Smith names panellists to review Kenney's handling of COVID pandemic

Preston Manning's panel will review the impacts of COVID mandates and restrictions on jobs, children, mental health and protecting rights and freedoms. He will provide a final report to the province by November 15.

Smith names panellists to review Kenney's handling of COVID pandemic
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Last month, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith admitted she could not give amnesty to those charged under the Public Health Act for violating COVID health measures. However, her government has since worked quickly to create a panel to review her predecessor's governance lapses during the pandemic to improve future responses to health emergencies.

The province has named five members to the COVID review panel led by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning.

After receiving the boot on the governing board of Alberta Health Services (AHS), Jack Mintz, who writes on tax, business, and health policy, will join Dr. Martha Fulford, Michel Kelly-Gagnon, Dr. Rob Tanguay and Jack Major on the Public Health Emergencies Governance Review panel.

"Albertans can have confidence Alberta's pandemic response will be reviewed by these medical, policy, legal and economic experts so our province can better respond to the next public health emergency," said Smith in a statement on Friday.

She expressed remorse over the UCP's handling of the pandemic by failing to scale up hospital capacity as promised, forcing the government to impose "freedom-busting" health restrictions.

Manning, announced as chair a month ago, will receive a stipend of $253,000 and a total budget of $2 million to conduct the investigation. He will propose recommendations to Smith in the coming months and follow up with a final report by November 15.

However, the Opposition New Democrats have labelled the panel a "political sop" to Smith's 'far-right supporters' angry over COVID restrictions.

"This panel is a brutal waste of Alberta taxpayers' money," said NDP health critic David Shepherd.

"Preston Manning has already reached his conclusions, and based on the panellists, it looks like it's headed toward whatever outcome Danielle Smith and the UCP are looking for. An Alberta NDP government will put an end to this sham panel."

The NDP have promised to cancel the panel should they win the May 29 provincial election.

Among the panellists are Major, a former Supreme Court judge, and Kelly-Gagnon, the Montreal Economic Institute president.

Tanguay is a psychiatrist and a University of Calgary professor focusing on disability and rehabilitation. 

Fulford is the chief of medicine at McMaster University Medical Centre in Hamilton and focuses on infectious diseases. She challenged the efficacy of some health restrictions during the pandemic.

As part of its review, Manning will spearhead the panel and invite experts and public stakeholders to voice how the province can improve their response to future crises. 

Most of its work will involve a comprehensive review of legislation, regulations and ministerial orders while taking online feedback into account.

Manning and Smith have publicly criticized government-imposed health restrictions such as masking, gathering rules and vaccine mandates during the pandemic.

Smith has challenged their efficacy and long-term effects of the COVID measures on household incomes, the economy and mental health. 

"There are valuable lessons we learned from the Alberta government's response to the COVID-19 public health emergency," said Smith in January. "We must apply those lessons to strengthen our management of future public health crises, and the panel's recommendations will be key."

She pledged that the COVID mandates her predecessor employed would bear no role in Alberta's future COVID responses.

"We must take the opportunity to review the province's COVID response and examine whether and how that approach can be improved in future health emergencies," said Manning, whose panel will review their impacts on jobs, children, mental health and protecting rights and freedoms. 

According to the Fraser Institute, 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."

The Imperial College of London model, led by Neil Ferguson, predicted there would be 132,687 COVID-related deaths in Canada by July 30, 2020, with full lockdowns in place. By that date, only 9,019 Canadians had died from COVID.

The Fraser Institute added: "All lockdown efforts amounted to almost nothing," but the estimates of most of these costs are still unavailable.

"Babies born during the pandemic scored lower on gross and fine motor skills, had developmental delays, and fared much worse on intelligence tests. It is tragically ironic that children were least likely to suffer from the COVID disease but the most likely to suffer from the COVID-19 response," continues the essay.

But again, the estimates of these costs have yet to be made available.

"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 at a press conference in October.

Shortly after pledging her support, the premier apologized for calling unvaccinated Albertans the "most discriminated against group" she has seen in her lifetime.

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