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Pandemic Report, or Conservative Campaign Propaganda?

Manning’s blunder in email to CPC MPs provides the clear answer.

David Climenhaga 23 Nov 2023Alberta Politics

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at AlbertaPolitics.ca. Follow him on Twitter at @djclimenhaga.

In case you were looking for another reason to want Preston Manning’s preposterous politicized pandemic panel report to be spiked, there’s this.

George Chahal, the Liberal member of Parliament for the Calgary Skyview riding, took to social media this week to share an email he’d received on Nov. 15 from Manning, the leader of the Reform party Opposition in Parliament in the late 1990s and a pious right-wing nuisance in Canadian politics ever since.

“Last week, I received a very candid email from Preston Manning about his Alberta taxpayer-funded COVID-19 review panel,” Chahal tweeted. “Take a look.”

The attached copy of Manning’s e-pistle to his “Dear CPC Friends” is indeed interesting. It was sent the day the report of the six-member “Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel” chaired by Manning was dropped on the Alberta public.

The email was addressed to the long list of Conservative MPs in Alberta. However, the superannuated godfather of the Canadian right, now 81, seems to have momentarily forgotten that there was a Liberal MP in Calgary too. Or, at least, someone did.

“Things are certainly looking up in the polls and with any luck and some hard work you should be in government next year,” Manning began cheerfully.

“As you may know, for the past year I have been chairing this panel for Alberta’s Premier Smith to examine the legislation authorizing the orders and regulation whereby the Government of Alberta responded to the COVID-19 crisis and to suggest amendments or additional legislation that would better prepare the province to manage future public emergencies,” he continued.

This is a bit misleading, although since Manning was addressing his fellow Conservatives I don’t think we need to suspect he was trying to hoodwink anyone. It’s just that it’s hard to stop gaslighting once you get rolling.

In fact, it is reasonable to conclude that the true purpose of the report’s recommendations was to make it virtually impossible for the Alberta government to respond to any public health emergency in a timely fashion — thereby privileging commerce over public health.

Coming to the point of his missive, Manning advised that “if the response of the Liberal/NDP coalition to the 2020-23 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.’”

Manning, who will hereinafter be referred to as the Alberta government’s best-paid political strategist, went on to explain that he had forwarded a copy of his news release, containing a link to the doorstopper report, with “a special note to Edmonton area CPC MPs that it is the area of the province where the premier and the UCP need extra support for the report and politically.”

Manning was given a $2-million budget to cook up the politically motivated report, which is based more on opinion and political tribalism than serious research and advises giving more time to “alternative scientific narratives,” as well as being paid $253,000 for his own scribblings.

But he’s right about the UCP needing help in Edmonton, it must be admitted. Provincially, Edmonton is solid orange, with an NDP MLA holding every single riding in the city and a couple more in the surrounding suburbs. Federally, Conservative MPs may still prevail, but there are cracks in that wall too, and more NDP and Liberal MPs may be elected eventually.

“It seems to me there would be real merit in developing a close practical relationship here in Alberta between the UCP and the CPC,” Manning advised the federal Conservatives, although in fact there is very little light between the two right-wing parties.

“They need your support for some of their initiatives — such as promoting and implementing the recommendations of this report — and you could use their active support for your re-election in 2024,” he continued. “What I’m wondering is whether a small task force composed of interested CPC MPs and UCP folks could be put together to jointly pursue this objective? Everybody benefits, especially Alberta.”

I’m sure most Liberals and New Democrats would heartily endorse this thought, although I’m not so sure Conservative MPs would benefit from too much association with the Take Back Alberta lunacy that nowadays drives the UPC. But fill your boots!

Alert readers will recall that the last time Manning suggested a grand alliance like this was in 2014, when Danielle Smith, then the leader of the Wildrose opposition, was persuaded to cross the floor of the provincial legislature with several of her MLAs to join the Progressive Conservatives led by Jim Prentice.

What did Smith herself make of this accidental admission that the report is nothing more than a publicly funded partisan campaign document?

At a news conference yesterday on another topic, the CBC’s Janet French asked: “How do you explain why Alberta taxpayers paid $2 million for this non-partisan report that the panel chair suggests should be used as a political cudgel?”

Smith responded: “Well, Preston Manning as I understand it sent that out from his own personal email and so you can ask him about that.”

“He used his personal email to do it, so I think that there’s nothing more to really say on it,” she told another reporter.

Well, OK then! As I’ve said before, you really can’t make this stuff up.

Manning ended his now-notorious email with a request: “Please confirm receipt of this email.”

Chahal has now done so.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Alberta

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