Manning tells Conservative MPs his COVID-19 panel report could help defeat the Liberals

The chair of a panel that produced a taxpayer-funded $2-million report on COVID-19 responses for the Alberta government suggested Conservative MPs use his findings as a political cudgel in the next federal election.

Former Reform Party leader says panel was non-partisan

A man in blue suit with grey hair sits in front of a blue background.
Former Reform Party Leader Preston Manning led Alberta's COVID-19 review panel, making recommendations about better responding to future public emergencies. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The chair of a panel that produced a taxpayer-funded $2-million report on Alberta's COVID-19 response suggested Conservative MPs use his findings as a political cudgel in the next federal election.

Former Reform Party Leader Preston Manning last week released more than 90 recommendations he said would improve the Alberta government's response to future public emergencies.

On Monday, Calgary Liberal MP George Chahal posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, a copy of an email Manning appears to have sent to 20 Alberta MPs on Nov. 15 to share his findings.

"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 [Conservative Party of Canada] to say 'What should have been done to cope with the COVID crisis and what should be done to cope with future public emergencies,'" Manning's email reads.

"Some of its content may also be useful in attacking the record of the Liberal/NDP coalition in this area."

Manning's letter also says Alberta MLAs could use the support of their federal counterparts when promoting and implementing recommendations from his panel's report.

A spokesperson for Manning confirmed on Monday that Manning sent the email.

"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," Manning said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

"After our work was completed, I reached out to politicians from my personal email encouraging them to review our recommendations."

Manning, who was critical of many governments' responses to COVID-19 and the effects public health restrictions had on individual freedoms, was paid $253,000 by the Alberta government for his role in chairing the six-member panel.

A woman with brown hair in a blue suit stands at a podium.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says she understands why Manning would want to share his panel's findings with federal politicians. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

At an unrelated news conference on Monday, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said she sees nothing wrong with Manning sending the work to like-minded contacts from his personal email address.

"There's good information in that report," Smith said, adding she wasn't surprised he wanted to share it with decision makers in other levels of government.

Smith said the panel members acted independently of her United Conservative Party government.

Opposition says email reveals panel's purpose

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Manning's letter shows the panel's review of Alberta legislation was never intended to be an exercise in the public interest.

"This was not an objective, measured person who warranted the appointment he received to do the important work that I think many Albertans are disappointed we didn't see from him," Notley said of Manning.

The Opposition leader said many recommendations in the report, if adopted, could see a government consider options unsupported by evidence and put Albertans' safety at risk.

"It's a continuation of a pattern of Danielle Smith's belief that taxpayers dollars are there for her to do partisan political campaigning with."

Review recommendations

In its report released publicly last Wednesday, the Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel recommended the government amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to strengthen individual freedoms when a public emergency is declared.

Panel members also recommended tasking the Alberta Emergency Management Agency leading government response to public emergencies, taking direction from the premier and cabinet.

Currently, the Public Health Act tasks the chief medical officer of health (CMOH) with leading the response to public health emergencies.

The government has already tabled a bill that would give politicians, not the CMOH, the final say on any public health measures in an emergency.

The panel also recommended rejecting provincewide school closures as an option during emergencies, with rare exceptions.

On Monday, the premier said her cabinet and caucus are still reviewing the report and its recommendations.

She pointed to the panel's recommendations that politicians have more say, such as MLAs debating a decision to declare an emergency, and cabinet oversight of emergency orders.

"They suggest making some changes along that vein so don't be surprised that we'll be going in that direction," Smith said.


Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.