Having promised back in January that an interim report of the COVID-19 review panel — for which former Reform Party leader Preston Manning was to be paid $235,000 — would be handed over to the Alberta government by end of June, the UCP government had to say something.
In the event though, the only thing they had to say in response to an enterprising reporter who asked what had become of the interim report of the $2-million Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel was that it’s for their eyes only, and the rest of us won’t get to see it — not now and probably not ever.
Don’t worry, though, the office of Premier Danielle Smith told Edmonton Journal reporter Matthew Black yesterday, we’ll all still get to see the final report on Nov. 15 as promised.
Arguably, it’s not really an interim report if we don’t get to see it — it’s just a draft.
But it’s easy to speculate on the reasons why the government, which presumably has by now had the opportunity to take a first look at the 81-year-old former Reform Party leader’s doubtless herculean effort, felt it might need a little extra time to polish up the results.
There was always the risk, after all, that the interim report might just turn out to be a thinly self-plagiarized version of Manning’s May 2022 exercise in “bizarre speculative fiction” about the so-called “Freedom Convoy.”
That was when the superannuated godfather of the Canadian right took a not terribly effective stab at writing actual fiction. Reviews were bad for the turgid effort in which imaginary convoy seditionists got to haul physicians, professors and journalists before drumhead courts to try them for conspiring with the Ottawa Liberals to use the pandemic as an excuse to steal our Charter rights.
There may have been a time when Premier Smith, a COVID vaccine skeptic and quack cure enthusiast herself, thought that would be a dandy idea. But now that the convoy crowd has moved on from anti-vax hysterics to outright hatred for anyone associated with the colours of the rainbow, maybe not so much. Also, she may not want to remind us that so far 5,803 Albertans have lost their lives to COVID on the UCP’s watch.
In addition, as a freedom of information request last spring revealed, when Albertans were invited to provide their input to the panel through the online portal set up on the Government of Alberta website, too many of the 2,200 or so citizens who responded didn’t provide the answers Premier Smith and the United Conservative Party were looking for.
Instead of the anti-vax policies the government clearly hoped respondents would demand, the most popular recommendations for changes to public health regulations were for more reliance on true medical expertise and more independence for the chief medical officer of health so the holder of that office could more easily sidestep interfering politicians to effectively control infectious diseases like COVID-19.
No doubt some heavy lifting and pretzel logic remains to justify a final report that calls for changes that will suit the anti-vax (and anti-gay) Take Back Alberta cadres who skidded former premier Jason Kenney and put Smith in his office.
As a political ally of the UCP in general and Smith in particular, now closely associated with anti-vax extremists, Manning was a singularly inappropriate choice to author a government report on anything to do with the response to COVID-19.
He stepped back from his other anti-public-health project, the deceptively named National Citizen's Inquiry, when he got the better paid gig with the UCP government, although how far he stepped away is not clear.
That anti-vax dog and pony show led by right-wing agitators, which is not by any description an inquiry or truly national in scope, managed to gin up a certain amount of media interest from “witnesses” sob stories in April, but has been quite quiet of late. Perhaps its organizers are waiting for a lull in the port strike hysteria to start trying to own the Libs again.