Manitoba

Manitoba throne speech promises education, health-care reforms, but with 'more collaborative' approach

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson is trying to chart a new course for the provincial government by going back to the drawing board on reforms to education and health care.

Premier Heather Stefanson's 1st throne speech aims to mark departure from Brian Pallister's governance style

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson spoke to reporters earlier on Tuesday, prior to the delivery of her first speech from the throne. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson says she plans to chart a new course for her provincial government by going back to the drawing board on reforms to education and health care.

Stefanson's first throne speech, read Tuesday afternoon at the Manitoba Legislature by Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon, attempted to mark a departure from the governance style of former premier Brian Pallister, whose popularity waned in his final months in office. 

After the government scrapped the unpopular Bill 64, which would have dramatically reformed education in the province, Stefanson promised a return to the original K-12 review commissioned by the province to guide future education changes.

Her Progressive Conservative government will also re-examine the planned reforms to rural health care that the premier said caused "angst" among municipalities, who worried their health-care centres may close. She said she's committed to ensuring all Manitobans have the care they need close to home.

The province will also "re-engage" with post-secondary institutions on a new funding deal, the throne speech said. A plan pitched by Pallister last year to tailor institutional funding to labour market needs faced some hostility.

WATCH | Premier Heather Stefanson speaks to reporters before Tuesday's throne speech:

'Today is a positive day for our government and all Manitobans': Premier Heather Stefanson

6 days ago
5:44
Heather Stefanson reads an opening statement to the media before her first throne speech as Manitoba's premier. 5:44

Despite choosing to revisit these policy areas, Stefanson said "there have been many good things .... that have been done that we can build on, and that's an important thing."

"We don't have to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, but I think that there's a better way to do things and a more collaborative way with Manitobans," she told reporters in an embargoed briefing before the reading of the throne speech.

Stefanson was sworn in as premier this month following a leadership vote, prompted by Pallister's resignation.

Tuesday's throne speech — the first from a female premier in Manitoba's history — laid out Stefanson's plan for her government over the next year and launched a brief legislative session, which will rise on Dec. 2.

The contents of the speech were leaked in advance to CBC News, which the premier called "entirely unacceptable." She said the government is investigating and will level consequences.

For the first time, Manitoba's lieutenant-governor was escorted into the Legislature by an Indigenous singer. Mike Bignell performed an honour song prior to the reading of the speech.

More nurses, homelessness strategy promised

The speech pledged to provide every nurse who graduates in Manitoba with a job offer in the province.

Twenty of 400 additional nurses being hired will be trained through a two-year diploma program at the University College of the North in Thompson, the throne speech said.

Manitoba will offer incentives to keep nurses, Stefanson told reporters.

"With the shortage across the country, it's critical that those that we are educating here have the opportunity to stay right here in Manitoba."

A 15-gun artillery salute was held at the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature on Tuesday afternoon to mark the lieutenant-governor's departure from Government House, as she headed to the legislature to read the throne speech. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The province also plans to introduce a homelessness strategy this winter, renew its seniors strategy and provide more money for domestic violence shelters.

Tuesday's address also repeated Stefanson's previous commitments to increase intensive care capacity and create a task force to reduce the surgery backlog, which has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Kristjan Thompson, president of Doctors Manitoba, said the government is showing a lack of urgency on the backlog, which his advocacy group says now stands at more than 136,000 surgeries and other medical procedures.

He wants the province to set a target for clearing that backlog.

"Manitobans caught in this massive backlog … need hope. They need to see action and they need to know that help is on the way."

The government also said it will reach a deal with Winnipeg to fund upgrades to its largest sewage treatment plant and collaborate with the federal government to provide better infrastructure for Indigenous communities.

On the economic front, the government will develop venture capital and green energy policy frameworks, increase immigration, spend more on training and do more to recognize foreign professional credentials.

'An appetite to listen' to business: chamber CEO

The government's financial outlook remains uncertain, however. Stefanson wouldn't commit to balancing the budget in a set timeline or slashing the education property tax by another 25 per cent next year — two of Pallister's previous pledges.

"Those commitments were based on whatever the finances were at the time, and those finances are changing," Stefanson said.

The speech made several nods toward inclusivity. It cited single parents, Indigenous youth and people with disabilities as a focus for economic recovery. 

Stefanson, left, and Speaker Myrna Driedger, right, applaud as Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon reads the speech from the throne. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

When asked if her right-wing government was making centrist inroads, Stefanson said it is "making it more humanitarian" by listening to Manitobans and incorporating their concerns.

Loren Remillard, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, said he detected a shift in tone.

"There's definitely an appetite to listen to what business has to say and act on those recommendations," he said.

New leader same as the old: NDP

Opposition parties weren't as charitable in their review of Stefanson's speech.

"What we saw was just more of the same old, same old. We saw Brian Pallister's repeats," NDP House leader Nahanni Fontaine said. She accused the government of inaction on issues ranging from the surgical backlog to COVID-19 outbreaks at personal care homes.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said a government juggling multiple crises at once must act quicker.

"So much of this just seems to be empty talk," he said. "It's nice words, but no actual concrete actions."

Manitoba throne speech promises education, health-care reforms, but with 'more collaborative' approach

5 days ago
2:16
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson's first throne speech, read Tuesday afternoon at the Manitoba Legislature by Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon, attempted to mark a departure from the governance style of former premier Brian Pallister, whose popularity waned in his final months in office. 2:16

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.

With files from Bartley Kives

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