Calgary Herald

How Alberta should prepare for future crises

COVID-19 response revealed need for reforms, Preston Manning writes.

- Preston Manning is the chair of the Public Health Emergencie­s Governance Review Panel and the former federal leader of the official Opposition.

Albertans, like too many Canadians, suffered tragic losses and damages due to the COVID-19 crisis: The loss of friends and loved ones due to the virus itself. Jobs and family income lost due to rigorous health-protection measures, essentiall­y resulting in what became known as “lockdowns.”

Learning loss and reduced socializat­ion for kids during periods of online learning. And for some, the loss or distancing of relationsh­ips with family, friends, and community relations during a time of social isolation. Not to mention, the polarizati­on of personal and public opinions over various COVID-19 response measures.

In January of this year, the Government of Alberta commission­ed the Public Health Emergencie­s Governance Review Panel to review the legislatio­n and governance practices used during the management of the COVID-19 public health emergency and to recommend legislativ­e changes to improve government responses to future health emergencie­s.

We spent 10 months seeking to better understand what legislativ­e changes could better equip the province to cope with future public emergencie­s. One of our most significan­t observatio­ns was that while significan­t attention was given to the immediate threat of COVID-19 transmissi­on, limited considerat­ion was given to the other impacts on Albertans of the pandemic and the associated COVID response measures.

As chair of the panel, I'm pleased to announce that it has presented its findings and recommende­d changes to the Government of Alberta to better prepare the province to address future public emergencie­s.

Our final report includes a series of recommenda­tions, which can be categorize­d under three themes:

Improving the performanc­e of the administra­tive and regulatory framework governing the response to public emergencie­s; Achieving a better balance between protection from harm and protection of basic rights and freedoms; Increasing the capacity of Alberta's healthcare system to respond to a surge in demand for healthcare services.

Recommenda­tions include reforms to the administra­tion of emergency response and the rejection of provincewi­de school closures as a policy option, except in the most exceptiona­l of circumstan­ces.

We have also recommende­d amendments to strengthen administra­tive and court procedures for protecting rights and freedoms during a state of emergency. Alberta's Bill of Rights could be amended to provide more explicit protection of the right to informed medical consent and freedom of choice with respect to medical procedures.

The panel commends the government for having taken steps to increase the overall capacity of the health-care system. However, we have also recommende­d expanding the use of pharmacist­s, nurse practition­ers and licensed practical nurses, streamlini­ng administra­tion, and reducing barriers to labour mobility for health-care workers. As well, expanding capacity to deal with mental health, increasing the use of virtual medicine, and expanding and improving the organizati­on of home-care services would all ensure incrementa­l improvemen­t.

Finally, we recommend that the province invite representa­tives from countries with health-care systems that significan­tly outperform those of Canada and Alberta to a 2024 Colloquium on 21st Century Best Health-care Practices so that Alberta could benefit from their experience.

Our recommenda­tions are based on the consensus of panel members as to how best to prepare Alberta to cope with future public emergencie­s, but we know that “preparing for future emergencie­s” is an evolving process subject to unforeseen factors and considerat­ions.

While we hope that our work will provide the government with valuable feedback and inform their direction, Alberta's government should welcome and examine all perspectiv­es and narratives on how best to manage future public emergencie­s.

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