Alberta’s premier is dismissing concerns that Preston Manning is using his taxpayer-funded COVID-19 review panel’s report for partisan purposes, following a leaked email that encourages federal Conservatives to weaponize it ahead of the next election.
An email purported to be from Manning to 21 members of Parliament was posted online by Calgary Skyview Liberal MP George Chahal, who was apparently copied on the message in error.
The note was copied to all Alberta Conservative MPs outside of the Edmonton area, although Calgary Midnapore Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie appears to have been excluded.
“If the response of the Liberal/NDP coalition to the 2020-2023 COVID crisis should become an election issue in 2024, there may be some material in this report that could be used by the CPC to say ‘what should have been done to cope with the COVID crisis and what should be done to cope with future public emergencies,’” the email states.
“Some of its content may also be useful in attacking the record of the Liberal/NDP coalition in this area.”
The email indicates it was sent on Nov. 15 at 3:22 p.m., hours after Manning’s Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel report was publicized. It indicates a separate note was sent to Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative Party’s health critic, and Edmonton-area Conservative MPs.
When reached by text message, Manning deferred answering questions about the email, including its authenticity, to a public relations firm.
“The Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel was a non-partisan panel tasked with providing advice to the Government of Alberta to improve Alberta’s response to future public health emergencies,” the statement reads.
“After our work was completed, I reached out to politicians from my personal email encouraging them to review our recommendations.”
Manning’s email also asserts there would be “real merit” for “a closer practical relationship” between the federal Conservatives and the provincial United Conservative Party.
“What I’m wondering is whether a small task force composed of interested CPC MPs and UCP folks could be put together to jointly pursue this objective? Everybody benefits, especially Alberta.”
The message appears to confuse the date of the next federal election, twice asserting it will occur in 2024 though it is not required to be held until on or before Oct. 20, 2025.
Manning was paid $253,000 for his work as the chairman of the six-person panel and its $2-million budget, with both sums paid for by the province.
His report called for a better balance between public health measures and individual rights in future health emergencies.
It also called for greater reliance on non-scientific evidence, and making public health restrictions harder to implement, including through giving the final say on those measures to politicians, not medical experts, as outlined in the government’s Bill 6 which is currently before the legislature.
Preston Manning: How Alberta should prepare for future public emergencies
Alberta COVID-19 report calls for ‘better balance’ between health and rights during future emergencies
Premier Danielle Smith said she is not concerned about the email when asked by reporters Monday.
“Mr. Manning did his work and how he does the circulation of that document to make sure it gets a wide hearing I would leave that up to him. He used his personal email to do it so I think there’s nothing more to really say on it,” she said.
“We had given Mr. Manning the latitude to be able to do his own media on it tomake people aware that it was available, and it doesn’t surprise me that he wants to see other politicians look at the recommendations.”
Smith added the government is going through the report to judge the merits of the 90 recommendations included in Manning’s report.
“I don’t want to prejudge what our cabinet and our caucus will come up with.”
Speaking inside the legislature Monday, Opposition Leader Rachel Notley characterized Manning as “a partisan political operative.”
“(He) was appointed by the premier to earn a whole heck of a lot of money to then spread conspiracy theories and mostly quack science,” she said.
“So the fact that he’s now sending out a letter like he did is just a further indication that this was not an objective, measured person who warranted the appointment that he received to do the important work that I think many Albertans are disappointed we didn’t see.”