An Interview on the National Citizen’s Inquiry | Preston Manning
November 16, 2022
In a recent survey, 74% of Canadians responded that they had been harmed by the government’s covid response. In this interview, the Honorable Preston Manning, one of the founders of the National Citizen’s Inquiry, discusses the goals and the opportunity for all Canadians to be heard.
The NCI is a completely independent, citizen-led and citizen-funded national inquiry into the federal and provincial governments’ COVID-19 policies. It’s time to hold them accountable. It’s time to get our stories heard and on the public record for all time.
The social, economic, health, and civic harms to Canadians has been unprecedented and continues to this day.
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Hon. Preston Manning, Will Dove
Will Dove 00:09
My guest today needs no introduction, but I’m going to do one anyway, the Honorable Preston Manning is the founder of the Reform Party of Canada, and the Canadian Reformed Conservative Alliance. Mr. Manning served as the leader of the official opposition from 1997 to 2000. In 2007, he received the Order of Canada, and in 2013, was appointed to the Queen’s Privy Council. After retiring from politics, Mr. Manning founded and led two nonprofit organizations; The Manning Foundation for Democratic Education, and the Manning Center for Building Democracy. He is also the author of several books, most recently ‘Do Something, 365 Ways You Can Strengthen Canada’, published in 2020. Finally, Mr. Manning is, in my humble opinion, one of the last true statesman to grace Canadian politics. He’s here today to discuss the planned National Citizens Inquiry into our government’s COVID response. Preston, it’s an honor to have you on my show.
Hon. Preston Manning 01:10
Well, thank you very much. I’m reminded though statesman is a dead politician, so I’m not sure.
Will Dove 01:17
Well, sir, in my definition politicians govern, statesman leader.
Hon. Preston Manning 01:27
Okay. That’s a good point.
Will Dove 01:30
So the National Citizens Inquiry, is there something relatively new? Could you please explain to our audience just exactly what it is?
Hon. Preston Manning 01:37
Well, the origins of this a large number of people and many that communicated with me have said that they, because the COVID-19 pandemic was an unprecedented event. The government’s responses to it were unprecedented that there ought to be an inquiry, a National Inquiry into what went right, what went wrong, and most importantly, what lessons can be learned so that future national crises are better managed. And this national, independent citizen-led inquiry is an attempt to respond to that. One of the other things we’re responding to there was an a public opinion, a national public opinion survey done in mid October, in which 74% of Canadians said they were harmed by the health protection measures adopted to cope with COVID-19. This does not harm from the virus, which there were harms as a result of that. And that’s been well measured and statistically measured, but these are people saying they were harmed by the various health protection measures. They were harmed, either in their health because of the backup on the waiting lines or reactions to vaccines. They were harmed with respect to infringement on rights and freedoms. They suffered harm from social distancing, in fact, that of the four harms that was the one that came up on top as the most serious, and then there were the economic harms. So when you have that many people saying they were harmed by policies that were intended to help them, that’s another reason to get into a full blown inquiry to see what happened.
Will Dove 03:26
Yes, and if I recall the statistics from that survey correctly, I believe 26% responded that they had received social harms of some kind. 19% health harms 19% economic and 12% violations to their rights with only 26% responded that they had not been harmed. It’s a rather startling figures. Now a national citizens inquiry. This is different from if the government did an inquiry, then there’s pros and cons to both approaches. Could you please address that?
Hon. Preston Manning 03:55
Well, this is a question of who would you trust to conduct this, which is not an easy question. Normally, on some issues, as you know, there’s the Public Inquiries Act is a federal public inquiries act is provincial inquiries act where a government can appoint a commission to look into something that challenge with that, in this case, you would have governments investigating themselves. And there’s a lot of skepticism that that wouldn’t be very objective. One of the benefits of an inquiry under the Inquiries Act is that the commissioners can subpoena witnesses, they can compel people to testify which the citizens inquiry can’t do. All it can do is invite people to participate, if they choose not to of course, there’ll be moral pressure on them because if they choose not to, people ask how come, what have they got to hide? But so the intent here is to have a citizen led one and to try to make it as objective and effective as possible. And we’re asking people who visit this website Hey, this NationalCitizensInquiry.ca Ask them for a couple of things. One is to say, Do you want this inquiry? Because the more people say they want it, the more credibility the event will have. But secondly, asking them, who would you trust to be commissioners? And hopefully we can get the commissioners out of this pool of people who are there to say we’d have confidence if so and so was one of the commissioners.
Will Dove 05:27
I’d like to address the petition. First, I believe at present, there’s slightly over 20,000 signatures.
Hon. Preston Manning 05:33
Will Dove 05:33
This has only been up for what about a month?
Hon. Preston Manning 05:36
Oh, no. It’s just been since November 2. Yes.
Will Dove 05:40
Oh, all right. So it says very, very quick that we’re gaining signatures. Is there a target for the number of signatures? Is there a necessary notice?
Hon. Preston Manning 05:46
No, just the more the merrier. And say that that’s the asking people to say, yes, they want it. But we hope a number of those people will also contribute these Commissioner names. This thing has to be financed, so there’s a Donate button on there as well. And there’s a place for people to volunteer what one of the ways to keep these costs under control is if volunteers can help organize these hearings if somebody will donate the facilities. So we’re looking for all that sort of thing. The idea is to keep this website open for November and December, developing all these dimensions that I’ve mentioned. And then for these hearings to be two to three day, public hearings with in-person or and or virtual participation in about seven cities across the countries. Monkton for Atlantic Canada, Montreal for Quebec, Toronto, for Ontario, Winnipeg for Manitoba, a Red Deer for Alberta, Saskatchewan Victoria for BC, and then ended up with a summary hearing in Ottawa and these hearings would occur if all goes to plan in January, February and March. Now, you said that you’re looking for people to suggest commissioners are their qualifications for someone to be a commissioner? Oh, there’s discussions on this. Yeah. And there’s sort of seem to be two streams of opinion. One is that the most important characteristic of a commission would be their objectivity, their impression of impartiality, and that not being hooked into one interest group or a government or. And so that’s one criteria that would be important. But the other set of suggestions is, but this commission is going to have to have expertise on to it’s going to have to have some medical expertise, some civil liberties expertise, some social economic expertise. And I think what may happen is maybe the Chief Commissioner will be this person that’s more like a retired judge, sort of distant and objective. But the other Commissioners might have a specialty knowledge in one of these major areas. But at this stage, it’s too early to tell, but we just trying to collect these, collect these suggestions.
Will Dove 08:07
And if the citizens inquiry takes place, obviously, the questions would be asked of what does the panel believe about the appropriateness of our government’s response about the impact upon Canadians? Now, of course, because this isn’t from the government, this inquiry, any decision that it reaches, I would assume doesn’t really carry any legal power. But certainly, it would, I would hope to present to our government, the opinions, the voice of the people, what would you propose would then be done at that point?
Hon. Preston Manning 08:40
Well, just backing up I mean, it did, what the main thing of this these hearings will be to hear what people themselves say on how they were harmed. What went right if certain things went right, did it’s not so much the commissioners opinion on that is what are people telling them? And and I think what if I was one of the commissioners, no matter what the nature of the testimony was, the last question I’d ask virtually every witness is okay, we’ve heard this and that we’ve heard the negative we pay a deposit, if you could recommend something so that this could be handled better in the future so that these harms you suffered did not occur, what would you recommend? And I think the biggest output from this, this hearing, the inquiry will be those recommendations. Here’s what or how it could be done better and differently the next time around that now the this report won’t have any legal binding on the government any more than the royal commission report does the commissioners report and the government can reject everything they say, or it can accept parts of it. But if these recommendations make sense, and they’ve come from a lot of people, and they’ve been analyzed by some competent people, I think political people will have to pay attention to them or pay a price for not paying attention to.
Will Dove 10:05
Alright, so the website is up: NationalCitizeninquiry.ca until at least the end of December, you’re collecting signatures, you are collecting donations. Of course, you are collecting suggestions for who the commissioners could be. Have I missed anything?
Hon. Preston Manning 10:21
No, that’s mainly it, then the you’ve touched on the credibility of this whole exercise will depend on a large numbers of people saying they wanted commissioners who’ve got command of peoples’ confidence, the quality of the input to these hearings, what’s said by people who testify. And one of the things I’ve said to critics of this who say, Well, this is going to be biased and prejudicial, one way or another. I’ve said to those critical Why don’t you go and testify? If you think group A or the previous witness was off base or spreading misinformation instead of standing back and criticizing? Why don’t you go and present your side of the argument too in order to get this balance and objectivity. But the other thing I’ve said to everybody that’s contemplating testifying those two things you should be aware of? One is there’ll be a Commissioner for Oaths there that will require you to affirm that what you are saying is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is not embellished truth, which there’s a great deal these days. And secondly, you’ll be subject to cross examination, will provide expertise for cross examining witnesses. So if you’re confident in your position, just realize those are two conditions that you’ll have to meet.
Will Dove 11:40
So may I assume, then, as you’ve said that people have raised objections that that could be biased. And you’ve responded, Well, we’ll go ahead and why don’t you go and talk. So we’ve got 74% of Canadians in this survey saying that they were in some way harmed by the COVID measures. But 26%, who didn’t? I believe the last statistic I heard was somewhere about seven or 8% of Canadians were strongly in favor of Trudeau and his measures. Would the Commission, therefore be willing to hear from people who believe the measures were good and that they bet they were the proper response?
Hon. Preston Manning 12:11
Oh, yes, it’s important to get all the perspectives. And this is the thing that we’re losing in terms of democratic discourse in this country. It used to be that if there was and there always are contrary opinions on a big policy issue. This side is getting its view and this side, and this side, it gives it to you ideally in an elected assembly, and there’d be a big debate about you, what you’re saying is, how true is it? And what is my saying that at the end of the day, you try to there be a vote, but you try to find some common ground, basically, if you’re a government try to find some common ground to move forward. And we seem to have lost the capacity for that kind of discourse. Certainly, it doesn’t occur in many of our elected assemblies anymore. It sometimes occurs in front of regulatory tribunals, but they don’t get the publicity that a political arena would. And hopefully this, this inquiry can be something from a democratic standpoint, like is it not possible to have in depth discussion on a subject in which there’s different opinions and controversy and come up with some positive outcome at the end of the day? So this exercise is a small d democratic exercise would be interesting from that perspective, as well.
Will Dove 13:33
Would Mr. Manning this last question is a little off topic. But I think people would really like to hear your opinions on this. You’ve spent many years trying to reform Canadian politics. And you just made reference to this lack of calm, rational discourse that’s not happening now. Where do you think we went wrong as a country in our politics that, that that’s not happening anymore, that we no longer have that rational discourse?
Hon. Preston Manning 14:01
Well, I think we’re heavily influenced by the tenor of American politics, and Americans tend to polarize much more than we do. And now in the old days, again, I keep referring to the old days, even Americans used, they used to go to their corners and fight it out. But then there would be an effort to find, okay, what’s the common ground? I think we’ve been influenced by the polarization, particularly in the United States. But I think part of the other problem is people who are unattracted to how the politics conducted opt out, just say, well, I won’t have anything to do with it, rather than get in and try to fix it. I think the declining participation of large numbers of people like these recent municipal elections, for example, you’ve got mayor’s elected across the country with you know, 30 or 40% of a 30% turnout, which means you got, you know, 12% of the people put it the other way around 90% of the people thought so little of the municipal election that they either didn’t vote or they voted for somebody else. I think one of the problems is lack of participation. And like, I have been a critic of the, the democratic processes and institutions in Canada, but I do have to say, Yeah, you know, in the 1980s, five people met in a room in Calgary and said, We’re going to create an alternative to what we have up there, just five people and by golly, using the tools that democracy gives everybody a chance to speak the chance to assemble the chance to try to convince people, why don’t you do this, instead of that, after a while that group got, you know, 52 seats in the parliament and 60 seats in the parliament went through two or three iterations until finally there was a minority government than a majority government that kind of came out of that exercise. So there are not many countries in the world, certainly in the United States where you could do that today. You can Canada, we do have the framework, but people have to participate in and be dedicated to doing so in that it doesn’t happen. Very much
Will Dove 16:21
so. And I think that I could suggest at this point in time, it’d be a good place to give a plug for your most recent book, “Do Something; 365 Ways in Which You Can Change the Country.” And that’s something that a fantastic book, by the way, folks, I strongly recommend you read it because it’s full of practical suggestions for what we can all do to change things. Mr. Manning, thank you so much for giving us your time for this interview. Folks. As always, you will find the link that we were talking about national citizens inquiry.ca directly below this interview on our website.
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