Despite backtracking on COVID amnesty for those charged under the Public Health Act, Premier Danielle Smith is creating a panel to review her predecessor's COVID legislation and governance to improve their response to future health emergencies.
"There are valuable lessons we learned from the Alberta government's response to the COVID-19 public health emergency," said Smith. "We must apply those lessons to strengthen our management of future public health crises, and the panel's recommendations will be key."
As part of its review, Preston Manning will spearhead the panel and invite experts and public stakeholders to voice how the province can improve their response to future crises. He intends to propose those recommendations to Smith in the coming months, with the final report completed by November 15.
During the pandemic, former Alberta Premier Jason Kenney issued many warnings to the province that angered Albertans across the partisan divide.
"Case numbers have been over 800 for two days straight and hospitalizations above 300, though declining in recent days," said Kenney during a press conference. He warned COVID protesters that the "variants are winning" and are "sending more people to the hospital."
Kenney ultimately shut down schools, and the province introduced mask mandates and vaccine passports, only to lift mandatory mask requirements on June 14, 2022.
"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. "I look forward to working with my fellow panelists and hearing from Albertans about how the province can best achieve this objective."
Smith is providing the panel with a $2 million budget and paying Manning $253,000 for his services as chair. He will also recommend other panel members for the premier's final approval.
"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 healthcare workers will wonder why our ambulances and hospitals are starved for resources."
The panel also hopes to mitigate the impacts on Albertans' livelihoods, civil liberties and mental health by reviewing and potentially amending relevant legislation to bolster government procedure.
But 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 Fraser Institute 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," it reads.
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 said, "All lockdown efforts amounted to almost nothing," but the actual 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," reads the essay.
Again, actual 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.
A Leger poll commissioned by Rebel News uncovered 73% of United Conservative Party supporters want pandemic prosecutions against pastors and small businesses dropped by the Alberta government.
But, half of Albertans oppose COVID amnesty, with Smith garnering support from only 32% of the general public on granting amnesty to everyone charged or fined during lockdowns and mandates.
Though just one-third of Albertans supported her proposal to end COVID prosecutions, 67% of UCP members overwhelmingly supported the initiative.
The province’s decision to investigate the previous government's handling of COVID comes amid its choice not to give amnesty to violators of COVID mandates and public health orders.
Smith said Canada works differently than other jurisdictions, representing a departure from her staunch support of protesters against COVID health restrictions during her bid for UCP leadership.