Preston Manning wrote a fictional inquiry ‘report’ into COVID. Now he’s doing it for real

Recommendations in the fictional report include withdrawing federal support for the CBC and human rights commissions, and ‘wholesale reform’ of the health-care system

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When Alberta Premier Danielle Smith Reform appointed Reform party founder Preston Manning last week to head the Alberta government’s inquiry into its handling of the pandemic, the premier didn’t mention that Manning had just, months earlier, authored a fictional final “report” for an imaginary inquiry into Canada’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The paper, “Report of the COVID Commission,” which he wrote for the conservative Frontier Centre for Public Policy, is dated June 2022 and invents a suite of characters — including a female trucker who ends up as a parliamentarian — and assesses what went wrong in the federal government’s handling of the pandemic. It ends with a provocative question: Should bureaucrats and politicians face criminal, or civil liability?

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In real life, Manning will be paid $253,000 for heading a panel to report on Alberta’s pandemic management, with a final report due in November. “There are valuable lessons we learned from the Alberta government’s response to the COVID-19 public health emergency,” Smith said in her announcement of the appointment. “It’s important that we apply those lessons to strengthen our management of future public health crises, and the panel’s recommendations will be key in doing so.”

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Manning wrote an op-ed last week for the National Post in which he stated the purpose of the Alberta panel would not be to “rehash the entire gamut of the Alberta government’s response” to the COVID pandemic.

“Rather, the specific task of the panel would be reviewing the Alberta statutes that informed and authorized the government’s response to COVID-19 and proposing amendments to such legislation that might better prepare the province to address future public health emergencies,” he wrote.

The National Post’s Tyler Dawson explains the situation.

Is Manning’s appointment controversial?

Definitely. Plenty of political observers have criticized everything from the validity of the inquiry itself, to Manning’s paycheque, to his fictional report. The Alberta NDP has vowed to scrap the whole inquiry if they come into government following this spring’s election.

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“He (Manning) brings no objectivity, no scientific expertise to the job of assessing and evaluating this issue,” Rachel Notley, the NDP leader, said this week. “His previously stated opinions are incredibly biased and quite frankly not supported by peer-reviewed science.

What are Manning’s views?

In a piece for the Toronto Sun, Manning has opined on the “mismanagement” of the pandemic by the federal government.

Notably, he was also involved in the creation of a National Citizens Inquiry, which promised to investigate the pandemic, and feature reports from those who say they were injured by COVID-19 vaccines.

Interestingly, those general themes are actually alluded to in the fictional report.

So what’s the deal with this  fictional “report”?

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It’s a 46-page report that begins with a note from Manning, and then goes on to fully craft a fictional final report from an inquiry.

It’s billed as a “fictional, futuristic” description of the events stemming from the pandemic.

“While the following story is fictional, the principle objective is non-fictional— to explore the likelihood that sooner or later Canadians will demand a full scale investigation into the management of the COVID crisis by our federal government,” Manning writes.

Is there any non-fiction in it?

It explores some of the real COVID science and real events, such as the economic and political unrest set off by public-health policies, all framed by Manning’s opinions. For instance, he says, Canadians “learned the hard way” about the “false” claim that Canada’s health-care system was the best in the world; they found out their Charter rights could “be easily violated by health protection measures implemented by well-meaning but unelected bureaucrats and suspended at will by the federal government.”

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So, you mentioned characters?

That’s right. The idea is that in the fictional inquiry, a non-governmental commission was started because the federal Liberals and the New Democrats allied to prevent a government inquiry, and then the government refused to participate.

In the fictional account, bureaucrats and political staff start “tentatively” stepping forward voluntarily to reveal what really went on.

One of them is a “disillusioned communications consultant,” formerly with the Prime Minister’s Office, who fictionally testified that the Trudeau government was “desperately searching for something, anything, that would ‘change the channel’ — away from its mishandling of the COVID crisis and the truckers’ protest,” and seized on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “as a heaven-sent opportunity” to do just that.

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Another is a “distinguished medical academic” who laments the emergence of a a “new kind of discrimination…that has distinguished the vaccinated from the unvaccinated…”

Another is Leah Wahlstron, who Manning describes as “a charismatic, antiestablishment female trucker” whose dad’s company went bust during the pandemic. This character forms the Common Sense Movement, which then becomes the Common Sense Coalition after merging with the Conservative Party of Canada. Wahlstrom is then elected to implement the commission’s recommendations.

While the recommendations aren’t specifically listed in the fictional report, they include overhauling emergency management practices, withdrawing federal support for the CBC and human rights commissions, and allowing for “wholesale reform” of the health-care system.

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What does the Alberta government say about Manning’s suitability for the inquiry?

They’re standing by their choice.

“Given his familiarity with the Alberta law, his dedication and credibility with Albertans, and his awareness of the subject matter, he was chosen to lead the review and advise how the province can better manage these situations in the future,” communications adviser Taylor Hides wrote in a statement from the premier’s office.


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