Braid: Manning's email blooper shows growing use of public money for partisan gain

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This political blooper would be slapstick funny if it wasn’t so expensive.

The first thing Preston Manning did with his report on COVID-era response was turn it into a campaign weapon.

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On the day his big report went public, he shopped it around to Alberta Conservative MPs as a possible source of ammunition against the NDP and Liberals.

The blunderous exception among the email recipients was George Chahal, a Calgary Liberal MP, who gleefully passed the message on to the media.

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Manning was paid $253,000 from the public purse for chairing the Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel.

Plus expenses.

The five other panellists, including former Justice Jack Major and academic Jack Mintz, were modestly paid by comparison, gleaning expenses and standard committee remuneration. (This is vaguely defined but runs up to several hundred dollars per day of work.)

The full heft of the UCP government swung behind the study. Departments were ordered to provide information and help. Direction and links to the premier’s office came from the top of the civil service.

This was a big operation with a lush paycheque for the top guy and plenty of surrounding expenses.

The panel was supposed to provide a high-level view of how the government would react to the next pandemic. A conservative tilt was expected, of course.

Manning created and led the Reform party and was Canada’s Official Opposition leader.

The panel results were loopy in some ways, especially the call for more opinions on science.

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We know that Premier Danielle Smith has promoted alternative remedies in the past. Manning gave her a clear field to formally respect just about any opinion.

Manning also concluded, no surprise here, that the government and cabinet should have full control over any health measures imposed during a pandemic.

The report is a boat-anchor version of what Smith was saying long before she launched Manning’s panel.

Still, people had a right to know what was likely to result — a slew of legal changes to enhance freedom and reject “authoritarian” tendencies.

That’s what I was naively thinking as I read the report on Nov. 15; at about the same time, probably, that Manning was sending his email to the MPs.

When it arrived, courtesy of Chahal, I could hardly believe my eyes.

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Manning’s first move is to weaponize his report as a potential bunker-buster for the next federal election.

“If the response of the Liberal/NDP coalition to the 2020-2023 COVID crisis should become an election issue in 2024, there may be some material in this report that could be used by the CPC,” he wrote.

Candidates could use it to say what should have been done, and what could be done in the next crisis.

“Some of its content may also be useful in attacking the record of the Liberal/NDP coalition in this area,” wrote Manning.

He goes on to say, “there would be real merit in developing a closer practical relationship in Alberta between the UCP and the CPC.

“They need your support for some of their initiatives — such as promoting and implementing the recommendations of this report — and you could use their active support for your re-election in 2024.”

He suggests a joint task force to implement these ideas.

They could all sit around the campaign campfire reading his excellent platform document, purchased with your money.

Danielle Smith on reforming Alberta's health-care system
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith. David Bloom/Postmedia

It’s all quite shameless, but not entirely different from the $7.5 million being spent to promote an Alberta pension plan, at the same time another $1.8 million is lavished on a panel that’s supposed to be studying whether people want it.

Smith had no problem at all with Manning’s partisan use of his report (our report). He was free to do his own communications, she said.

There used to be at least some reluctance to use public money for such nakedly political purposes.

Those days appear to be gone.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

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