Alberta premier’s office says the UCP is not releasing the interim COVID panel report

Albertans must wait until November 15 to view the recommendations of its Preston Manning-led panel that the province quietly received on June 30.

Alberta premier’s office says the UCP is not releasing the interim COVID panel report
The Canadian Press / Adrian Wyld and Facebook/ Danielle Smith
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The Alberta government announced earlier this year it will commission a panel to review its governance failures during the COVID pandemic. However, the Alberta premier’s office does not intend to publicly release the interim report. 

Albertans must wait until November 15 to view the recommendations of its Preston Manning-led panel that the province quietly received on June 30.

The Premier's Office (PO) provided a written statement to Postmedia by email, declining to give the publication a copy of the interim report. “After the panel has completed its work and the report is reviewed by the government, the final report will be publicly released, we expect that to be in November,” it states.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has publicly expressed remorse over the province's handling of the pandemic. She condemned the past failures to scale up hospital capacity as promised and questioned the "freedom-busting" health restrictions imposed on the public.

"I don't think I've ever experienced a situation where a person was fired from their job or not allowed to watch their kids play hockey or visit a loved one in long-term care or the hospital," said Smith last October.

Last October, the premier fired the entire Alberta Health Services (AHS) board of directors as part of her plan to overhaul government health policy and the provincial health authority. She also let go of Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw — a popular maneuver, according to her base.

From January to February, the UCP worked quickly to establish the Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel. The province also named five members to the panel.

Manning, announced as chair in January, will receive a stipend of $253,000 and has $2 million to conduct the investigation. Its mandate is to identify lessons and legislative amendments to improve the government's response to future pandemics.

"Almost a quarter of a million dollars is a lot of Albertans' money to hire someone to chair a committee that has been struck for political gain," said Alberta NDP health critic David Shepherd.

"I know families struggling to pay their utility bills and their car insurance will ask why this is how their tax dollars are being spent, and health-care workers will wonder why our ambulances and hospitals are starved for resources."

The Opposition NDP called the panel a "political sop" to Smith's 'far-right supporters' angry over COVID health restrictions.

According to the province, the panel will review legislation and regulations, and the wider effects of government decisions on health as well as the economy, education, and mental health. 

It will rely on expert insight and public input of “what changes should be made, if any, to the laws of Alberta to better equip the province to cope with future public health emergencies?”

Albertans provided their input to the panel through an online portal. Through a freedom of information request, Postmedia received more than 2,200 of those responses provided to the province between January 19 and 26.

Of those replies, respondents typically called for greater reliance on medical expertise and a strengthened, more independent role for the chief medical officer of health.

“There are valuable lessons to be learned from Canada’s responses to COVID-19 which will better prepare us to handle future public emergencies, and that learning and applying those lessons is in the best interests of us all,” Manning wrote in a column for Postmedia.

The Fraser Institute claimed public health lockdowns devastated the economy and are considered a "radical and untried social policy." 

"Ultimately, estimates of the benefit of lockdowns in terms of lives saved were made based on data. Analysts used many procedures to identify the causal effect of lockdowns," reads the essay COVID-19: The Lessons We Should Have Learned

"Over and over, findings showed only minor positive effects on death rates. The most recent and thorough meta-analysis found that after combining all lockdown effects, there was only an average reduction in mortality of 3.2 percent."

"All lockdown efforts amounted to almost nothing," said the Fraser Institute, though the actual estimates of most of these costs are still unavailable.

The Imperial College of London model predicted 132,687 COVID-related deaths in Canada by July 30, 2020, with full lockdowns in place. Only 9,019 Canadians died from COVID by that date.

To date, more than 5,800 Albertans have died from COVID since the start of the pandemic.

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