Ironically enough, fiction can be a great way to illustrate truth. Preston Manning proved this recently with a short story on a citizen led COVID commission he wrote for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. In 46 pages, Manning envisions a scenario where the public demands and forms a group to probe important questions on Canada’s most interventionist government response since World War II—or maybe ever.
Manning writes, “this fictional story provides an opportunity to identify the many unanswered questions that Canadians have raised,…imagine the voluntary testimony of public witnesses, medical and scientific experts, and government ‘insiders’…[and] the conclusions, recommendations, and lessons which would result.”
The story imagines that in this coming fall, the new Leader of the Opposition introduces a motion for a Royal Commission on the Management of the Federal Response to the COVID Pandemic, seeking the answer to 16 questions. When the Liberals and NDP unite to defeat the motion, a 12-person non-governmental commission calls witnesses and issues a report in 2023, backed by $10 million raised by crowdfunding.
As needed as this probe is, Manning is right to expect the government would try to block it. The responses of government and medical authorities are vulnerable to criticism on many fronts, and unfavourable conclusions could not be dismissed as fringe nor censored as easily. A published and credible report can’t be killed by social media censorship or suppressed by medical colleges who threaten the license of anyone who goes off-script on social distancing, nor the effectiveness of masks, vaccines rushed to production, or alternative treatments.
The fear factor is gone which allowed such unprecedented censorship of contrary medical opinions, and the overrides of supposedly guaranteed constitutional rights. When fear ends, reason begins. The time is ripe to consider the economic impact of thousands of small businesses that health bureaucrats closed under lockdowns, the billions of dollars in public debt that governments loaded onto citizens, the elderly who spent their last days separated from family, their loved ones not allowed to mourn them in person, vaccines that fail to prevent transmission or infection so people vaccinated multiple times still get sick, or, more ludicrously, stop 7 million unvaccinated Canadians from travelling by air or train. All for a virus dangerous to sick and mostly old people with severely compromised immune systems.
Did the government get it right? Did it get anything right? Was its cure worse than the disease?
If this commission happens—and it needs to—it should feature the analysis done by Simon Fraser University economics professor Douglas Allen. His paper “COVID-19 Lockdown Cost / Benefits” was published September 29, 2021 in the International Journal of the Economics of Business—then ignored.
Allen’s analysis, which was informed by many other studies, suggests that the initial projections of massive deaths by the pandemic was off by factors of 5.88 to 14.71. Those were the ones that made governments panic, followed by the people. Lockdowns ensued, but Allen’s best estimate is that they cost 141 life-years for every life-year they saved. He suggests lockdowns were the biggest policy failure in recent decades. A commission could confirm or refute this bold statement.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or an economist to realize the pandemic response had plenty of collateral damage. Those losses are solely on the backs of decision-makers, not a tiny virus. The government may not want a commission, and the opposition may not have the courage to make one happen, but it is desperately needed.
Lee Harding is a research fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.