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AlbertaCOVID-19Review

Canada, we still need a real COVID inquiry

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From the MacDonald Laurier Institute

By Kevin Bardosh

It is critical that an attitude of impartiality and a willingness for self-criticism emerge, data on Covid policy harms need to be taken seriously.

Nearly four years after the government first imposed unprecedented Covid-19 policies, Canada still lacks a plan for how to evaluate their effectiveness, costs and consequences.

Recent efforts to promote a federal inquiry do little to diminish concerns that key scientific and policy questions – about lockdowns, school closures, masks, contact tracing and vaccine mandates – will go unanswered. As I lay out in my report for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, rather than seriously questioning the dominant covid policy approach, these efforts parrot a set of misguided axioms set on justifying and institutionalizing them for the future.

Canadians deserve better.

In a desperate failure to ‘follow the science’, too many individuals in the mainstream establishment continue to frame efforts to question Covid policies as ‘misinformation’ or ‘revisionism’. This perspective, which I call Covidization, cherry-picks the evidence and ignores the totality of data. It also ignores other factors that can explain Covid epidemiological trends: seasonality, innate immunity, voluntary risk reduction and herd immunity.

Provincial and federal governments are not required by law to evaluate the consequences of any emergency response, including the response to Covid. This leaves fundamental questions unanswered: Did government policies cause more harm than good? What should we do next time?

It is time to move beyond the Covidization groupthink. Any thoughtful and objective Covid evaluation should be evidence-based and take as a starting position the investigation of social harms created by government infection control policies.

This includes consequences on health and health services, such as an alarming mental health crisis, a rise in non-Covid excess mortality, and a range of negative lifestyle changes.

Pandemic policies closed businesses and shifted employment patterns, whilst also dramatically increasing government spending, debt and inflation. What are the consequences and long-term legacy of these economic impacts? And, of course, economic consequences are likely to have had adverse effects on general well-being. It remains unclear how useful the vast government financial assistance programs really were.

The social fabric of Canada was also ruptured, with significant effects on domestic violence, child abuse, gender relations and social polarization. Pandemic policies impacted children and teenagers at crucial points in their education and psychosocial development and are predicted to have various long-term consequences.

Socio-economic groups were affected in different ways. A generational paradox emerged: the virus itself caused minimal mortality among younger people who were most severely impacted by pandemic disruptions. More marginalized and vulnerable social groups experienced disproportionate socio-economic and mental health effects. And the elderly were often isolated and locked-up in care facilities.

The civic infrastructure of democratic accountability also eroded, with consequences for human rights, civil liberties, and checks on executive power. Debate was, for the most part, abandoned at our institutions of higher education. An artificial ‘consensus’ was manufactured by the mainstream media. Science itself was politicised and a profound failure occurred in multidisciplinary scientific policy advice. The advice offered to policymakers focused almost exclusively on a pathogen-centric perspective and disregarded the expertise of other relevant disciplines.

Population compliance was supported through unprecedented laws on protest, data privacy and media freedom largely upheld by the courts. Growing public distrust culminated in the 2022 Ottawa Trucker Convoy protest while the biases of the Rouleau Commission that upheld the use of the Emergencies Act revealed similar failures in government accountability.

And yet no major scientific and institutional effort has emerged to collate and analyse the full data on these societal harms and explore their implications for pandemic policy. Some efforts have been made – by the new conservative premier of Alberta, Danielle Smith and the National Citizen Inquiry, a grassroots independent movement – but more needs to be done.

The Federal government can call for a national commission of inquiry at any time and set the scope and format. It is critical that an attitude of impartiality and with a willingness for self-criticism emerge. The data on Covid policy harms need to be taken seriously.

It would be wise to establish an independent scientific review with sufficient support, expertise and neutrality outside government or those that had a direct hand in enacting the policies in question. Such an independent assessment could then inform the establishment of any future public inquiry.

Kevin Bardosh, PhD, is the Director and Head of Research at Collateral Global, Affiliate Assistant Professor at the University of Washington, Honorary Lecturer at Edinburgh Medical School, and an Honorary Associate at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

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Alberta

Redman got it right on COVID response

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From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Linda Slobodian

“The fear is still, I would say, in 65% of our population. They are now self-destroying their Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Emergency response expert and retired Lt. Col. David Redman tirelessly tried to warn everyone that the “incoherent” chaotic response to COVID-19 was dangerously flawed.

The powers in charge didn’t listen to Redman, a globally respected authority who led Alberta’s Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) for five years and served 27 years with the Canadian Armed Forces.

But finally, Redman’s dire warnings, concerns, and suggested response to dealing with a pandemic were validated by recommendations made by the Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel (PHEGRP) in a report submitted to the Alberta government last week.

What the government does with the recommendations remains to be seen.

But steps must be taken to hold decision-makers accountable for “gross negligence” and to help people break out of COVID’s needless “cycle of fear” that still cripples too many, Redman told the Western Standard Friday.

“Canada will pay the costs of this deadly response for decades to come,” said Redman.

Redman’s letters early on to Canada’s premiers warning them that discarding emergency management principles and placing health care officials in charge of pandemic response was dangerous, were ignored.

AEMA strategies, prepared in advance and in place to deal with pandemics, collected dust. Redman led the team that wrote the 2005 Pandemic Influenza Response Plan that was updated in 2014.

Emergency management offices — fully equipped and staffed with experts — in every province and territory were shut out.

Under the direction of health officials, the public was under siege. Punished for disobeying mandates. Subjected to unnecessary lockdowns and school closures. And controlled by a fear factor that defied a tenet of emergency management experts.

“They did it on purpose. 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,” said Redman.

He said it is deeply disturbing that people still believe they must keep vaccines up to date and self-isolate. And that must be rectified if even possible.

“The fear that this government generated — by this government I mean every provincial, territorial government, and in particular the federal government — created for two straight years, only broken by the Freedom Convoy — will last until the children that were just entering school in 2020 die.”

Redman said the COVID-19 response was the “exact opposite” of an emergency management response.

“The pandemic response was health only focussed with terrible and deadly costs to individual mental health, societal health, our children, other serious illnesses and diseases, economic viability, and our democratic way of life simply ignored.”

“Unless there is an emergency management plan built, these costs will continue to be massive.”

Well, there’s hope.

The PHEGRP submitted its final report with more than 90 recommendations.

The panel was established by Premier Danielle Smith in January to review the government’s legislation and governance practices to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is my hope that by adopting these recommendations, the Government will be better equipped to cope with future emergencies and that the impacts on Albertans — their personal livelihoods, civil liberties and mental health — can be mitigated to the greatest extent possible,” said PHEGRP Chair and former Reform party leader Preston Manning in a press release.

Key recommendations include strengthening the AEMA through legislative amendments and budgetary provisions to make it the lead government agency responding to and coordinating the government’s response to future public emergencies.

Redman is “very happy” with Manning’s recommendations.

“There’s a lot of meat in what he’s written.”

“The first and foremost recommendation overarching his whole report is that legislation need to be changed to ensure that the emergency management process and emergency managers are in charge of every emergency including the next pandemic.”

“And that that the AEMA is appropriately funded and staffed to do their new far extended role.”

“He didn’t just say the legislation needs to be changed. He said the government needs to build and fund that organization to be responsible for response for every emergency including pandemics.”

Redman, who testified at the National Citizens Inquiry in Red Deer last April, was pleased with Manning’s wide scope.

“In the first line of each recommendation he’s covered all of the areas from fear being number one, to not doing a hazard assessment to realize that Sars-CoV-2 was really only affecting the elderly.”

“And the terrible destruction of the children and their education system, but more importantly their socialization, the effects on business, the destruction of our economy, and then summing it up with the complete destruction of rights and freedoms.”

“I think they’ve pretty much covered the areas.”

Redman said two steps must be followed immediately.

First, hold a public inquiry to educate the public and “break the cycle of fear.”

“The fear is still, I would say, in 65% of our population. They are now self-destroying their Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

“They believe Sars-C0V-2, the sixth version of the common cold, is deadly. And they will keep believing it until we do a full, open, transparent public inquiry to teach people that what we did was absolutely wrong and why it was wrong.”

“Step two, there must be a process-driven full-recovery plan … That recovery process has to be complete, covering all the points in the Manning report and any that he might have missed.”

“Again, it must be transparent. And that plan has to be fully implemented with the ability to hold accountable everyone responsible for the gross negligence and criminal negligence that was done during COVID.”

“That will show to the public that what was done wasn’t just wrong, it was criminally wrong, and they can stop the fear.”

The inquiry must address what was done, why and “how do we recover from all of the damage we’ve done.”

“Let’s use children as an example. How do you overcome the loss of academic training. And how do you overcome two years of lack of socialization?”

If the emergency management recommendation is implemented by Smith’s government, citizens can be confident if/when the next pandemic hits.

“Emergency management is made up of professionals who are experts who evaluate daily hazards. They use a disciplined process to mitigate, prepare for, respond to and recovery from all hazards in their jurisdiction,” said Redman.

“The process they use ensures that all required experts, across the public and private sector, are involved in making a plan that evaluates the cost versus the benefits of all possible actions, making a coherent plan that is issued to the public for their engagement and feedback.”

Alberta’s pandemic plan is designed to control the spread of disease, reduce mortality, mitigate societal disruption, minimize adverse economic impact, and support efficient and effective use of recourses during response and recovery.

The Manning report recognized the delicate balance in protecting Albertans during emergencies and honouring rights and freedoms.

It recommended amending the Alberta Bill of Rights, Employment Standards Code, and Health Professions Act to protect the rights and freedoms of all Albertans, including workers and healthcare professionals and freedom of expression during emergencies.

Manning noted that too many Canadians suffered losses — including loved ones, jobs due to “rigorous health protection measures,” businesses, and freedoms.

How different would things have been if people like Redman had been listened to at the time…

Linda Slobodian is the Senior Manitoba Columnist for the Western Standard based out of Winnipeg. She has been an investigative columnist for the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun, Edmonton Sun, and Alberta Report.  This originally appeared in the Western Standard here.

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Alberta

Never again! Preston Manning review recommends Emergency Management Agency co-ordinate response to future province-wide public emergencies.

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Emergency Review Panel Releases Final COVID-19 Report and Recommendations for the Alberta Government

The Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel, led by Preston Manning, delivered its final report to the Government of Alberta, which includes over 90 recommendations for consideration. 

The Panel was tasked by Premier Danielle Smith with undertaking a detailed review of the legislation and governance employed during the COVID-19 crisis, and to recommend changes and additional legislation to better prepare the province to meet future public emergencies. The mandate of the Panel was not to conduct an overall inquiry into the government’s response to COVID-19, but strictly to review the statutes that provided the legal basis for the government’s response to COVID-19.

Drawing upon the expertise and research of advisors and contractors commissioned for the study, the Panel arrived at a series of conclusions and recommendations for the Alberta Government to consider.

The recommendations of the Panel fall into three main categories, and included:

  1. Improving the focus and performance of the administrative and regulatory framework used to respond to provincewide public emergencies, including:
    • Strengthen the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) through legislative amendments and budgetary provisions to make it the lead government agency responding to and coordinating the response of the Alberta government to future provincewide public emergencies, including health emergencies.
    • Develop and maintain a broadly-based Inventory of Scientific Advice and Scientific Advisors that can be drawn upon in the event of a public emergency.
    • Mandate by legislation that preliminary, interim and post-emergency impact assessments be conducted in response to any future provincewide public emergencies.
    • Reject provincewide school closures as a policy option in responding to a provincewide public emergency, except in the most exceptional of circumstances, and then only for the shortest possible period of time.
  1. Balancing the protection of Albertans from the harms caused by public emergencies with the protection of their basic rights and freedoms during an emergency period, including:
    • Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights and Alberta’s Employment Standards Code and Health Professions Act to protect the rights and freedoms of all Albertans, including workers and healthcare professionals, and the freedom of expression during public emergencies.
  1. Increasing the overall capacity of Alberta’s healthcare system to respond to surges in demand caused by a public health emergency. Here, the Panel recognized that the government has already taken numerous incremental steps to increase the overall capacity of the healthcare system. The Panel commends those initiatives and recommends additional incremental steps, all compatible with the principles of universality and the Canada Health Act, including:
    • Expanding the use of nurse practitioners and licensed practical nurses.
    • Reducing or eliminating barriers to labour mobility for healthcare workers.
    • Exploring options for attracting more healthcare providers into medical training
    • Incentivizing medical graduates to serve in the most needed areas.
    • Utilizing pharmacists to their full scope of practice.
    • Expanding and improving the organization of home care services.
    • Expanding the capacity of the Alberta healthcare system to deal with mental health.
    • Expanding and supporting the use of virtual medicine and telemedicine.
    • Streamlining system administration.

The panelists include Michel Kelly-Gagnon (President Emeritus of the Montréal Economic Institute), The Honourable John C. (Jack) Major CC KC (Former Supreme Court of Canada Justice), Preston Manning, PC CC AOE (former MP for Calgary Southwest and Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons), Dr. Jack Mintz (president’s fellow of the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary and a distinguished senior fellow of the MacDonald-Laurier Institute), Dr. Martha Fulford (Infectious Disease Specialist and Retired Chief of Medicine, McMaster University), and Dr. Robert Tanguay, Psychiatrist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Surgery at the Cumming School of Medicine).

Quotes

“The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting global turmoil was unprecedented. Alberta, like the rest of the world, had to make decisions quickly and with limited, changing and even conflicting information. It is my hope that by adopting these recommendations, the Government will be better equipped to cope with future emergencies, and that the impacts on Albertans – their personal livelihoods, civil liberties, and mental health can be mitigated to the greatest extent possible.” – Preston Manning, Chair

“For the credibility of the study and our final recommendations, I felt it was important to select panelists and advisors with varied areas of expertise and perspectives on the key issues. For that reason, while there were certainly differences of opinion, I am thrilled that we were ultimately able to arrive at a consensus on the recommendations put forward.” – Preston Manning, Chair

Read the full report here.

Most Important Conclusions/Recommendation Per Chapter

  • Strengthen, through legislative amendments and budgetary provisions, the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) – whose members are specifically trained in emergency management – to make it the lead government agency for co-ordinating the response of the Alberta government to any and all future provincewide public emergencies. (Chapter 2)
  • Appoint a Senior Science Officer, with multidisciplinary training and experience, to the AEMA, responsible for developing and maintaining a broadly based Inventory of Scientific Advice and Scientific Advisors that can be drawn upon in the event of public emergencies. (Chapter 3)
  • Increase the effectiveness and accountability of the Alberta regulatory framework by increasing its evidence- based decision-making capacity, transparency, consistency, fairness, and self-correctability via feedback. (Chapter 4)
  • Reject provincewide school closures as a policy option in responding to a provincewide public emergency, except in the most exceptional of circumstances and only then for the shortest possible period of time. (Chapter 5)
  • Mandate by legislation the conduct of impact assessments prior to, during and after promulgation of orders and regulations for adoption in response to a declared provincewide public emergency. (Chapter 6)
  • Recognize that public emergencies generate additional and exceptional pressures on governments to limit the exercise of rights and freedoms, and thus amend theAlberta Bill of Rights to specifically strengthen the protection of rights and freedoms under such circumstances. (Chapter 7)
  • Increase the protection of the rights and freedoms of workers and healthcare professionals, during public emergencies, in particular their freedom of expression, through amendments to Alberta’s Employment Standards Code and Health Professions Act. (Chapter 8)
  • Increase the overall capacity of the Alberta healthcare system, thereby increasing its capacity to meet surges in demand caused by public health emergencies, through the incremental measures proposed, while respecting the principle of universality and the provisions of the Canada Health Act. (Chapter 9)
  • On the belief that Alberta can always learn from others, invite representatives from countries having healthcare systems that outperform Canada/Alberta to a Colloquium on 21st Century Healthcare Best Practices to identify the policies, legislation and features of their systems responsible for superior performance. (Chapter 9)
  • The recommendations of this report are based on the general consensus of Panel members as to how best to prepare Alberta to cope with future public emergencies. But “preparing for future public emergencies” is an evolving process, subject to unforeseen factors and considerations. Therefore, alternative perspectives and narratives on how to best cope with future emergencies should also be welcomed, appreciated and examined.
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