Preston Manning, founder of the federal Reform Party and the Manning Centre (now rebranded the Canada Strong & Free Network) isn’t taking calls about his latest gig. The Government of Alberta, flush with petrodollars, is paying Preston over a quarter-million bucks to chair Premier Danielle Smith’s COVID-19 panel.
Donna sat with Preston on another government-appointed panel—the Fair Deal Panel—unleashed by former Alberta premier Jason Kenney in late 2019. Based on that experience, she has some burning questions to ask the chair that is now to be occupied by Preston. Since he’s not answering his phone, she will pose her questions to the Padded Stool and offer up hypothetical answers on its behalf:
DONNA: First off, Preston, your enthusiasm is unbridled; at age 80, you are comfortable accepting $253,000 from tax-paying Albertans to steer a committee through a rehash of COVID-19, and recommend how the government can do a better job of responding to future health emergencies without hammering the “social well-being, mental health, civil liberties and livelihoods of Albertans”. How are you celebrating this newest appointment? Champagne, caviar?
PADDED STOOL: No time to celebrate Donna, there’s work to be done. And frankly, your comments smack of agism. I’m the same age as American President, Joe Biden.
DONNA: Apologies, Preston. Your stamina impresses me, that’s the point I’m trying to make. But honestly, doesn’t it cause you pause to accept that much cash to do this job? You are already leading a national citizen’s inquiry to understand government COVID-19 response policies, inviting people to share their grievances and encouraging experts with “alternative” perspectives to speak up. I’m a wee bit curious; is that work paid or “public service”? And how do you juggle these two pursuits—a national citizen’s inquiry and now a Government of Alberta committee?
PADDED STOOL: What conflict of interest? Didn’t you hear what the Premier’s office spokesperson said; I’ve stepped aside as public spokesperson for the national citizen’s inquiry. Onward!
DONNA: But Preston, won’t your work on the Alberta committee be influenced by your work with the national citizen’s inquiry? In fact, given all your public statements about COVID-19 during the pandemic itself—you were a critic of vaccine mandates and lockdowns—how can you be remotely objective in this role as committee chair?
PADDED STOOL: We are all humans, with opinions, even chairs of government committees. Would you prefer this critical work be tossed over to a ChatGPT for direction?
DONNA: Okay, you are a human chair. Will you be choosing other committee members with the intention of ensuring a diversity of perspectives? You have been asked to build your own committee—with a $2 million budget—with Premier Smith having the final seal of approval.
PADDED STOOL: Yes, I choose my own committee members. What’s wrong with that?
DONNA: Speaking candidly Preston, you were pretty confident with your ideas during the Fair Deal Panel committee deliberations, and you are a very influential man in some quarters. Will you be writing this committee report? Actually, do you have parts of the report already sketched out? Some people believe you already have the answers figured out and are just looking for a process to validate your opinion.
PADDED STOOL: You know I like writing these kinds of reports; I’ve written many and haven’t lost my edge.
DONNA: Yes, I do know you are comfortable writing these reports Preston. In fact, I felt awkward pressing so hard to co-author the Fair Deal Panel report. In spite of the fact that you did not attend several of the town hall meetings in January of 2020—you were in Australia visiting family—you felt compelled to draft write-ups on several key issues and push forward solutions for the committee to adopt.
PADDED STOOL: You lawyers, always like to have the pen; are you still grumbling about that? Anyway, the pandemic dashed the best-laid plans and here we are, preparing to defend ourselves against future harm.
DONNA: Fair enough, but it did make me wince to think that you are pulling down a quarter of a million dollars to do this work that feels like it’s in the realm of public service. What’s the message to other people tapped for government commissions? Most aren’t paid much. At the risk of sounding like a martyr, I charged the Kenney government $4,078 for my work on the Fair Deal Panel, and I attended all the scheduled town halls and meetings and co-authored the report.
Besides, Preston, hasn’t this COVID question already been analyzed to death? In Alberta, the NDP already looked at the question, as well as a UCP legislative committee. Plus, the feds are reportedly doing an internal review and there’s growing pressure for a public inquiry. If the trucker convoy inquiry is any indication of what a COVID-19 pandemic inquiry could look like, we’re in for a spectacle.
PADDED STOOL: Danielle has asked me to assume this important leadership mantle; it’s a critical objective for her, and I’m going to support her, with enthusiasm. Donna, I must warn you—you’re exhibiting classic signs of “wet blanket syndrome.”
DONNA: What I’m exhibiting, Preston, are classic signs of skepticism, and that’s healthy.
This column is the consensus opinion of the writers Donna Kennedy-Glans & Don Hill. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to BEYOND POLARITY — scroll down on your phone or tablet, or look to the right in the panel beside this post. Enter your email to FOLLOW, a wheel spins, hamsters get fed.