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Commentary: Expert panel must do real work

Albertans have the right to expect the panel examining the UCP government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis to be more than a taxpayer-funded political exercise

With the provincial election now scheduled to take place in four months time, key campaign issues already identified include the cost-of-living crisis and the severe strain facing the health care system, including in rural Alberta.

Whether the recently announced $2 million expert panel headed by Preston Manning and charged with examining the UCP government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis will also become a campaign issue remains to be seen.

What is known is that with families and businesses facing many challenges, Albertans have the right to expect the panel to be more than a taxpayer-funded political exercise.

“There are valuable lessons we learned from the Alberta government’s response to the COVID-19 public health emergency,” said Premier Danielle Smith. “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.”

The panel will invite experts and the public to provide views on how the government can better respond to future health emergencies while mitigating impacts on the social well-being, mental health, civil liberties and livelihoods of Albertans, she said.

Manning is being paid $253,000 as head of the panel, which will make its recommendations to government on Nov.15.

NDP leader Rachel Notley says the appointment of the expert panel has nothing to do with public health.

“Manning brings no objectivity and no scientific expertise to the job of assessing and evaluating this issue,” Notley said. “This is an exceptionally expensive throw to Danielle Smith’s extreme base at the expense of Alberta taxpayers at a time when folks need her to be focused on their cost of living and their health-care system.”

“We will not continue that panel and we will do everything we can to negate what is an outrageously unjustified level of compensation to Manning.”

While Manning's final report won’t come out until months after the next election, if ever, Albertans expect the panel to do real work, not partisan gamesmanship. 

Dan Singleton is an editor with the Albertan.

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