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Commentary: Emergency response must strike right balance

Decisions regarding the Public Health Emergencies Review Panel recommendations will certainly impact every Albertan in the event of another public health emergency.

The long-awaited report from the government-appointed Public Health Emergencies Review Panel headed by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning has received decidedly mixed reviews.

The panel undertook a detailed review of the legislation and governance employed during the COVID-19 crisis and recommended changes and additional legislation to prepare the province to meet future public emergencies.

Whether the UCP government will end up adopting some, most, or all of the dozens of recommendations coming out of the panel process remains an open question.

What is clear is that the decisions made now will have far-reaching impacts on any future provincial response to emergencies like the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the key panel recommendations is that the government make substantial amendments to provincial legislation to “protect the rights and freedoms of all Albertans, including workers and health-care professionals, and the freedom of expression during public emergencies.”

The panel also calls on the government to “reject provincewide school closures as a policy option in responding to a province wide public emergency, except in the most exceptional of circumstances, and then only for the shortest possible period of time.”

For her part, Premier Danielle Smith says her government will now “review and analyze the report and consider the panel’s recommendations as we prepare for future legislative sessions.”

Official Opposition Leader Rachel Notley says the panel report “marks a clear deviation from scientific integrity and rational public policy, suggesting that conspiracy theories and pseudo-science be given the same legitimacy as evidence-based medical treatment. This is not only irresponsible but also incredibly dangerous.”

With the panel’s recommendations now in the public record, Premier Smith and her government colleagues have some very important choices to make.

In fact, the decisions they make regarding the panel's recommendations will certainly impact every Albertan in the event of another public health emergency.

As such, residents here and across the province will be watching very closely to see if the UCP can strike the right balance between public health safety and government control.

Dan Singleton is an editor with the Albertan.

Dan Singleton

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