Premier Heather Stefanson has promised a "more humanitarian" government in her first throne speech.

Premier Heather Stefanson has promised a "more humanitarian" government in her first throne speech.

The Tories vowed to alleviate the health-care crisis, boost economic recovery and move toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

Stefanson said the emphasis on "collaboration, co-operation and reconciliation" represents a shift in how her party will govern; she promised "to be talking and listening to Manitobans from all areas of our province."

Reaction was swift from stakeholders.

 

Health care crisis

Doctors Manitoba president Dr. Kristjan Thompson said the throne speech contained no meaningful action to address the backlog of surgeries and diagnostics, estimated at more than 130,000 procedures.

Thompson said the government’s promise to take action "in the coming weeks" was a missed opportunity.

"We needed action yesterday, we needed action months ago, and so the time to act is now," Thompson said. "We need to work together to get through this pandemic and then to look at our health-care system as a whole and work together to deal with the various issues that have been plaguing our health-care system before the pandemic."

Thompson did however welcome news the government would re-examine reforms and changes proposed for facilities in rural Manitoba under former premier Brian Pallister.

"A lot of physicians who were spoken to, who were engaged with, felt that they weren’t listened to," Thompson said. "Not having a meaningful collaborative approach with front-line workers has really frustrated physicians."

Meanwhile, the Manitoba Nurses Union said the government’s strategy to address staffing shortages by adding nursing seats and ensuring every nursing graduate is offered a job in Manitoba is a "mirage."

"Nurses are exhausted. They are tired of lip service," president Darlene Jackson said. "Any nurse seeking employment with adequate qualifications is already employed. What we need now is realistic and meaningful change before our entire system collapses."

Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals president Bob Moroz said he was disappointed the throne speech made no mention of his members who are also working severely short-handed.

"You do not fix health care unless you deal directly with the issue of staffing in allied health," Moroz said, particularly in rural Manitoba. "Two people leaving a facility shuts down an (emergency room).

"There aren't many of us, but when we're not there, the impact is enormous."

Economic recovery and labour shortages

Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president Loren Remillard said the throne speech aligned closely with the priorities of business operators, including addressing the skilled labour shortage and establishing a venture capital framework.

"So many companies are struggling to not just meet their bills, but even if they can survive, how are they going to grow, how are they going to find that capital to expand in new lines, new machinery and new employees?" Remillard said. "There was attention given to those issues that business feels are the right ones."

He applauded the change in the government’s tone under Stefanson.

"There’s definitely an appetite to listen to what business has to say and to act on those recommendations."

Missing from the throne speech was mention of the chamber’s long-standing calls for a tax reform commission, which Remillard said he expects to be addressed in the spring budget.

Manitoba Chambers of Commerce president Chuck Davidson agreed the strong message regarding co-operation and collaboration was a positive sign, as was the commitment to address workforce challenges through investments in education, training and job creation.

"But a message is only one thing," Davidson said. "We need action to follow up on a number of these key elements."

Davidson said he would have liked to see stronger language around supports for businesses that have been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic and additional details on addressing economic challenges.

"For me, the biggest takeaway was the willingness to work with key stakeholders, and not just business organizations like ourselves, but Manitobans as well," he said. "That’s going to be critical in terms of how we get through this and how we get that buy-in from everyone in getting our economy back on track."

Indigenous reconciliation

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said the commitment to rebuild the relationship with Indigenous people appears to be more than just rhetoric.

"The premier has made many efforts," Dumas said. "We had had an opportunity to sit down and talk in a meaningful way, wanting to sort of address issues and move in a new, different direction."

Dumas said while it’s significant that reconciliation and other issues pertaining to Indigenous people were addressed in the throne speech, he wants to see the provincial government collaborate with First Nations leaders and listen to their solutions.

"It’s fine for the premier to want to listen, but she needs to hear what we have to say," Dumas said. "Fundamentally, you need First Nations participation, First Nations acumen in order to move in the direction that we need to move."

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee said First Nations need to be partners in resource development, should the provincial government increase mining activity in northern Manitoba as alluded to in the throne speech.

"Those are opportunities that can be reached at only if there is prior, informed consent, and that the First Nations can actually benefit from any project in the north," Settee said.

"Historically, we have been left outside of the prosperity and also the revenue… There’s got to be a paradigm shift if things are going to go forward."

Climate change

Climate Action Team Manitoba project manager Durdana Islam said the throne speech was a "profound disappointment" that contained "next to nothing" on climate change and the environment.

"It’s a sign that the current government is choosing inaction in the face of the terrible climate crisis that we’re going through right now," Islam said.

Under Pallister's leadership, Islam said many environmental organizations had their budgets cut and projects cancelled.

It was hoped the throne speech would signal a change in tack and a restoration of funding, Islam said.

"Climate change, we know that it is already impacting every sector of our life," Islam said. "We are choosing not to see the crisis."

However, the province did commit to creating a "greener Manitoba" through an energy policy framework focused on opportunities to use "innovative technologies, including those developed here in Manitoba, to reduce emissions while stimulating our economy."

It has also said it will work with Ottawa on a mutually agreed national approach to address climate change, based on co-operation and consultation with the provinces.

Meanwhile, Islam said the government’s interest in expanding mining operations in northern Manitoba may provide a boost to the economy in the short term, but would run counter to efforts to address climate change.

"One, you’re saying you’re going to work with the federal government to make a greener economy, but then we’re also talking about mining. It is very contradictory," Islam said.

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.