In the first throne speech since Heather Stefanson became Manitoba’s premier, the Progressive Conservative government promises to re-examine changes proposed to rural health care, ensure more graduating nurses stay in the province and introduce a strategy to reduce homelessness.
Stefanson’s first throne speech, an 11-page document obtained by CBC News Monday evening, lays out the first steps of the new premier’s effort to set herself apart from her unpopular predecessor, Brian Pallister.
The historic speech — the first prepared by a female premier — is scheduled to be read by Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon on Tuesday afternoon.
It lays out the broad strokes of Stefanson’s plans to improve core government functions such as health care and education and also rewards the nurses and firefighters she courted when she ran for leader of the PC party.
Stefanson repeats an earlier government pledge to train 400 more nurses. What’s new is 20 will be trained through a two-year diploma program at the University College of the North in Thompson. The Northern Health Region has promised to hire every graduate from the program in 2023, the speech states.
“In addition, we will ensure every graduate receives a job offer here in Manitoba with further details to be announced,” the document reads.
When she ran for PC leader, Stefanson signed a pledge of support prepared by the Manitoba Nurses Union.
Re-examine rural health-care
Health-care outside Winnipeg is also in line for a boost, as the government intends to “re-examine the reforms and changes proposed for facilities in rural Manitoba.”
The government also pledges to expand the list of presumptive cancers that will be considered workplace illnesses for firefighters.
During the leadership campaign, the United Firefighters of Winnipeg endorsed Stefanson and signed up new party members on her behalf.
The speech also repeats previous Stefanson pledges to increase intensive care capacity and create a task force to reduce the backlog of surgeries.
Doctors Manitoba estimates 136,000 surgeries and other medical procedures have been postponed.
The government also promises to bring in a homelessness strategy this winter, utilizing a “whole of government approach.”
Stefanson plans to come up with “a renewed seniors strategy,” provide more money for family violence shelters and prioritize single parents, Indigenous youths and people with disabilities in a provincial economic recovery plan.
The government also pledges to ensure agricultural producers and food processors have enough water, reach a deal with Winnipeg to fund upgrades to its largest sewage-treatment plant and work with the federal government to provide better infrastructure for Indigenous communities.
Money for businesses
On the economic front, Stefanson pledges to develop venture-capital and green energy policy frameworks, increase targeted immigration, spend more on training and do more to recognize foreign professional credentials.
The speech also pledges to change the funding formula for post-secondary education but does not elaborate how.
Stefanson’s office declined to comment on the contents of the speech.
Earlier Monday, Stefanson indicated the speech would not be laden with many specifics. Speaking to the Assembly of Manitoba Municipalities convention, she said her first throne speech will be “more traditional and high-level” than previous addresses.
“Traditionally, throne speeches set the tone and vision for the upcoming session and more of the details are left to the budget or other announcements throughout,” Stefanson told reporters afterward.
Recent throne speeches have “gotten away from that tradition of setting a vision to getting more detailed and making specific announcements, and I think we’re going to get away from that.”
Stefanson said she wants to empower her ministers to work on their files and consult with Manitobans, all with an eye toward next year’s budget, she said.
Stefanson, who was sworn in as premier on Nov. 2, had only three weeks to prepare her throne speech.
“It may be that rather than try and find an internal consensus around a more detailed speech, she’s gone with this more general speech tending to be uplifting and edifying,” veteran Winnipeg political analyst Paul Thomas said Monday afternoon, prior to CBC News obtaining the speech.
Thomas said Stefanson’s team is giving itself time to develop a political agenda, but Manitobans’ patience could wear thin in the longer term.
That day has already come for opposition parties, who say too many pressing issues are facing the province, including high COVID-19 case counts, the surgical backlog and the University of Manitoba strike.
“Unless there’s a clear repudiation of Mr. Pallister’s approach and his cuts to health care then it really is just a continuation of his legacy,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said in an interview Monday afternoon.
Kinew said his party will hold the government to account during the fall sitting for what he described as failing to strengthen a pandemic-strained health-care system.
Also on Monday afternoon, Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Stefanson needs to offer a “clear sense of direction … other than saying that [she’ll] listen.”
The speech from the throne opens the fourth session of the 42nd legislature. MLAs will sit for eight days in a hybrid legislature. To allow for physical distancing, two-thirds of MLAs will be seated in the chamber — 24 Tories, 12 NDP and two Liberals — while the rest will participate online.
The government said some bills will be introduced in this brief sitting.