Pandemic Aftermath

In Case of Emergency, Read This! Alberta’s Covid-19 Report

Barry Cooper
November 27, 2023
Despite the wreckage wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic – social disintegration, ruined lives, physical and economic tolls – the governments and public officials who “managed” the emergency have been decidedly uninterested in assessing their performance. Except in Alberta, where a government-appointed panel just released its Final Report. Though predictably attacked by politicians, media and “experts” who can abide no dissent, the report makes many sensible recommendations, Barry Cooper finds. The report calls for emergency management experts – not doctors or health care bureaucrats – to be in charge when such disasters strike, with politicians who are accountable to the people making the key decisions. Most important, the report demands much stronger protection for the individual freedoms that panic-stricken governments and overbearing professional organizations so readily quashed.
Pandemic Aftermath

In Case of Emergency, Read This! Alberta’s Covid-19 Report

Barry Cooper
November 27, 2023
Despite the wreckage wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic – social disintegration, ruined lives, physical and economic tolls – the governments and public officials who “managed” the emergency have been decidedly uninterested in assessing their performance. Except in Alberta, where a government-appointed panel just released its Final Report. Though predictably attacked by politicians, media and “experts” who can abide no dissent, the report makes many sensible recommendations, Barry Cooper finds. The report calls for emergency management experts – not doctors or health care bureaucrats – to be in charge when such disasters strike, with politicians who are accountable to the people making the key decisions. Most important, the report demands much stronger protection for the individual freedoms that panic-stricken governments and overbearing professional organizations so readily quashed.
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Nobody needs reminding that the Covid-19 pandemic – and the official responses to it – left hardly a person, group or country unaffected. From the lost learning of school closures to the crushed businesses and ruined lives, to the recurring social separation, to the physical toll itself, the wreckage came to resemble recession, social disintegration, war and the ravages of disease all in one. Yet the governments and organizations that designed and oversaw the emergency’s “management” have proved decidedly incurious about delving into whether they actually did a good job of it: what went right, what went wrong, who was responsible for which concepts and policies, who told the truth and who didn’t, and what might be done better next time. Few countries are performing any such formal evaluation (the UK and Sweden being prominent exceptions).

In Canada, the Justin Trudeau government has rebuffed calls for a public inquiry (perhaps a small mercy, as it is hard to envision this prime minister not politicizing such an exercise). Nearly every Canadian province is also ignoring the matter. The sole exception is Alberta, which in January created the Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel to, as its terms of reference state, “review the legislation and governance practices typically used by the Government of Alberta during the management of public health emergencies and other emergencies to recommend changes which, in the view of the Panel, are necessary to improve the Government of Alberta’s response to future emergencies.” The Panel’s inquiry fulfilled a promise made by Premier Danielle Smith when she was running for the leadership of the United Conservative Party.

Exceptional Alberta: The Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel fulfilled a pre-election promise by Premier Danielle Smith (top left) and was chaired by former federal Opposition Leader Preston Manning (bottom left) with the primary mandate of providing legislative recommendations to improve future management of emergencies – including pandemics. The Panel’s Final Report is the only official work of its kind in Canada. (Sources of photos: (top left) alberta.ca; (bottom left) Manning Centre c/o Jake Wright, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

These terms of reference need to be understood because they greatly influenced what followed – both the restrictions on the Review Panel’s inquiries and the broad scope of its recommendations, released in a densely written Final Report (367 pages including appendices) on November 15. The Panel was chaired by Preston Manning, Leader of the Official Opposition in Ottawa some 25 years ago but who more recently became a prominent voice of skepticism regarding the pandemic response, particularly the dismissive treatment of Canadians’ rights and liberties. With this report Manning has driven and led not one but two major pandemic-related reviews, as he was also central in the non-governmental National Citizens Inquiry on Canada’s Response to the Pandemic, which heard wrenching personal testimony.  

Despite working under limitations, Manning and his colleagues have rendered valuable and, indeed, unparalleled public services with each effort. Here one must note whom Manning requested for Alberta’s Review Panel. They are in alphabetical order: Martha Fulford, an academic pediatrician at McMaster University with numerous scholarly articles to her credit; Michel Kelly-Gagnon, a businessman and President Emeritus of the Montreal Economic Institute; John C. Major, a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada; Jack Mintz, arguably Canada’s most distinguished living economist; and Rob Tanguay, a Calgary-based clinical psychiatrist specializing in treating addiction, depression and pain. Additional specialists prepared several of the report’s 11 appendices.

Distinguished experts: Alberta’s Review Panel comprised, in addition to Manning (clockwise from top left), Martha Fulford, an academic pediatrician at McMaster University; Michel Kelly-Gagnon, President Emeritus of the Montreal Economic Institute; John C. Major, a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada; Jack Mintz, a nationally renowned economist; and Rob Tanguay, a Calgary-based clinical psychiatrist. Additional specialists were also consulted.

This is important because the response of Alberta’s NDP and its left-wing media helpers has been to accuse the Panel of mongering conspiracy theories and attempting to legitimize quack pseudo-science. They are using Manning, the founder and longtime leader of the Reform Party of Canada, as a convenient whipping boy. But they are effectively calling the entire panel – including a former member of the nation’s highest court who stood out for his calm and measured approach – a bunch of nutters if not worse. These critics seem to have emitted not one positive thought about any aspect of the Panel Report. That tells you a great deal about them, including that they probably didn’t even read it.

The report also prompted some balanced to favourable coverage, including from several journalists who previously were pro-lockdown, pro-masking and/or pro-vaccine. Edmonton Sun columnist Lorne Gunter, for example, termed the report “sensible and moderate,” noting that it calls for following “all of the credible science.” Gunter’s use of “all” is significant for, he notes, “a lot of what was pitched to the public as definitive scientific knowledge, such as the vitalness of mask and vaccine mandates, school closures, event cancellations and lockdowns was questioned by solid, reputable scientists (not just streetcorner anti-vaxxers and ‘I did my own research’ social-media experts).” Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid, a habitual UCP critic, also sounded impressed.

So what is actually in the report? Chapter 1’s review of the Panel’s purpose notes it was set up to review the procedures Alberta has to respond to “any public emergency, including a public health emergency,” and how its preparations could be improved, including by broadening and deepening “the role of science in coping with future emergencies.” Its purpose was not to criticize Alberta’s actual responses to the Covid-19 event. While the Covid-19 public health emergency was the initial reason the panel was established, its recommendations would apply more broadly. And while science should be considered central to good public policy, science should not be regarded as consisting of a single narrative. Accordingly, “alternative perspectives” (Report, p. 5) should also be considered.

Alberta Emergency Management Agency

The spring 2020 spectacle of wildly shifting statements from public health officials and political leaders, its blizzard of decrees and edicts, proliferating “mandates,” haphazard changes of direction, imposition of seemingly arbitrary rules, public chaos, and sheer aura of panic – sweat-drenched faces, bulging eyes – might lead any citizen to believe that governments had never planned for or faced an emergency. The promiscuous use of “unprecedented” to describe Covid-19 only added to this feeling. In fact, Alberta had a thoroughly designed, tested and previously deployed emergency plan. It just chose not to use it against Covid-19. This bizarre and gravely damaging decision has still not been explained.

The Final Report’s largely overlooked Chapter 2 discusses improvements to the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA), making it important on several levels. The Panel recommends AEMA be adequately funded and remain the lead agency in dealing with any future emergency, including any future medical emergency. This alone is huge and hugely welcome. To ensure that individuals who are capable of dealing with emergencies and not just apprehended medical crises are in fact in charge, the Panel recommends several legislative changes to the Emergency Management Act and Public Health Act. Even better.

“Governments took every plan they had ever written and threw them all out the window,” says Lt.-Col. David Redman (ret.), architect of Alberta’s emergency plan in the post-9/11 era, of the province’s panicked response to Covid-19. Redman also notes that it’s key for leaders to show “confidence” in managing emergencies; instead politicians – including in Alberta – “panicked” and then “used fear as a weapon.” (Source of left photo: David Redman)

This sound recommendation rests upon the distinction between emergency management and normal policy decisions made by bureaucrats. The original Alberta emergency plan was developed in 2005 to deal with an anticipated influenza pandemic, and was in turn based on planning initiated across North America following the 9/11 terror atrocity. Alberta’s plan was similar to the approach followed by Sweden in 2020, which despite widespread initial condemnation proved highly successful. Its essential feature was that it was written and was to be implemented by individuals who specialize in emergencies, not by individuals with alleged expertise in the specific attributes of an anticipated emergency such as influenza or Covid-19, what the Panel on page 25 refers to as “subject-matter experts” (a more extensive quote is below).

By way of analogy, societies well-prepared to deal with emergencies do not put a limnologist in charge of an emergency response when riverbanks are unexpectedly breached and cause catastrophic flooding. Nor do they scramble to place a vulcanologist in charge when a volcano erupts and threatens lives and livelihoods. The purpose of putting highly trained emergency professionals in the lead during difficult situations is to remove as much as possible the shock effect from the surprises that emergencies typically bring, especially to normal politicians and conventional bureaucrats who expect normalcy to last forever and who panic when it doesn’t.

The Final Report calls for making it crystal-clear that future emergencies will have the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) take the lead, with “subject-matter experts” having a subordinate role, while elected politicians make key policy decisions in order to maintain accountability to voters. Shown at bottom, Alberta’s Emergency Coordination Centre performing annual emergency training. (Sources of photos: (top) @town_of_pc/X; (bottom) Edmonton City News)

The emergency plan Alberta had going into 2020 was designed by David Redman, a former senior Canadian Forces officer whose 27 years of service included combat experience, a vocation that typically deals with unexpected surprises. The problem as the pandemic began was not in any lacunae that the Alberta emergency plan may have contained. Rather, as Redman, who at the time was director of Community Programs for Emergency Management (i.e., coordinating local responses), told C2C Journal in an interview in late 2020, “Governments took every plan they had ever written and threw them all out the window. No one followed the process. [The politicians] panicked, put the doctors in charge, and hid for three months.”

Redman was also emphatic on the question of fear, which is inevitably transmitted by panicked officials. He spent countless hours during the pandemic trying to warn every Canadian premier and many federal politicians that discarding emergency management principles and giving healthcare bureaucrats unprecedented authority was dangerous and would likely lead to disaster. Specifically, he urged healthcare officials and politicians to avoid expressing fear. Instead, he sadly noted in an interview with the Western Standard last week, “They used fear as a weapon. In emergency management you never use fear. You use confidence. You show confidence that the emergency can be handled and present a plan to show how this will be achieved.”

Near-impossible position: The Government of Alberta’s ill-fated decision to turn the province over to a single medical bureaucrat, Deena Hinshaw, while Premier Jason Kenney jumped in with tactical decisions of his own, proved devastating for the province and Hinshaw herself, whom Smith fired as soon as she took office. (Source of photo: Alberta Newsroom, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Government of Alberta made a catastrophic and, as said, never-explained mistake when it turned the province over to a narrowly focused, unimaginative career bureaucrat credentialed only with an M.D. To be fair, this was probably too much for any one person, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw was placed in a near-impossible position. The consequences of this decision led to the removal of Premier Jason Kenney, and it is also why nearly the first thing his successor did was fire Hinshaw. That is also why the Manning Panel was commissioned.

So let us agree that the Panel’s recommendations to strengthen AEMA would improve emergency management the next time it is needed. That said, the Panel ignored the fact (or at least declined to state) that, had existing procedures been followed in 2020, things would have turned out much better.

Making Proper Use of Science – and Avoiding the Dictatorship of “Experts”

Chapter 3 deals with the place of “science” in public policy. It was self-evident to the Panel that science could help fashion sound public policy responses but could also be used for “political expedience and ideology.” Here the Panel was half-right. On the one hand it advanced a notion of “the scientific method” that dominated science classes a couple of generations ago. According to this account, a researcher develops testable hypotheses that can be modified in light of experimental results. Such was the philosophy of science that I was taught in grade 7 physics.

Its great defect is that it takes no account of what we now call conflicting paradigms or of what German Enlightenment-era philosopher Immanuel Kant called the power of judgment. A pandemic, for example, is not a “fact” but the product of somebody’s judgement. On the other hand, the Panel showed great clarity in asserting that “science is open to the consideration and investigation of alternative hypotheses…and is subject to some degree of uncertainty as an ever-present characteristic of scientific deliberations.” (Report, p. 24)

Before considering how it elaborated the problems of conflicting and alternative hypotheses and of uncertainty, one should note how opponents to both the Panel and UCP government responded to its commonsensical observations. According to NDP Leader Rachel Notley, they were “incredibly irresponsible.” Indeed, she asserted, “What you see is an invitation to normalize conspiracy theories and pseudo-science at the expense of evidence-based medical care.” Notley and CTV went on to attack Premier Smith for embracing “fringe views” – including those found in the October 2020 Great Barrington Declaration, a document written by three of the world’s most respected epidemiologists and subsequently endorsed by, at last count, 939,000 fellow scientists.

One of the Panel-endorsed “fringe views” was that “the number one priority” when a pandemic event is declared should be “protection of the most vulnerable,” (Report, p. 25) which is to say not everybody. Should a particular pandemic’s impact subsequently spread to other social, political and economic relationships, this priority may be modified and adjusted. That sounds eminently responsible, but the NDP wants everybody locked down right from the start.

To NDP Leader Rachel Notley (left) and left-leaning media, the “Manning Panel” as they call it is propounding “fringe views” intended to “normalize conspiracy theories and pseudo-science at the expense of evidence-based medical care.” (Sources of photos: (left) Nyakim Kueth, MyGrandePrairieNow.com staff; (right) Kevin D Jeffrey/Shutterstock)

Still the real question is: who would order the adjustments? The Panel’s answer is forthright, much to the consternation of scientific “experts”: “That a clear and conscious decision be made by elected officials as to the scope of the scientific advice to be sought and that this decision not be left entirely to the subject-matter agency, given that it may have a narrower perspective than that actually required.” (Report, p. 25, emphasis added) As Manning later said: “Political people have to be responsible for the overall direction and management because they’re the people that the public can hold accountable.”

Manning’s determination to avoid having a democracy become a dictatorship of “experts” also reflects a critical aspect of pandemic response: that there are issues far beyond medicine in play, and that the associated decisions are not scientific ones. Weighing risks, for example, is an exercise in logic (a branch of philosophy) and judgment, which depends on inductive reasoning. Assessing costs and benefits of various possible actions is economic in nature. And then, deciding just how much risk to take on and what costs to bear in the pursuit of benefits are questions of ethics. Such things should be undertaken by politicians because, if the people as a whole have a different view of such matters, they can vote in a different government (or, as happened in Alberta, select a decidedly different leader from the same party).

To the experts and their spokespersons, this was an anathema. Lorian Hardcastle, an associate professor in the University of Calgary’s law school and medical school, warned: “We would see ideologically driven response to a public health emergency” that would make it difficult “to keep people alive.” We can characterize the Hardcastle position, which was endorsed strongly during the pandemic by legacy media, the NDP, the “expert” class and the health care bureaucracy, as the “orthodox” doctrine. A health care emergency must be left to the so-called health care experts. Everyone else (including presidents, prime ministers and premiers) should defer to their expertise and do as they are told. The public “conversation” is entirely one-way.

In reality, however, public health does not involve just a single disease but all aspects of the health of a population. Thus, focussing on illness stemming from the SARS-CoV-2 virus was not enough even for so-called specialists because such a focus meant that, for instance, cancer screening was postponed so hospitals would be empty enough to accept the (incorrectly) projected tsunami of Covid-19 patients. Yet cancer is also part of public health, as was the collateral damage from the economic and social effects of lockdowns, school closures and social distancing, none of which the orthodox doctrine considers. Skeptics pointed out all of this throughout the pandemic – and were shouted down as granny-killers.

From healthcare emergency to wider crisis: Contrary to the orthodox view, public health does not consist only of managing a single disease but covers multiple areas of population health. With the sole focus on SARS-CoV-2 virus, other health conditions such as cancer along with economic and social effects were overlooked. (Sources of photo: (top right) Gavin Young/Postmedia, retrieved from Calgary Sun; (bottom left) Matthew Zuech/Shutterstock; (bottom right) Duncan.co, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.)

Alberta’s Review Panel recognized the inadequacy of orthodoxy by showing that what may have begun in early 2020 as a healthcare emergency quickly became something else with broader and more important impacts than a large number of sick persons (which only “experts” were allowed to count, anyhow). Such an unorthodox position, the Report notes, entails “a frank acknowledgement of uncertainties” which, if put into practice during an emergency, would make possible the reasonable shifting of priorities within the unfolding event, instead of “insisting prematurely on a single scientific narrative that may prove inaccurate or even wrong with the passage of time.” (Report, p. 26)

In short, the Panel argued for an acknowledgement of uncertainty (really, an attitude of humility) in the search for truth about Covid-19, whereas the orthodox “experts” preferred certainty regarding the “single scientific narrative” even at the cost of untruth (an unshakeable arrogance). This is not a new problem for political science. Historically, ideologists typically prefer certain untruth to uncertain truth, just as happened with “expert” advocates of the orthodox view regarding the Covid-19 event.

Here let us note that the Panel’s recurring use of the word “alternative” was unfortunate. Presumably the panellists regard it as a neutral descriptive term. But “alternative” has long been a euphemism for eccentric, dodgy or radical. “Alternative” health care is regarded as anti-medicine by many physicians. “Alternative” media are seen as buffoons if not malicious spreaders of conspiracy theories. The “alt-right” are of course white supremacists and neo-Nazis. And so on. Now, add “alternative” science to the list. The NDP and left-media, as we saw, pounced on this unforced error.

It’s too bad the Panel didn’t go with a word like “other” science, “all” science (per the Sun’s Gunter) or, more boldly, “actual” science. Before January 2020, that mass-population masking is ineffective and inadvisable was mainstream science. That lockdowns are vastly damaging and unnecessary was mainstream science. Mainstream science abhorred school closures. Mainstream science agreed that pandemic management should focus on the vulnerable and minimize economic and social disruption. All of that went out the window in the space of weeks. It would be more accurate to say that the pandemic response of spring 2020 consisted of “alternative” science or “alternative” thinking.

Assessing the Wreckage – and Doing Better Next TIme

The Final Report’s Chapter 4 deals with improving the regulatory structure used by the bureaucracy. It consists of detailed recommendations based on a commissioned paper by economist Gerard Lucyshyn, President of the Calgary-based Regulatory Research Institute (and available in Appendix 4), that only a public administration devotee could love or even understand. Chapter 9, on improving healthcare delivery, is similarly eye-glazing and peripheral to our main concern.                                         

In between are chapters on school closures, government mandates such as on masking, lockdowns and vaccination, the effect of the Covid-19 event on Canadians’ civil liberties, rights and freedoms, and a chapter on other harms caused by the policy responses made by the Alberta and federal governments. Much of this discussion is entirely commonsensical and welcome. The lockdowns, school closures and all the rest did a great deal of harm, and the recommendations come as obvious to any skeptic.

Widely cited has been the Panel’s call for no more closure of schools “except under the most exceptional circumstances.” (Report, p. 47) Likewise, the Panel again criticizes “the insistence of governments at all levels with the compliance of most traditional media, that there was only one acceptable narrative explaining and justifying the response to the COVID-19 crisis, thereby disregarding and censoring other narratives.” This government-media coordination “violated freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression in a variety of ways.” (Report, p. 60)

The Panel heavily criticizes governments’ collusion with mainstream media in promoting only one pandemic narrative, which “violated freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression in a variety of ways” – and proved largely incorrect. Shown at left, Kenney announces closure of personal care businesses and further restrictions on in-person schooling, May 2021; at right, anti-lockdown rally in Calgary following the announcement. (Sources of photos: (left) Facebook, retrieved from Calgary Herald; (right) Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia, retrieved from Calgary Herald)

The sources of this “one acceptable narrative” position could be expanded from government, including the bureaucracy, to include the sources of so-called “expertise” dealing with emergencies, namely the medical and law schools, neither of which in fact could make any such claim regarding actual emergency management. That is, the hands of Alberta academia are far from clean.

It is also worth noting that, even after the Panel’s work, no formal pandemic impact assessment has been conducted. Such an investigation would include a discussion of harms to general health, personal and family relations, the exercise of rights and freedoms, and employment, income, businesses and supply chains, all of which, the Report states, “may well have adversely affected more Canadians than the virus itself.” (Report, p. 70) Until such a review is made, we won’t know the extent to which governments failed Albertans and Canadians. It could be that this will never be done.

Even so, it is worth emphasizing that this Report contains many sensible recommendations. The next steps are up to the UCP caucus and Alberta government.

Too Much Magnanimity?

The Panel declared it would not blame any of the persons who so spectacularly failed to protect the provincial population, but would focus only on future improvements (Report, pp. 26, 87). By avoiding “blame” – to the Panel clearly a pejorative – it also declined to assign responsibility for what now seems unquestionably a public policy disaster. Why?

There are two apparent reasons, neither of them wholly convincing. The first was the expectation that a “restrained” discussion that avoided the entire question of responsibility would make the Report more acceptable to those still clinging to the orthodox narrative. As we have seen from the vitriolic responses of Hardcastle, Notley and legacy media, such expectations remain unmet. It is conceivable, of course, that the report might persuade some middle-of-the-road Albertans who look askance at “anti-vaxxers” but are not directly invested in the orthodox narrative.

The second reason is even more unrealistic: “The Panel wishes to officially acknowledge the wisdom and experience incorporated in much of the existing legislation, the skills and good intentions that those responsible for its implementation bring to their tasks, and the evolution of the regulatory framework overall.” (Report, p. 40, emphasis added) Their attribution of honourable motives extends to school closures, which were “no doubt well-intended.” (Report, p. 45) Moreover, the Panel also declares “that the professional colleges of Alberta…do their best to serve the public interest, and that they endeavoured to do so under the stressful conditions created by the COVID-19 crisis.” (Report, p. 78)

With all due respect, such observations are naïve and inaccurate. In Canada’s COVID: The Story of a Pandemic Moral Panic, Marco Navarro-Génie and I provide both argument and evidence that those responsible for managing the Covid-19 event did so, as Redman also says, deliberately. Their objective was to increase bureaucratic control under the guise of a healthcare emergency. Anyone who looks at what the bureaucrats and their allies in academia and the media did and still maintains that they had good intentions and did their best did not endure the same event that most of us did.

Good intentions? Not likely: Canada’s COVID: The Story of a Pandemic Moral Panic argues that the officials and politicians in charge of the Covid-19 response were largely motivated by a desire to increase bureaucratic control under the guise of a health-care emergency. (Source of right photo: JessicaGirvan/Shutterstock)

To say that the Panel avoided naming those responsible for the public policy disaster is not to advocate that the culpable be put on trial for malfeasance. That is not how politics are usually conducted in democracies. But that does not mean that they should not be named. It is not sufficient, for example, to acknowledge that “mistakes were made” when students were kept out of school and bureaucratic control at all levels was ratcheted ever-tighter.

While it’s true that the Panel’s terms of reference all-but forbade it from conducting a retrospective evaluation of the decisions and events throughout the pandemic, nobody forced the panellists to absolve and even congratulate the architects and overseers of Alberta’s pandemic disaster. This is very hard to take. Redman, by contrast, openly asserts that Alberta’s pandemic management involved “gross negligence and criminal negligence.”

Better Protecting Albertans from Overreaching Government and Out-of-Control Professional Organizations

Another observation: professional organizations across Canada – including those for lawyers and doctors – have been mobilized to shut down dissenting narratives. The problem is, those narratives are still there, uncontested and undiscussed. They recall facts that may be fragile but are also stubborn, and they are not going away. Censorship, especially after an emergency has evaporated, never inspires confidence. Here there is great cause for optimism – and reason for congratulation – in the Panel’s work.

With Chapters 7 and 8 the Panel made maximal and imaginative use of its terms of reference. First it lays a solid conceptual foundation, backed by a commissioned research paper, evaluating the degree to which rights and liberties expected in normal circumstances may be restricted during emergencies. It then finds that the management of Covid-19 unleashed sweeping violations of rights and effectively deprived people and organizations of normal avenues of civil recourse. As the paper states, “In most cases, there was a presumption on the part of the courts that the governments were justified in responding as they had to the COVID-19 emergency – a presumption that the applicants could not overcome.” (Report, p. 62)

Accordingly, the Final Report recommends additions or amendments to a host of laws, including the Alberta Emergency Management Act, Employment Standards Code, Health Professions Act, Administrative Procedures and Jurisdiction Act, Judicature Act and even the Alberta Bill of Rights. The recommended changes are significant and numerous (a dozen to the Bill of Rights alone); key examples will need to suffice.

First, the definition of what constitutes an “emergency” would be significantly tightened. The government would be required to “present its case for limiting a right or freedom expeditiously” in an emergency. Citizens could more easily seek stays of government actions that violate rights and freedoms. “[T]he right to personal autonomy and integrity” would be added to Alberta’s Bill of Rights, as would explicit guarantees to informed consent and freedom from enforced medical treatment. Discrimination based on medical status or history (e.g., opposing vaccines) would be forbidden. The right to earn a living would be enshrined. Employees declining to comply with emergency mandates could still be suspended, but no longer permanently fired. Employer vaccine mandates would become an absolute last resort after all other options were exhausted.

Rolling back the woke-left’s weaponization of the professions? The Review Panel’s boldest move is calling for dozens of legislative changes to protect not only individual liberty in everyday life but free expression, inquiry and independent judgment for professionals and academics who may run afoul of ideologically motivated professional organizations. Among the hundreds of such individuals under attack across Canada are, pictured clockwise from top left: Francis Christian, Clinical Professor of General Surgery at the University of Saskatchewan; Eric Payne, Pediatric Neurologist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary; Crystal Luchkiw, palliative care specialist at Ontario’s Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre; Jordan Peterson, psychologist and world-renowned public intellectual.

There is a whole section entitled “Providing Explicit Protection for Freedom of Expression, Academic Freedom and Professional Freedom.” (Report, p. 69) For example, the Bill of Rights would be amended to add, “The right of every regulated professional to engage without doctrinal, ideological or moral constraint, such as institutional censorship, in the exercise of their profession, and in free enquiry and public debate.” An identically worded amendment would cover academic institutions.

The following chapter calls upon professional colleges to be directed to revisit and tighten their definitions of “unprofessional conduct,” to recognize formally their member’s rights to freedom of expression “including on matters related to public health emergencies,” (p. 79) to make it easier for members to defend themselves against complaints and to make it easier for members to seek judicial review of disciplinary decisions against them. And, just in case Alberta’s various professional colleges refuse to implement these measures in good faith, the report (p. 81) calls for a provision enabling the Alberta government to rewrite their governing legislation.

The Panel, in short, wants to see the Alberta government enshrine strong and overlapping protections for freedom of expression, individual decision-making and independent judgment not only in private life but professional settings. Never again should doctors, nurses, any other professionals or academics be subject to retaliation, abuse or termination for expressing views contrary to the government’s or their organization’s dominant narrative – as thousands have been in Alberta and across Canada. Many such cases remain ongoing, and similar battles are raging in other professional organizations.

The Panel’s decision to reopen the Alberta Bill of Rights seems especially clever. If the UCP government has the fortitude to make the required changes, these will be much harder to undo in future than amending an ordinary and largely obscure administrative law. The left, after all, virtually worships human rights law. Further, the courts would need to take notice of rights enshrined in a law declared to be the province’s foremost law, superseding all others.

Even better, the Panel appears to have worded its proposed legislative amendments broadly enough to protect dissident professionals in all fields whose governing organizations may be weaponizing woke ideology (like law societies are now doing). If duly acted upon, this could lay the foundation for a broad counterattack by the UCP government, principled professionals and concerned Albertans on the woke-left’s takeover and degradation of professional organizations. The possibilities are little short of breathtaking.

The Real Work is Only Beginning

In a recent article Jay Bhattacharya, professor of medicine, economics and health research at Stanford University, and Martin Kulldorff, professor of medicine at Harvard University (currently on leave), two of the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, lamented this aspect of America’s post-pandemic situation: “The public health officials, politicians, and journalists who cannot admit the failure of their lockdowns and who helped destroy the basic principles of evidence-based science want to ensure that no honest assessment is ever made.”

The same sorts of people in Alberta would very much have preferred that nothing like Alberta’s Review Panel was ever launched. And while we have noted the shortcomings of this process as we see them, the Panel and its Final Report must be seen as great victories for open inquiry and the search for truth. The recommendations and key statements make it amply clear what the panellists think of lockdowns, school closures, arbitrary government by decree and concentration of power in hands that are clearly inexpert in emergency management.

In the same article, Bhattacharya and Kulldorff also draw attention to a proposal by the World Health Organization (WHO), which no sooner declared the Covid-19 pandemic officially over than it announced preparations for the next one. The WHO is pushing for an international treaty that would compel signatory nations to follow WHO directions in future pandemics (which only the WHO could declare). This is not a conspiracy theory; it is an open declaration of intent. Readers of the Manning Panel’s Final Report will discover that this sort of thing would be a very bad idea.

It is not, therefore, faint praise to say that the Final Report of Alberta’s Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel is among the best analyses and discussions of the Covid-19 event available to the public – anywhere in the world. It is also no exaggeration to say that the real work of avoiding a repeat of 2020 is only beginning.

Barry Cooper is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary. His latest books are Paleolithic Politics (2020) and, with Marco Navarro-Génie, COVID-19: The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic (2021).

Source of main image: Shutterstock.

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Canada’s military today has submarines that can’t submerge, nearly half-century-old fighter jets that should never be sent into combat, an unending recruitment crisis, a collapsed public image and barely enough combat-capable soldiers to fill an army brigade – in a G7 nation of 40 million people with a nearly $3 trillion economy. Eighty years ago the same country – much poorer and with a population 75 percent smaller – deployed six entire divisions fighting simultaneously in two different combat theatres, more than 500 warplanes and one of the world’s largest navies, and kept them all supplied across an ocean. Historian David J. Bercuson recounts a time when Canada was a country that got stuff done, that earned its seat at the table with the big nations, that knew its purpose, and whose people were able and willing to do whatever it took to win, most especially on the day – June 6, 1944 – when the fate of civilization hung in the balance.

The Sacred Covenant of Kamloops: Replacing Truth and Reconciliation with Secrecy and Self-Abasement

The Roman Catholic Church is steeped in centuries of mystery and ineffable truths. Its time-honoured rituals and beliefs offer an important sense of comfort and continuity to its 1.4 billion worldwide adherents. Yet a mysterious “Sacred Covenant” signed recently between two Canadian Catholic organizations and the Kamloops First Nation concerning unproven allegations of human remains on the grounds of a former Indian Residential School will bring neither comfort nor continuity. Instead, it points to an existential crisis deep within the Church itself. Hymie Rubenstein takes a close look at what is known about this strange agreement, and what it means for the future of truth and reconciliation in Canada.

Canada’s Constitutional Mistake: How the Rule of Law Gave Way to the Managerial State

Most Canadians surely believe their society is governed by the rule of law. We all have rights and freedoms, safeguarded by the courts, that protect us from the tyranny of the state. All of that is mirage, argues Bruce Pardy. In this provocative essay, Pardy describes how authority in Canada is now vested in a managerial elite. They supervise our speech, employment, bank accounts and media. Controlling vast sectors of the economy and society, they track, direct, incentivize, censor, punish, redistribute, subsidize, tax, license and inspect. Elected legislatures delegate them authority, and courts let them do as they like – including infringing on Charter rights – to achieve whatever social goals they deem in the public interest. The rule of law has melted away; rule by law now prevails. It is time, Pardy says, for Canadians to correct the naïve constitutional mistake that started us down this road.

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Fortis et Liber: Alberta’s Future in the Canadian Federation

Canada’s western lands, wrote one prominent academic, became provinces “in the Roman sense” – acquired possessions that, once vanquished, were there to be exploited. Laurentian Canada regarded the hinterlands as existing primarily to serve the interests of the heartland. And the current holders of office in Ottawa often behave as if the Constitution’s federal-provincial distribution of powers is at best advisory, if it needs to be acknowledged at all. Reviewing this history, Barry Cooper places Alberta’s widely criticized Sovereignty Act in the context of the Prairie provinces’ long struggle for due constitutional recognition and the political equality of their citizens. Canada is a federation, notes Cooper. Provinces do have rights. Constitutions do mean something. And when they are no longer working, they can be changed.

Empire of Fear: How the Pandemic Made a Canadian University Lose its Mind

As a lifelong academic, political scientist Barry Cooper believed the university had the means – and the duty – to lead government and society in the quality of reasoning it brought to bear on difficult issues. Like Covid-19. Instead, Cooper’s document-based review of the University of Calgary administration’s decisions and statements during the pandemic suggests that, far from carefully weighing evidence and reaching balanced (or even courageous) decisions, the leadership was governed by emotion, driven by impulse and willingly subject to the shifting whims of medical bureaucrats. Logic, evidence, rational risk assessment and even basic humanity were cast aside. Whatever one might think of the resulting policies, the paper trail Cooper examines is shocking for its banal thinking, atrocious writing, pompous condescension and immature emotionalism.

Quelle Surprise! Quebec Wants More (Seats in the House of Commons, that is)

Demographics is destiny, we’re often told. But while Canada’s fastest-growing provinces – primarily in the West – have every right to expect that their increasing share of the country’s population will be matched in their political representation at the federal level, the morass of Canadian federalism stands in the way. Barry Cooper takes a close look at a recent Bloc Québécois motion demanding Quebec be given more MPs even as its share of Canada’s population continues to sag. This affront to the basic democratic principle that every person’s vote should carry equal weight was supported by all parties, including many Conservative MPs. And it might soon become law. Cooper untangles the perverted logic, backstory and future implications.

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