Preston Manning has a message for those who spoke up loudly for rights and freedoms in the dark days of COVID.
“Their voices have been heard. At least, they’ve been heard by this panel.”
Premier Danielle Smith named Manning, the former Reform party leader, to quarterback a panel of deep thinkers looking at ways to change the law in tackling future province-wide public emergencies.
Their report is now out.
“School lockdowns and economic lockdowns cause an enormous amount of suffering for a large number of people,” says Manning.
Manning says such lockdowns should be avoided if at all possible.
Manning points out Alberta’s $300 billion economy contracted by 8% during the pandemic.
“That’s $24 billion worth of damage,” he says.
As for school lockdowns?
“Locking down the schools should not be considered as a policy option at all except under very unusual circumstances.”
For Manning, lockdowns should be reduced or even eliminated.
Protecting and strengthening rights and freedoms during a public emergency such as COVID is a big consideration in the Manning report.
Putting in restrictions would be made “much more difficult” after a makeover of the Alberta Bill of Rights.
Why is this important?
Rights are more threatened during an emergency with the government considering measures restricting rights and freedoms.
“The pressure on protecting rights and freedoms goes up during an emergency so we say the effort to protect those rights ought to go up at the same time.”
Manning speaks about Alberta and Albertans
“People, particularly in Alberta, they value their rights and freedoms. These are not just academic concepts. The freedom of expression, the freedom of choice, Albertans value these.”
“I would argue they value them probably more than any other province. That has to be addressed.”
Manning adds “the courts were not very active in strengthening that protection through court action.”
By changing the law, says Manning, the court would be getting direction from those elected by the people.
Politicians will run the show with the province-wide public emergency to be debated in the legislature.
They will bear the ultimate responsibility
The government including those in the trenches responding to the emergency led by the Alberta Emergency Management Agency “should be open to considering and investigating alternative scientific narratives and hypotheses.”
They should “seek out and use multiple sources of scientific knowledge and expertise.”
They should not insist “prematurely on a single scientific narrative that may prove inaccurate or even wrong with the passage of time.”
“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, violated freedom of thought, belief and expression in a variety of ways.”
So says the report.
There should be changes to law especially to the Alberta Bill of Rights to “significantly strengthen the protection of the rights and freedoms of Albertans.”
No doubt many measures imposed “severe limits” on “guaranteed rights and freedoms.”
The courts and decision-makers should “pay more than lip service to rights and freedoms.”
The Alberta Bill of Rights should go through a major makeover.
A right or freedom set out in this bill of rights “shall be presumed to be paramount and of superior importance” to other objectives of politicians.
There should be the right to choose to receive or not receive treatment unless the person is demonstrated to be a danger to themselves or others.
There should be the right not to be coerced into submitting to medical care or treatment expect on proof of immediate danger of serious injury or loss of life to another.
There should be a guarantee of freedom of expression as well as freedom of speech.
Then there’s the right to academic freedom without “institutional censorship.”
The guarantee of freedom of regulated professionals from “institutional censorship.”
Protection against discrimination “on the basis of opinion, disability and medical status and history.”
Expanding the right to privacy
“The right of an individual not to be deprived of the means of earning a living, caring for their family or functioning in society.”
School closings had “decisively negative impacts” in children and would be forbidden except in the most exceptional cases since schools would be deemed an essential service.
There’s strengthening the rights and freedoms of employees and health professionals.
There’s disallowing permanent dismissal of employees not complying with temporary emergency measures.
Then there’s assessing the impacts prior, during and after a response has been taken in a province-wide emergency.
Increasing the capacity of the health care system to surges in demand during an emergency is also on the panel’s wish list.
Many of Smith’s strongest supporters came to politics because of COVID.
Smith says her government will eyeball the report.
Manning has some final words.
“If you expand the protection of rights there’s a duty for those rights to be exercised responsibly. It’s a two-way street.”