This is part 4 in our series Report of the Covid Commission

While the following series is fictional, the principle objective is non-fictional – to explore the likelihood that sooner or later, Canadians will demand a full-scale investigation into the management of the COVID crisis by our federal government.

Preston ManningAt the commencement of the 2022 fall session of parliament, one of the first acts of the new Leader of the Official Opposition was to introduce a motion proposing the establishment of an independent Royal Commission on the Management of the Federal Response to the COVID Pandemic.

In doing so, the Leader listed 16 specific questions pertaining to federal management of the COVID crisis the public had been asking for months, which the Trudeau government had failed to answer, and which the proposed Commission would be charged with addressing.

Predictably, the motion to establish the proposed Royal Commission was defeated in the House by the Liberal/NDP Coalition. But the idea of a full-blown investigation into the management of the COVID crisis gained exposure and traction with both the media and the public. More and more Canadians whose lives had been adversely affected by the mismanagement of the pandemic – families with seniors or children whose personal relationships had been strained to the breaking point, businesses which had been driven into or to the verge of bankruptcy, workers who had lost their jobs and incomes – began to clamour for an official investigation as to how this had been allowed to happen and who should be held responsible.

Once again, it was the leadership of the Common Sense Movement that stepped to the fore, with the support of the Official Opposition in Parliament. At a fall convention involving the two groups, it was proposed that a Non-Governmental Commission be formed, composed of non-political Commissioners with sufficient expertise and public credibility to command public support. It was further proposed that this “COVID Commission” be funded by crowdsourcing and that its research requirements be supplied by sympathetic think tanks and the research offices of the Official Opposition.

As a prominent political scientist pointed out, the idea of searching for “non-governmental” solutions to pressing public issues was gaining traction in Canada and the idea of a “non-governmental commission” to investigate a public issue was not as farfetched as might first appear. “The Canadian public appears to be coming around to a belief in ‘limited government’ – not out of ideological persuasion or conviction – but due to the failures of politician-led government institutions and programs to deliver results on so many fronts. This view does not exclude a meaningful role for governments, but it tends to mean that often the best things governments can do is to ‘get out of the way’ to facilitate positive action by others, and to participate in public-private partnerships as the junior rather than the senior partner.”

At the conference session in which the idea to establish the COVID Commission was proposed, the biggest point of debate was on whether the Commission should focus on mismanagement of the COVID crisis by the federal government or mismanagement by the provincial governments, with some delegates preferring a much heavier emphasis on mismanagement by provincial governments such as those of Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta.

With respect to Quebec, a think tank expert pointed out that as of March 1st, 2021, 75 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in that province had occurred in long-term care centres as compared with just 43 per cent of deaths in France, 34 per cent in the UK, and 28 per cent in Germany. “This obvious failure to apply the triaging principle at the outset of the 2020 pandemic – of caring first for the most vulnerable – was a failure of the provincial, not the federal government.”

Or, to quote an Ontario delegate: “Ontario’s lockdown measures were even more ill-conceived and devoid of science than those invoked by the federal government. They even shut down golf courses. Four people on a huge green space, easily able to social distance. You couldn’t find a sport better suited to survive a pandemic. The Mayo Clinic in the U.S. said it was fine, but not Ontario. And Ontario shut down small businesses while allowing the Walmarts of the world to stay open. Why? A terrible decision and made at the provincial, not the federal level.”

Similar protests were raised concerning the draconian measures employed by Alberta against persons who protested the shutdown of places of worship even when they conformed to social distancing and other health protection measures, against those who joined or supported the Freedom Convoy, and against those who resisted the use of vaccine mandates.

And from a Manitoba delegate: “Our province largely eluded the first wave of the pandemic, but our provincial government appeared to learn nothing from other provinces as the first wave ravaged seniors homes in Quebec, Ontario, and elsewhere. By the time it hit Manitoba, the pandemic ran wild through our seniors’ homes. I blame our provincial government, not the federal government, for this mismanagement of the COVID response.”

In response to these arguments in favour of a provincial focus, other delegates with a national perspective, especially MPs with a federal focus, made three points:

  • That, in certain respects, the managerial response of the provincial governments to the pandemic was determined by the initial response of the federal government, in particular its decision to hand management of its response over to its health department bureaucracy instead of to an Emergency Measures Organization specifically designed and tasked with that job. As one insider from a Maritime provincial government declared: “We took one look at how the federal government was responding managerially and organizationally to the pandemic and decided to copy that response as closely as possible, on the assumption that we would then qualify to the maximum extent possible for any federal financial assistance available to assist the provinces in coping with the crisis.”
  • That the Freedom Convoy, which gave rise to the Common Sense Movement and Coalition, was a national effort crossing provincial boundaries to protest an ill-advised federal policy and that any COVID Commission formed to investigate that response and other aspects of the federal government’s mismanagement of the pandemic should, at least initially, also have a similar national and federal focus.
  • That if a COVID Commission was established to investigate the mismanagement of the COVID crisis by the federal government, there was nothing to prevent similar commissions from being set up in the various provinces if there was sufficient public support for doing so. In fact, such efforts might be more productive and successful if they had the example and initial experience of the federally focused COVID Commission from which to draw.

The chair of the session at which this issue was debated then put forward the motion that the Common Sense Coalition endorse the creation of a non-governmental Commission to investigate the mismanagement of the COVID pandemic by the federal government, understanding that this should in no way preclude the establishment of similar commissions at the provincial level if there was significant public support in particular provinces for doing so. The motion carried, with 73 per cent in favour and 27 per cent opposed.

Media coverage of both the conference and this particular debate was mixed, with left-of-center commentators professing to be delighted at the tensions revealed by the debate over whether the COVID Commission should be federally or provincially focused. As one declared: “Supporters of the Liberal/NDP Coalition can take comfort that the internal divisiveness that has crippled the conservative camp for years is still alive and well. The latest evidence of this is that large numbers of the conservative-oriented members of the Commons Sense Coalition expressed a stronger preference for investigating and attacking the Conservative provincial governments of Ontario and Alberta over their management of the COVID crisis than they did for investigating and attacking the federal Trudeau government for its mismanagement of the pandemic.”

Whereas the concept of the Freedom Convoy struck a responsive chord with a significant portion of the Canadian public, the concept of the non-governmental COVID Commission generated an even greater response. Within four weeks, a dozen Commissioners possessing the specified qualifications had been recruited and agreed to serve, and over $10 million were raised via crowdsourcing to finance the Commission’s work.

The individuals selected to be COVID Commissioners included:

  • several medical practitioners and scientists who had publicly expressed reservation concerning the health protection measures adopted by the Trudeau government and had been severely censured for doing so
  • several civil libertarian lawyers who had challenged the constitutionality of those measures, alleging that they unjustifiably limited the rights and freedoms of Canadians guaranteed by the Charter, and who had been threatened with disbarment by the Law Societies of their respective provinces
  • several representatives of the private sector unions and the small business community whose members and employees had suffered massive job and income losses as a result of the COVID-inspired lockdown of the economy, and
  • several economists and financial experts who had been at the forefront of predicting and protesting the widespread negative economic consequences of those lockdowns.

The Memorandum of Understanding defining the Commission’s Terms of Reference directed it to maintain a national perspective and to focus its inquiry primarily on the mismanagement of the response to the pandemic by the federal government, without denying that much mismanagement of the COVID response also occurred at the provincial and municipal levels. It expressed the hope that federal cabinet ministers and other federal officials would cooperate in supplying needed information to the Commission but empowered the Commission to utilize other investigative techniques to secure such information if federal government cooperation was not forthcoming. And the Commission was specifically directed to expeditiously address the 16 questions pertaining to the federal government’s management of the COVID crisis which had been raised by the Leader of the Official Opposition in seeking the support of the House for an investigative Royal Commission.

The allegations for invoking the Emergencies Act were baseless by Ryan Alford
Is the NDP-Liberal coalition attempting to whitewash the inquiries?
The use of the Emergencies Act was profoundly undemocratic by Gerry Bowler
It should be used only in the direst of circumstances

To the accusation that this non-governmental, publicly supported COVID Commission was inherently biased against the Trudeau government whose actions it was charged with investigating, the chair bluntly responded, “Of course it is – what did you expect, a Whitewash Commission like the government itself would have appointed had it been persuaded to do so?”

Sixteen Key Questions

The Memorandum of Understanding establishing the COVID Commission specifically charged it with finding substantive answers to the following questions:

  1. Why was the management of the governmental response to the COVID pandemic assigned immediately to Health Canada – the federal government’s bureaucratic health department with its 13 branches, offices, and bureaus – instead of to more focused, nimble, and independent Emergency Management Organizations (EMOs) – existing or specifically created to handle precisely such health emergencies?
  2. Why was the tried and true emergency response principle of “triaging” not applied at the outset of the pandemic so that the initial response would be focused on caring for and protecting the most vulnerable and immediately affected, such as the seniors population, rather than being diffused widely and ineffectively over the entire population?
  3. Why were the guarantees of individual rights and freedoms, contained in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and constitutionally entrenched by the Constitution Act of 1982, so easily ignored and over-ridden in the name of health protection, and why did the courts fail to uphold those rights and freedom when plaintiffs appealed for the courts to do so?
  4. Why, in particular, did the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, specifically established to uphold “equality rights” guaranteed by the Constitution, fail completely to respond to gross inequalities in the treatment of various groups by the health-care authorities – unequal treatment of religious communities in comparison with the treatment of non-religious communities, and unequal treatment of the members of private-sector unions (who lost jobs and incomes on a vast scale) in comparison with the treatment of the members of public-sector unions whose jobs and incomes were assiduously protected by governmental authorities?
  5. Why were the warnings of educators, pediatricians, psychologists, and child-care providers concerning the negative impacts of the stringent application of the COVID protocols on children, especially very young children and students, completely ignored by those in authority until very late in the day? In other words, why was that segment of the population which was least vulnerable to the pandemic obliged to suffer what may prove to be some of the most serious and long-lasting negative impacts of the health protection measures adopted?
  6. Why did the federal government refuse to immediately acknowledge the obvious inadequacies of the antiquated Canadian health care system, in particular its lack of surge capacity such as that displayed in other countries with “mixed” (public and private) systems, and consistently resist any and all calls for immediate expansion of the system?
  7. Why was there little or no acknowledgment of, nor a comprehensive response to, the lengthening of the health-care waiting lines for the treatment of illnesses unrelated to the COVID pandemic, and little or no acknowledgment or response to the growing death toll among those trapped in those ever-lengthening waiting lines?
  8. Why in daily, even hourly, reporting the COVID case numbers did the authorities make no distinction between deaths from COVID and deaths with COVID due to co-morbidity factors?
  9. Why, in a supposedly free and democratic society in which freedom of belief and expression are supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution, were viewpoints which challenged the assumptions and positions of the political, bureaucratic, and media establishments ruthlessly and systematically censored and “cancelled”?
  10. Why did the federal government initially engage in what appeared to be a deliberate smear campaign to discredit the use of pharmaceutical interventions (i.e. drugs) to treat COVID-19 and its mutations, even prohibiting physicians from using them, when scientific evidence as to the safety and efficacy of such treatments was already available?
  11. Why did mass media organizations like the federally subsidized CBC abandon their responsibility to provide full and free investigative reporting of the COVID crisis? Why did they become unabashed mouthpieces and apologists for the federal government and the health-care bureaucracy?
  12. Most importantly, why were no early and comprehensive assessments done on the potential economic impacts of the health-care protection measures adopted – measures that resulted in massive job and income losses, unprecedented numbers of personal and business bankruptcies, and the crippling disruption of supply chains for food and other essentials – so that a balance could then be struck between health protection and protection of the economic livelihood and wellbeing of Canadians?
  13. Why did it take a strike by a group of independent truckers and a march on Ottawa, joined by thousands of other Canadians, to force the government of Canada to retract ineffective and discriminately applied vaccine mandates when numerous countries around the world and several of the provinces were already doing so?
  14. Why would the Prime Minister and numerous other federal ministers and spokespersons maliciously and falsely characterize these Canadians, who were merely exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms, as a fringe minority composed of racists, misogynists, and right-wing extremists largely financed by U.S. interests?
  15. When the government imposed the trucker-vaccination mandate, was it not aware that the vaccines currently in use were ineffective against the Omicron version, rendering any vaccine mandate not merely excessive and all but useless and therefore unjustifiable? If it was not aware, why was it failing to keep up with the current science? And if it was aware, then were its actions against the truckers not incompetent, oppressive, and malicious?
  16. And why would the federal government invoke the Emergencies Act – a statute rooted in the draconian War Measures Act and a move of questionable legality opposed by nine of the ten provinces – to end a peaceful demonstration by the truckers and their supporters when the simplest and most obvious way to end the protest was to cancel the vaccine mandates which the government was eventually obliged to cancel anyway?

Preston Manning’s long record of public service includes work as founder of the Reform Party and as a Member of Parliament.

Next: The Public Hearings

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