As we approach the one-year anniversary of the anti-vaccine mandate occupation of Ottawa and nearly three years since the COVID-19 pandemic began in earnest, most Canadians are busy getting on with their lives. But there’s a tiny minority of the public that seems determined to spend the rest of their lives re-litigating the pandemic and the choices they made — or refused to make — during it. And Danielle Smith, the premier of Alberta, seems to be one of them.

It’s why she said unvaccinated people were the “most discriminated-against group in her lifetime,” a comment she has never fully backed away from. It’s why she promised those supporters she would pursue amnesty or pardons for COVID-19 rule breakers, even though she never actually had the power to do that as premier. And it’s why she said she had talked to prosecutors about reviewing cases associated with the Coutts border anti-mandate blockades — and why someone in her office is accused of having done the same.

Maybe she’s doing this because she feels beholden to the far-right anti-vaccine supporters in the United Conservative Party, the same ones who helped turf her predecessor and appear determined to do the same to one of his most loyal cabinet ministers. But as Mount Royal University professor Duane Bratt wrote back in November, “A better explanation for Smith's opposition to COVID restrictions and vaccines is that she firmly believes it. Her personal behaviour, radio show, newsletters, and social media posts — prior to her renewed political career — demonstrate that Smith is absolutely convinced that the experts have been misleading people about COVID.”

The recent news that Smith appointed none other than Preston Manning to chair an “expert panel” on how Alberta handled the COVID-19 pandemic, one that will pay him $253,000, certainly supports Bratt’s argument. After all, on this subject, Manning is hardly a neutral arbiter of the truth. Instead, he’s an active participant in the conversation around it, and his views about how COVID-19 was handled are abundantly — perhaps excessively — clear.

That’s not just because he was in the midst of raising money for a “National Citizen's Inquiry” into the pandemic, one that sought to “provide an opportunity for alternative scientific and medical narratives” on everything from mask wearing to public health restrictions (and one he’s stepped away from to do the premier’s work). It’s also because he’s already conducted a hypothetical “COVID Commission,” one whose contents were published by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (yes, that Frontier Centre) last May.

In it, the 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” and “civil libertarian lawyers who had challenged the constitutionality of those measures … and who had been threatened with disbarment by the Law Societies of their respective provinces.”

His dream team of COVID skeptics also included business owners who had suffered “massive job and income losses” and “several economists and financial experts who had been in the forefront of predicting and protesting the widespread negative economic consequences of those lockdowns.”

In other words, a totally impartial and unbiased bunch.

Their imaginary source material, meanwhile, included “alternative science and medical information,” which Manning describes as “legitimate scientific positions worthy of consideration and discussion by governmental authorities and the public rather than denunciation and cancellation.” The most (in)famous of those sources, the “Great Barrington Declaration”, was called out by Alberta’s chief medical officer of health in a lengthy blog post in October 2020.

The appointment of Preston Manning to lead a COVID-19 inquiry for Alberta is just the latest sign that its premier can't — or won't — let the pandemic go. Columnist @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver

Also legitimate, it seems, were the efforts by a tiny handful of doctors (and, it should be pointed out, online commenters like … Danielle Smith) to promote bogus COVID-19 treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. “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,” Manning asks, “even prohibiting physicians from using them, when scientific evidence as to the safety and efficacy of such treatments was already available?”

Manning’s fantasy commission wrapped up with some entirely predictable conclusions, from the inadequacy of the federal government and the injustice of its policies (the role of provincial governments, which actually implemented most public health measures, is conveniently set aside) to the media “slavishly adhering to the federal government’s interpretation of the COVID crisis.”

Its recommendations catered to some of Manning’s favourite political hobby horses, from defunding the CBC and the “discredited Canadian Human Rights Commission” to “wholesale reform of Canada’s health-care system.”

The contents of Manning’s hypothetical commission offer some very heavy foreshadowing of what the real one he’ll lead for Smith will look like. It won’t revolve around identifying best practices and helping policymakers prepare for the next pandemic but rather addressing and inflaming the grievances of those who opposed the public health measures adopted by federal and provincial governments of all partisan stripes. It will empower cranks, feed conspiracy theories and attempt to undermine federal institutions and authority. And it will feed the culture of victimhood that has sprung up around the anti-vaccine movement, one that’s become a cottage industry for right-wing grifters and their political enablers (and vice versa).

It’s tempting to say Smith should know better here. But as she’s shown time and time again, she doesn’t know better. The question now is whether Albertans will choose to re-elect a premier who refuses to put the pandemic in the past or one who’s actually willing to look to the future.

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It is truly ubfortunate we have an anti science, populist, miniority driven premier. In my 55 plus years of voting i have never experinced politicians so out of touch with reality. The truly unfortunate thing is the misinformed anti vaxxers will have their children pay the price as anti vaccines will carry to other diseases. When a small miniority can influence the publuc interest, the common good so adversely, I fear for our democracy

Well said.

Non, c'est pas the le premier fois que tu as vu ça. TOUS NOS POLITIQUES ONT FAIT RIEN contre l'urgence climatique. Rien. Ils ont aussi nous menti longtemps -- astheure tout le monde sait que ces vaccins n'arrêtent pas COVID-19. Elle n'est pas spéciale dans ce cas; juste une autre politique qui vuelent pouvoir; comme Trudeau, comme Ford; comme eux tout.

J'hais de faire une méchante d'une quand ils ont tout fait la même.

I can't quit the pandemic, either; and the National Observer certainly should not.

You can't let antivaxnuts (that's all one word to me now) make the "pandemic conversation" be about their imaginary enemies and conspiracy theories. The real pandemic conversation is about free, public-property vaccines being ignored in favour of commercial products that are now octupling in price. It's about the wealthiest gaining over a trillion in wealth during the pandemic, while the essential-services people and meat plant workers died.

Smith should be encouraged to talk pandemic, in which she's stopped short every time she starts with a question about how many died in Alberta care homes, how many died in the meat-packing plants, how many died compared to BC. (Alberta lost more than BC, though lower population - why?)

She should be asked why the oil and gas companies are allowed to charge Albertans "European Prices" for energy, that comes from the ground under their own feet, while we're at it.

It's time we made THEM afraid to bring up the pandemic. They were the traitors in the war against it.

Il n'y a pas un «guerre» contre la pandémie mon homme. Y a une contre les pauvres, le classe travailleur. Tous les entreprises de drogues ont fait tellement plein argent de ces vaccins; notre argent tarif. Ne laisses pas eux te tourner contre ton voisin, contre d'autres citoyen qui n'ont pas de pouvoir. Les entreprises et les politiques ont tout la pouvoir.

Thinking of paying attention to the science and evidence, the pandemic isn't actually in the past. There's still plenty people in hospital, there's still a high death toll, and there's still new variants evolving quickly, and these variants are still tending to be less and less vulnerable to the existing vaccines. But this evidence and science is no longer fashionable, it seems.

And of course the big pharma companies will develop newer variant vaccines, and we'll keep playing whack-a-mole while people continue to die. They'll be making big profits, at least. It is little comfort that anti-vaxxers will continue to die more than the rest of us.

If we're not going to treat Covid seriously in terms of masking and lockdowns, and it seems clear we're not going to, then we'd dashed well better start at least taking it seriously the way the Davos crowd do (for themselves, they clearly don't care if WE die), with major work on ventilation, air filtration, and UV sterilization of the air, particularly in schools, workplaces, malls, and for that matter public transit.

Even back in the 60s and 70s while I was growing up in the suburbs of Calgary, there was a well-honed tradition of bitching about the feds. Today's anti-Trudeau meme and playing armchair victim is old news, but manifested in another generation. Which is to say, brainwashing is a fact of life in some places.

Today, 44 years after leaving Alberta, I am not only dismayed at the number of added layers of disinformation and painfully stupid conspiracies piled onto the ingrained, habitual grievance tendency, but that conspiracies have permeated right through to the top echelons of Alberta leadership.

Having said that, there is a viable chance that Danielle Smith may be de-elected this spring, in part due to the insanity she subscribes to. Which is to say that there are many Albertans -- I believe the majority -- who still maintain a sense of perspective and balance when it comes to social beliefs and infrastructure (e.g. healthcare).

Putting Smith and her deluded followers out to pasture will not be enough to tune out the slightly less loud voices espousing nebulous but hubristic theories of Alberta's national hegemony, but which always falls short of an actual referendum on separation. That takes courage, something braggarts and lazy armchair victims of the world do not usually have, and

Notley's NDP may be a sibling of the UCP when it comes to oil (yep, that's still a big problem). But at least she may turn the volume down on the conspiracy-enriched insanity that has topped up the Alberta government's tanks to overflowing.

That leaves the Wexiters who are inadvertently doing their best to self-isolate politically.

How I wish the NO would up its digital expertise to normal website standards and include an edit button in the the comments section.

Preston Manning, a very religious man, launched the pious Reform Party with bona fide bible belters and/or prairie grievance afficionados, so is single-handedly responsible for ruining Canadian politics. The Tea Party did the same in the States. What both parties had in common was newly, politically aggressive Christianity making its move in the long game to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Being a believer means that Manning occupies the usual alternate reality with its attendant alternate authority of a "God" (but probably also wants to be a low-level god HIMSELF, like all cult "leaders.") What could go wrong? And no one wants to dwell on the "lake of fire" thing; that was the more EXTREME Wild Rose people after all. Well now we have the person who was leader of that group as PREMIER. THAT'S what could go wrong and will continue to as long as we deem religious delusion as entirely acceptable; we've normalized it but that doesn't mean the delusion is anything more than that. Oddly enough, I don't think Smith IS a believer; she's just piggybacking on their missionary zeal, not unprecedented either.
So I agree that we really shouldn't let all this go with her either, including covid actually. We should be going go toe-to-toe with delusion at every turn, even when it's wac-a-mole, ESPECIALLY when it is, ANDis now sufficiently emboldened to take on science as well as our treasured, secular rule of law.
So I'm delighted that Danielle Smith continues to flog this, drilling ever deeper into everyone's clouded perception that YES, maybe she does indeed believe it. Why is that so hard to accept is the question. I know that we're highly cynical about politicians at this point, but there's also some sort of mental block among us on the left, some muddying of OUR thinking.

It is really hard to live with the idea that Danielle Smith "really believes this drivel". Better for one's peace of mind to believe that she is "just exploiting the deluded for political gain". After all, that's just normal politics.

Ms Smith's anti-science beliefs don't stop at vaccines. So far she's kept a lid on her views that climate change is a fraud, but in her life before becoming UCP leader she spoke to a group in the Crowsnest Pass about her support for coal mining and in her column with the Calgary Herald she attacked the wind industry in Texas, blaming it for power outages during a deep freeze and neglecting to mention that just as much natural gas power generation was lost due to pipelines freezing. The solar industry is booming in Alberta, but you can expect a sharp downturn if the UCP government is reelected. The anti-science faction led by the Premier will undoubtedly create policy to take down the renewable energy industry. If you don't think that can happen then I invite you to read, "Short Circuiting Policy," by Leah Stokes.