Stefanson’s call for ‘balance’ wobbly politics, critics charge Premier refuses to tell demonstrators to go home, urges respect on both sides

Premier Heather Stefanson was accused of taking a page from former U.S. president Donald Trump’s playbook Friday after she refused to tell protesters at the legislature to go home and called for balance in respecting their rights, as well as the rights of people whose lives they’ve disrupted.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/02/2022 (230 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Premier Heather Stefanson was accused of taking a page from former U.S. president Donald Trump’s playbook Friday after she refused to tell protesters at the legislature to go home and called for balance in respecting their rights, as well as the rights of people whose lives they’ve disrupted.

In her first public appearance since anti-vaccine mandate protesters parked their trucks and farm equipment in front of the Legislative Building a week ago, the premier told a news conference Friday that she’s leaving the work of dealing with the demonstrators “to the professionals.”

Rather than using the megaphone or authority of her office to call for an end to the protests downtown and at the Emerson U.S. border crossing, Stefanson said she will take the advice of police gauging the temperature of the situation “and making decisions in the best interest of Manitobans.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Premier Heather Stefanson told a news conference Friday she’s leaving the work of dealing with the demonstrators "to the professionals."

The premier wouldn’t commit to telling the protesters to go home, as Ontario Premier Doug Ford and interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen have done this week.

Instead, Stefanson said she will ask protesters to respect the rights of the people whose lives and livelihoods are being impacted, but noted that the democratic right to protest also has to be respected.

“We need to have a balanced respect for one another here,” she said. “There needs to be respect for the rights of those individuals to protest as long as it’s in a law-abiding way, and we ask for them to also respect those people who are living in the vicinity and maybe think about those people, as well.

“There needs to be respect on both sides.”

That drew outrage from critics who compared Stefanson’s comments to those of Trump who said there were “very fine people on both sides” after a 2017 white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., erupted in violence and a woman was killed.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Protesters at Broadway and Memorial Friday morning.
“Remember Donald Trump — ‘there’s good people on both sides?’” said Opposition Leader Wab Kinew. “I reject that. There’s a clear Canadian consensus — there’s a clear Manitoba consensus — on vaccinations, on public health and on us all working together to fight COVID-19.

“To see the premier parrot anti-vax talking points is disappointing.”

Kinew said he’s concerned that the “freedom convoy” is being used by some groups to attack “some of the most important freedoms in our country” after a week of incidents in which media members were threatened, Steinbach’s high school had to go into lockdown, the road to a hospital was blocked and so was the province’s main U.S. border crossing in Emerson.

“These are clearly unacceptable threats to our freedom and to our democracy,” he said. “The least that a leader in the public sphere can do is to say, ‘It’s time to wrap it up, time to go home’ and take action to support that message.”

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said there can be no equivalence in assessing the situation.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Dougald Lamont, Manitoba Liberal party leader talks to the media after the announcement by Premier Heather Stefanson Friday morning that the government would be reducing public health restrictions next week.

“How do you ‘balance’ people who’ve been following the law and getting vaccinated and doing everything they can to protect their fellow Manitobans, versus people who are ignoring the law, putting people at risk and who are associated with far-right elements?” he said.

Stefanson was asked whether she would follow Ford’s lead and declare a state of emergency or back a court injunction to deal with protesters blocking traffic at the border. She said it’s up to the federal government to take action.

“I have reached out to the prime minister and (asked) what is the plan for moving forward,” she said, adding the RCMP are at the border and the Winnipeg Police Service is keeping the peace downtown.

Stefanson said she’s working with the authorities and other levels of government and taking a “collaborative approach.”

Thus far she has not met with protest organizers, but told reporters she hasn’t ruled out the possibility.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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