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Alberta premier stands by pick of 'contrarian' chair to lead COVID-19 data review

Premier stands by pick

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says it’s a good idea to have a physician who accused the province of exaggerating COVID-19's impact on hospitals now lead a review of pandemic-era health data.

Smith says Dr. Gary Davidson was selected to lead the data review because she wants to hear a range of viewpoints, including from those "shouted down in the public sphere."

“I needed somebody who was going to look at everything that happened with some fresh eyes and maybe with a little bit of a contrarian perspective because we've only ever been given one perspective,” Smith told reporters at the legislature Tuesday.

“I left it to (Davidson) to assemble the panel with the guidance that I would like to have a broad range of perspectives."

The work of the task force is nearly complete but few details have been publicized since it was struck in 2022.

The Globe and Mail reported Tuesday that Davidson, the former chief of emergency medicine at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, was appointed chair of the task force a year ago.

During the height of the fourth wave of the pandemic in 2021, Davidson claimed hospital admission numbers were overblown and being manipulated to justify public health restrictions. 

The provincial health authority, Alberta Health Services, rejected those accusations as false.

Davidson did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

In 2022, Smith swept to power in a vote by United Conservative Party members. Her campaign capitalized on and promised to redress COVID-19 grievances. 

Smith promised to seek amnesty for those who violated COVID public health restrictions. She did not follow through, saying later she did not realize she didn’t have the authority to do so.

In late 2022, Smith directed the creation of what would become Davidson’s task force with a mandate to review data and to offer recommendations on how to better manage a future pandemic.

Smith said Tuesday she wanted it to look at how to better analyze public health data and to fact-check concerns about vaccine side-effects.

The government earmarked $2 million for the project, but Smith said she expects it to come in under budget. The final report is expected to go to the government next month and Smith has said the findings will be made public.

It is the second third-party COVID analysis ordered up by Smith’s government.

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning filed a report last year reviewing Alberta’s COVID experience through the lens of improving laws and regulations governing future pandemics. 

Manning’s report recommended the province consider “alternative scientific narratives” as part of a “balanced response” in future crises. 

When asked why the details of the Davidson task force weren’t publicized by the government as much as the work of the Manning panel, Smith replied, “We wanted them to do their work.”

Opposition New Democrat Leader Rachel Notley lambasted the panel and Smith, calling it a waste of public money to launch a secret consultation led by someone with "fringe views.”

Notley said, "I believe the Earth is round, and I don't think that the people of Alberta should be paying for people who believe it's flat to be engaging in the conversation.”

During COVID, Smith publicly questioned the efficacy of pandemic rules and gathering restrictions, particularly when compared with the potential for long-term harms to mental and physical well-being.

Smith questioned the mainstream science approach to the pandemic and endorsed debunked COVID-19 treatments, such as horse dewormer ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.

She embraced the Great Barrington Declaration, a theory that called for protecting the elderly and frail but otherwise letting COVID-19 run free to build up herd immunity.



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