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Federal government should appoint expert panel to study what happened during COVID-19 pandemic, says major new report

OTTAWA, March 13, 2024 — A major new report calls on the federal government to appoint an expert panel to lead a comprehensive pan-Canadian examination into how public institutions performed during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Resilient Institutions: Learning from Canada’s COVID-19 Pandemic, published jointly by the Institute for Research on Public Policy’s Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation and the Institute on Governance, is the first report to look at how the crisis impacted public institutions across the country. The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic four years ago this week.  

“Canada has only a fragmented, partial picture of what happened to its institutions during the pandemic. We’re recommending that a forward-looking and truly national examination be conducted by an independent panel of experts,” says IRPP president and CEO Jennifer Ditchburn.  

“The panel should hear from key players in the provinces, territories, Indigenous communities and cities to better understand how the pandemic response unfolded. They should hear from the people who worked at the community level to understand how decisions and messages filtered down to everyday lives,” she adds. 

The report summarizes the reflections and analyses of senior government officials and civil society leaders from across the country, who shared their pandemic experiences during a two-day conference in June 2023.  It outlines four key lessons learned and makes 12 key recommendations, including:  

  • Trust – create a pan-Canadian task force on misinformation and disinformation to foster greater trust and legitimacy in our public institutions. 
  • Institutional capacity – retool and reinvest in the physical and technological infrastructure of the public service that supports public services to Canadians. 
  • Intergovernmental relations – review the decision-making bodies and structures set-up during the pandemic and make intergovernmental relations more inclusive. 
  • Communicating risk – senior officials need to learn how to better incorporate risk into decision-making and communicate policy uncertainty and complexity to Canadians.  

“The pandemic demonstrated vividly how our public institutions and public servants can be innovative, agile and nimble, but it also exposed core weaknesses that affected government responses and public health outcomes,” says David McLaughlin, president and CEO of the Institute on Governance. “We need to learn lessons from the pandemic now, while it’s fresh, and not snap-back to traditional ways of running governments that proved inefficient and outdated.” 

The full report can be found here (FR)