If there was one city in northern Europe that I could easily live in, I think it would be Stockholm.
The Swedish capital has over two million inhabitants and over 50 bridges connecting its fourteen islands. The city often ranks highly on the global “quality of life index” and has over one hundred museums, plus a lively culinary, theatre, music and sports scene.
If you enjoy boating, sailing and watersports, Stockholm has Lake Mälaren with more than 1,000 islands to the west. To the east of the city centre, the Saltsjön (Salt Bay) has a lengthy and picturesque archipelago with over 30,000 islands leading all the way to the Baltic Sea. With so many cottages and activities on these islands, they are a perfect getaway from the city hustle and bustle.
Stockholm’s old city centre is on the island of Gamla Stan. The area is full of colorful houses from the 17th and 18th centuries and narrow cobblestoned streets with interesting shops, cafes, pubs and bars. The Royal Palace, official residence of the Swedish monarch, can be toured and the popular changing of the guard is accompanied by a military band in the summer months.
Stockholmers enjoy a vast green space right in their city center on the island of Djurgården. The island is Scandinavia’s number one tourist attraction and a favourite for nature lovers, walkers, runners, hikers and cyclists. In addition to being loved for its green spaces, it is famous for having four royal palaces, popular museums, cafes, restaurants and a large amusement park.
The history of Royal Djurgården goes back to 1452 when King Karl Knutsson purchased the southern part of the island. It was a royal hunting ground for many years and over time was opened to the public and expanded.
In 1995, King Carl Gustaf XVI officially opened the world’s first national city park comprising the Ulriksdal, Haga, Brunnsviken and Djurgården districts. The 27 square kilometer park is eight times the size of New York’s Central Park.
On Djurgården, you can see over one hundred bird species and eight hundred varieties of flowering plants. You can easily spend a few days in Stockholm just visiting Djurgården. Here are my favourite things to do on the island.
When you enter Djurgården from the west on the Djurgårdsbron bridge, you will find the Royal Djurgården Visitor Center. The center rents bikes to explore the island, and there is a ten to twelve kilometer path that goes around the island. They also have kayaks, canoes or pedal boats. If you want to paddle all the way around the island, expect it to take about two to three hours.
The Sjöcaféet café is located by the visitor’s center and has a nice outdoor terrace overlooking the water. They have a reasonably priced menu with a variety of Swedish dishes plus they make a nice pizza. If you want a quick bite you may want to try the Korv sausage stand for a hot dog or their ice cream stand.
From the visitors’ center, the Vasa ship museum is easy to spot. It’s located right behind the imposing Nordiska Museum and the roof of the museum has a copper roof with ship’s masts coming through it. The masts depict the actual height of the Vasa when it was in the harbour over 300 years ago.
King Gustavus Adolphus ordered the massive warship built in 1626 during a wartime period against Poland-Lithuania. To match the kings’ prestige, power and ambitions, the ship was extravagantly decorated and armed with 64 cannons on two gundecks. The immense Vasa must have been a stunning sight with all the bronze cannons, ornate carvings, painted sculptures, large masts, sails set and flags flying. The problem, which was discovered during construction, was that she was unstable and top heavy.
Despite this knowledge, on the afternoon of August 10, 1628, the Vasa set sail from the quay in the Old Town. She sailed a few hundred meters, then a squall, or sudden gust of wind, forced the Vasa to list heavily to one side, but she returned upright. Moments later, a second squall listed the boat so heavily that water started to pour in through the gunports. As the water seeped into the ship, it was too much to recover from; the Vasa capsized and sunk. About 30 of the crew and passengers drowned in the incident. The sinking of the Vasa in Stockholm’s harbour on her maiden voyage must have been quite shocking for the thousands of spectators who lined the sea front for a glimpse of the new ship.
Shortly after it sunk, efforts were made to retrieve the valuable bronze cannons, and over 50 were recovered. As the years passed, a few unsuccessful salvage attempts were made but eventually the exact location of the wreck was lost. Amateur archaeologist Andres Franzen, after many years of searching, found it again in 1956. Plans were made and the Vasa was finally raised to the surface in 1961 after laying in the “Salt Sea” for 333 years.
For over 20 years, the ship was housed in a temporary structure while it underwent examination and treatment to preserve it. In the early 1980’s, the Swedish government decided to build a permanent museum and numerous architects submitted designs. A final design was chosen, and the Vasa Museum opened in 1990, displaying the almost intact 17th century warship. It is the most visited museum in Scandinavia with around 1.5 million visitors per year.
When you walk in to the museum, the sight of the ship is overwhelming. The ship can be seen from six different levels and there are exhibits, maps and models explaining how the ship was built, it’s sailing route and eventual sinking. The museum explains the situation in Sweden during the 17th century that required the Vasa ship to be built, and has a movie theatre with a film on the ship recovery.
The Vasa museum is an absolute must if you are in Stockholm for any length of time.
As you emerge from the Vasa Museum, you will face the back of an impressive stone building, the Nordiska Museum. It stands on an area called Lejonslätten, the lions plain, because Queen Kristina, daughter of King Gustavus who had the Vasa ship built, placed lions here during her reign in the 17th century. The Renaissance style building which was partially built for Stockholm’s World´s Expo in 1897 is the home of Sweden’s largest cultural and historical museum.
The Nordiska museum was founded in 1873 by Artur Hazelius, who also founded the nearby Skansen open air museum. When you enter the museum, you will see a large oak statue of King Gustav Vasa placed in the centre of an over 100 meter long open central hall with a ceiling that rises 24 meters. As you look up, you will see multiple stories surrounding the central hall.
The museum has over a million objects depicting the Nordic lifestyle and traditions from the 16th century to today. The collections of art, furniture, jewelry, fashion, glass, porcelain and interiors are interesting. The museum also has an area dedicated to the Sami, the only indigenous people in Sweden.
If you follow the main road in front of the Nordiska Museum, the Djurgårdsvågen, for about 300 meters, you will reach the entrance to the ABBA Museum. The Swedish pop group is known the world over, and their band’s name is an acronym taken from the first letters in the band members first names, Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. They rose to fame in 1974 after winning the annual Eurovision Song Contest with the hit song ‘Waterloo.”
ABBA sold hundreds of millions of records worldwide during the 1970s and 1980s and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. In 1999, the musical “Mama Mia!,” which adapted ABBA’s music, became a smash hit along with subsequent related films.
The ABBA Museum opened in 2013 and at the entrance you will get an audio tour device that is easy to use on the self guided tour. As you go through the museum, you just tap the audio pad, and the audio begins. Much of the audio is actually the band members telling stories of their lives before ABBA, how they met, how they wrote songs, how they became the iconic super group and some of the experiences they had along the way. There are interactive areas where you can sing their music or dance with them on stage.
The exhibits are well done including a recreation of the Polar Studio, where they recorded some of their music. There is a helicopter similar to the one used in the album cover ABBA ARRIVAL that you can sit in to recreate the photo. In the museum you will see gold records, archival film footage, interesting stage costumes and the caricature style ABBA dolls that were used in a music video called “The Last Video.”
Before you leave, you enter the giftshop where you can get everything ABBA from souvenirs to posters, apparel and CDs. We all have listened or danced to ABBA songs over the years, and although I’m not a huge fan, the museum was very enjoyable.
When you leave the ABBA Museum, you can’t miss the sounds of the nearby Amusement Park.
In the late 1880s, on the south shore of Djurgården, nine acres were approved for the building of an amusement park. The park’s design had to incorporate the existing houses and commercial buildings that were already on the property. Even though the park has a small footprint on the island, it has 30 different attractions including roller coasters, free fall rides, and the “Eclipse,” one of the world’s tallest swing rides. The “Insane” roller coaster lives up to its name as the cars flip and spin and you travel along. In addition to the rides for the thrill seekers, there are rides for young children, and carnival games where you can win prizes like huge chocolate bars.
Grona Lund often hosts rock and pop music concerts, including on the main stage in the middle of the park. Bob Marley performed at Grona Lund three times, including in 1980 when he drew 30,000 fans.
If you want a quick bite, there are about fifteen food stands offering a wide selection of items including candy, burgers, pizza, poke bowls, kebabs, gyros, churros, waffles, crepes and ice cream. If you prefer to sit and relax, there are over ten options including Mexican, BBQ and Asian restaurants and a Biergarten. Needless to say, you won’t go hungry here.
The park is open from spring to late September and may be open during other dates including Halloween and the Swedish Autumn break. You can buy your tickets online in advance and get a pass that includes unlimited rides.
We have taken many youth hockey and ringette teams to Stockholm, and Grona Lund is always a hit with the kids and parents.
If you are not into amusement parks, across the street from the Grona Lund is the slower paced Skansen open-air museum. In the late 1890s, the park was created to preserve traditions, customs and structures from different parts of Sweden prior to the industrial age. The park is much larger that Grona Lund, with over 75 acres, and it attracts over a million visitors per year.
Over 150 buildings were relocated to Skansen from throughout Sweden, and they range from simple farm structures to worskhops, school rooms and manor houses. As you walk through the small village that they have created, people in traditional dress are doing every day chores. If you enter the trade shops, you will see skilled craftsmen demonstrating their skills including bakers, tanners, silversmiths, shoemakers and glass blowers. In today’s world, we take many essential products for granted that used to be made by hand in these small community work shops. To experience 19th century transportation, a 200 meter long funicular railway has been transporting people 35 meters up the north side of the Skansen hill since 1897.
Skansen’s traditional Christmas market, festivals and folklore shows are very popular.
Skansen’s relocated farms include domesticated animals like goats, pigs and horses. The park zoo contains over 75 species of the Nordic animals including bison, bears, seals, otters and moose. In addition to these Scandinavian natives, the zoo also features non-traditional animals like monkeys, peacocks, elephants and more.
Like Grona Lund, there are numerous options for fast food, cafes and restaurants. Taking time for a “fika” is an important Swedish custom. A fika is an opportunity to take time to share a coffee, and a little bite or a pastry, usually a cinnamon bun, with friends, colleagues or family.
A walk around the Skansen open-air museum on a nice sunny day is a great family activity.
More things to see and do in Djurgården
There are so many things to do in Djurgården. I listed some of my favourites, but you may enjoy visiting some of these options depending on your interests.
The Viking Museum opened in 2017 and it includes the interesting Ragnfrid’s Saga Viking ride.
The Liljevalchs Konsthall is an art gallery and exhibition space opened in 1916.
The Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde art museum is situated on a beautiful waterfront estate with a castle like mansion.
The Spritmuseum & The Absolut Art Collection is devoted to alcohol including Scandinavian Aquavit. After touring the museum, you can order a tasting tray of traditional spirits, Absolut vodkas or ciders.
Featuring 20th century Scandinavian and French art, the Thiel Gallery was established in 1905.
Junibacken is a children’s centre inspired by the stories by the Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren.
Cirkus is a 1,650 person arena built in 1892 that used to hold the circus, but now it is mainly used for shows, concerts, performances, trade shows, meetings, parties and gala dinners.
On the north east of the island, you will find the Djurgården canal. The area across from the canal is Djurgårdsbrunn. Here you will find the Museum of Technology, the Police Museum, the Maritime Museum and more park space.
With so many activities and green space, you can see why Stockholmers love Djurgården. On you next trip to Sweden, be sure to set aside some time on your schedule to explore and enjoy it.
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IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, READ THIS! ALBERTA’S COVID-19 REPORT
From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy
By Barry Cooper
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
Before January 2020, that mass-population masking is ineffective was mainstream science. That lockdowns are vastly damaging was mainstream science. Mainstream science abhorred school closures. All of that went out the window. It would be more accurate to say that the pandemic response of spring 2020 consisted of ‘alternative’ science or ‘alternative’ thinking.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
Province orders dismissal of Chestermere Mayor, three councillors, and all three CAO’s
City of Chestermere/Facebook)
City of Chestermere councillors and senior staff dismissed
Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver has issued a ministerial order dismissing four of the City of Chestermere’s municipal councillors and all three chief administrative officers (CAOs).
After the city failed to comply with the supervision of the official administrator and some of the minister’s directives that have been in place since March 15, 2023, Minister McIver has dismissed Mayor Jeff Colvin, Coun. Mel Foat, Coun. Blaine Funk and Coun. Stephen Hanley, as well as the three CAOs.
The directives, intended to restore good governance to the City of Chestermere, were issued following a municipal inspection. Since then, the city has continued to be managed in an irregular, improper and improvident manner.
“The directives issued by my predecessor are not onerous and represent the bare minimum that citizens ought to expect from their municipal government. However, after undertaking all reasonable efforts to have the city comply with its obligations, it has failed to do so. I am profoundly disappointed that it has come to this, but the people of Chestermere deserve better. This community should be able to have trust in its local elected government.”
While the minister determined that the city has failed to comply with its obligations, he has also determined that dismissal of Coun. Shannon Dean, Coun. Sandy Johal-Watt and Coun. Ritesh Narayan was not justified given their efforts to hold council to account and attempt to move council in a more positive direction toward proper governance practices and compliance with legislation.
Councillors Dean, Johal-Watt and Narayan remain as elected councillors but will have no role in the governance of the city until a byelection is held and council quorum is restored.
The ministerial order dismissing Chestermere council members and senior administration is effective Dec. 4. An official administrator and interim CAO are in place to oversee the City of Chestermere’s governance and operations until a byelection is held to elect new councillors for the vacant positions at a date to be determined in 2024.
- A municipal inspection was ordered by the minister of Municipal Affairs under the Municipal Government Act (Section 571) in May 2022.
- The independent inspection, which concluded in September 2022, found the City of Chestermere to be managed in an irregular, improper and improvident manner.
- An official administrator was appointed in September 2022 to supervise the municipality and its council.
- On March 15, 2023, the minister of Municipal Affairs issued 12 binding directives through a ministerial order requiring the City of Chestermere to take action to address key areas of concern.
- On Oct. 18, the minister of Municipal Affairs issued to the City of Chestermere a notice of intent to issue a ministerial order which would dismiss all seven council members from office, as well as all three CAOs.
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