergencies?” said Notley.
Smith didn’t answer directly but said the thrust of the Manning report is to examine all impacts of health decisions and said her government would do so.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2023.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press