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Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning to get $253K to chair Alberta COVID-19 panel

Danielle Smith has appointed retired conservative politician Preston Manning to head a review of how Alberta handled the COVID-19 public health emergency, a job that will pay him $253,000.

Manning, 80, was the member of parliament for Calgary Southwest from 1993 to 2002 and led the Reform Party of Canada from 1987 to 2000.

The premier's press secretary told CTV News Edmonton Thursday that Manning was not available for an interview.

In November, Manning announced a national citizens inquiry into the COVID-19 responses of all governments.

"[This] will cover everything from the mandates for face masking, to the mandates for social distancing, to the mandates for school lockdowns and economic lockdowns and provide an opportunity for alternative scientific and medical narratives on all those subjects," he said in a video recorded a few weeks later.

"In a democracy, when people are afraid to tell their stories or to provide alternative views that's not a good thing and so hopefully this inquiry can remove the fear factor."

In January 2021, Manning wrote a letter to the federal justice minister acknowledging that COVID-19 is "a serious threat to the health and well-being of Canadians" while arguing that "lockdown rules" violated democratic, religious and assembly rights.

Manning has since "stepped aside as a public spokesperson" for the citizens inquiry, said Smith's press secretary Rebecca Polak.

"Mr. Manning has a very strong record of public service and significant experience as a leading policy expert. He was chosen on that basis and will assemble a panel that has well-rounded expertise to develop sound recommendations to the government," she wrote in an email.

The government said the inquiry will consider several impacts of its own COVID-19 response, including mental health, economic and financial effects and protection of rights and freedoms.


An associate professor at the University of Calgary said the optics of Manning's appointment are "problematic."

"[He] has recently made clear that his view that he finds COVID public health restrictions concerning and has spoken out against them," Lorian Hardcastle, who specializes in health law and policy, told CTV News Edmonton.

"So the concern is that he's not going to be able to approach these issues in a neutral, evidence-based way, but rather comes to them with a particular bias or worldview."

Hardcastle said she has no problem with Alberta reviewing its response, but argued a judge and a formal commission of inquiry, like the federal government assembled after SARS, would be a more common and effective way to do it.

"[Manning] doesn't have any particular background in health-related issues. It appears to be a purely political selection," Hardcastle said.

The Alberta NDP called Manning's appointment "expensive political pandering."

“Over a quarter of a million dollars is a lot of Albertans’ money to hire someone to chair a committee that has obviously been struck for political gain,” health critic David Shepherd said in a news release.

“So much money being wasted purely for political gain is not only an insult to health-care workers but to all Albertans. Everyone should be outraged by this misuse of taxpayers’ dollars."

Shepherd pointed out that the UCP already spent $475,000 on a third-party review of Alberta's response, which was released in 2021. 

Manning will recommend other members for the panel which Smith will then approve.

The panel's budget is $2 million and a final report is due to the government on Nov. 15.

Albertans were welcomed to share their thoughts on the matter on the government's website. Top Stories

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