Manitoba

Skeptical opposition not sold on new approach portrayed by Manitoba's new premier

Heather Stefanson tried on Wednesday to live up to her repeated assertion she will be a different, more collaborative premier than Brian Pallister, but her political foes say they aren't convinced.

Stefanson's rivals say scrapping wage freeze, visiting City Hall don't make up for damaging PC policies

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said 'it goes without saying' that her side-by-side appearance with Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman at a news conference was unusual. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Heather Stefanson followed up her first question period as Manitoba's premier by visiting a prominent politician who was continuously at odds with her former boss.

She alluded to the unusual sight while speaking at City Hall alongside Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman.

"I think it goes without saying that it has been a long time since a premier has joined you on your home turf, Mr. Mayor," the premier said.

On Wednesday, Stefanson tried to live up to her repeated assertion she will be a different, more collaborative premier than Brian Pallister — although her opponents used question period to dispute that claim.

What they couldn't dispute was Stefanson's announcement with Bowman — that they're sending Winnipeg's application for federal funding on two key projects to Ottawa — was the first visit by a sitting premier to visit City Hall on business since 2017.

'I don't have a big ego'

Speaking at the legislature beforehand, Stefanson said she doesn't mind making the trip to Winnipeg's seat of power.

"I don't have a big ego, where someone else has to come here and we've got to do it here on our turf," she said.

"These turf wars, I hope, are over and it's time to go in a new direction."

Earlier in the day, Stefanson undid another Pallister policy by promising to repeal the wage freeze bill that prompted labour groups to take the province to court.

Even though Manitoba won a recent appeal court decision to freeze the pay of public-sector workers, Stefanson said she'd rather wages be negotiated at the bargaining table than decided by the courts.

It was another sign of change for Stefanson's government, but her political opponents weren't as easily swayed.

Objecting to provincial demands for a wage freeze, Winnipeg School Division bus drivers were on strike last year. The provincial government says it won't use legislation to mandate pay freezes going forward. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The NDP and Liberals both cited the University of Manitoba strike as evidence of a government that hasn't changed. They've accused the provincial government of restricting how much administration can pay faculty, which they say has led to labour dispute. 

In addition, the NDP called out Stefanson for offering no condemnation of Pallister's health-care reforms, no progress on reducing the surgical backlog and no apology for the divisive comments her predecessor made about Indigenous people. 

That's not a government doing something differently, NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

"It sounds like more of the same from the current government," Kinew said, while speaking on the Tories' health-care record.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said a change in tone or style doesn't make up for a Tory government on the wrong path. 

"Was the problem with the Pallister government, really, that he just wasn't nice enough? It's the fact that they did really terrible things and had terrible policies, and those policies aren't being changed."

He accused the government of "burning down" Manitoba's health-care system and threatening to do the same to the education system, before major reforms were cancelled this fall

"The idea that everything should just be forgotten because all of a sudden people are going to be nicer. It's like Neil Young said, 'It's a kinder, gentler machine gun hand,' and I don't want to hear it."

Indigenous land acknowledgement nears

Meanwhile, NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine is hoping the brief fall sitting of the legislature will soon start with an Indigenous land acknowledgement.

House leaders from the three parties met Wednesday afternoon to go over the draft wording.

Fontaine said she had a few suggestions, but otherwise it is "not bad," suggesting the language could be tightened.

Preferably the land acknowledgement would have been ready "yesterday," Fontaine said, but "we're prepared to do whatever it takes to have it tomorrow, if we could … particularly because this government is also saying they're on this new path to reconciliation, apparently."

For a number of years, the NDP campaigned to bring land acknowledgements to the legislature, but Pallister's government refused. Kelvin Goertzen, who replaced the premier for two months after Pallister's resignation, struck a working group in September to make it happen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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