A screenshot of Preston Manning at yesterday’s Ottawa news conference about his planned partisan pandemic inquiry.
Preston Manning at yesterday’s Ottawa news conference about his planned partisan pandemic inquiry. Credit: CPAC Credit: CPAC

Now that the national inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act has turned its spotlight on the organizers of last February’s occupation of Ottawa and various border blockades, and they’re not lookin’ all that good, Preston Manning says he wants to have an inquiry of his own.

Wednesday, Manning held a news conference in Ottawa to propose a “national citizens’ inquiry” to take an “independent” look into the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, all the while observing “the highest evidentiary standards,” of course.

Presumably someone has anticipated that Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative Party of Canada’s latest great hope for the restoration of Harperism, wasn’t going to look all that great when it was discovered that the recipients of his gifts of coffee and donuts also liked posting racist, Islamophobic memes on the Internet and mumbling about how the prime minister was about to “catch a bullet.”

But that’s what’s coming out of the official inquiry, the one headed by a real judge who can compel witnesses to testify and make them swear an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, etc., before they start yakking. 

So, maybe the results would be more satisfactory with another inquiry, one that made a point of talking to those folks who, like the organizers of the Ottawa occupation and the border blockades, “expressed harms concerning isolation, increased divorce or family tension, disruptions to the lives of children and students, job and income losses, business failures, increased mental and physical health stress, reduced healthcare quality, and limitations on rights and freedoms.”

That line’s right out of Manning’s proposed “inquiry” website, which also includes a survey by an online market research company’s panel hired by Manning’s backers to find “three out of four Canadians report having suffered harm as a result of our governments’ COVID-19 policies.”

The superannuated former godfather of the Canadian right used to be kind of wily – consider the machinations it took for the former Reform Party leader to engineer the “United Alternative” at the end of the 1990s, which eventually killed the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and gave us the dreary decade of Stephen Harper. 

But this latest big idea suggests Manning’s prowess at cooking up clever schemes is declining in his dotage. 

Obviously, like everything he does, if it gets off the ground this will be a partisan enterprise intended to get Conservatives elected, especially in Ottawa. 

It will have no power to compel testimony, and its objectives are pretty obviously not going to be finding ways to mitigate harm and uphold trust in public institutions, as the campaign’s expensive-looking website claims. 

Still, to lend the affair a little spurious verisimilitude, Manning said witnesses will be sworn in before they answer the softball questions lobbed at them by the inquiry’s yet-to-be-chosen commissioners.

Speaking of whom, Manning would sure appreciate it if you’d suggest a commissioner or two to him – say, someone like J. Stephens Allen, better known as Steve, who had some experience with this sort of thing as commissioner of the Kenney government’s fatuous “Public Inquiry Into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.” Donations will also be accepted. 

But getting back to the citizens’ inquiry, just who will these citizens be? I think we all know the answer to that one. 

Which is why, of course, virtually nobody will take this nonsense seriously. Except mainstream media, probably. 

Most of the news coverage yesterday, though, was from those mysteriously bankrolled far-right “news” sites that have been cropping up of late. Plus Postmedia, of course. 

Well, it’s nice, I guess, that Manning, who is 80, had the opportunity to feel relevant again for a few minutes and celebrate the 35th anniversary of his ascension to the leadership of the Reform Party of Canada 35 years ago Monday. 

Who cancelled Roger Reid? 

Surely one of the stranger Alberta political stories this week is the sudden decision by United Conservative Party MLA Roger Reid not to seek re-election after all in the Livingstone Macleod riding where Premier Danielle Smith resides. 

Just days ago, Reid had indicated he didn’t want to step down to make way for Smith. On Monday, though, he published a statement saying, “while I hoped to serve a second term, I no longer feel it is possible for me to do so.” There were lots more words, but he did not explain. 

Monday, surely not by coincidence, was the morning after the deadline for new candidates to throw their hats in the ring. 

There is, however, one nominated candidate: Nadine Wellwood, former People’s Party of Canada federal candidate, Coutts border blockade participant, and, as political blogger Dave Cournoyer explained yesterday, “prolific sharer of Internet conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and globalist plots.”

The NDP candidate in the riding is the high profile conservationist, author and former superintendent of Banff National Park, Kevin Van Tighem.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...