Premier Heather Stefanson has apologized for not making herself available to answer questions from reporters but says, however, she is not “hiding.”

Premier Heather Stefanson has apologized for not making herself available to answer questions from reporters but says, however, she is not "hiding."

It's been more than two weeks since she was sworn in as premier and held a news conference — and for good reason, she said Tuesday after a Manitoba Metis Federation event in Winnipeg.

"I've been very, very busy," Stefanson said when the Free Press asked why she's not been out front, answering tough questions about rising COVID-19 numbers in the province.

"I've been in back-to-back to meetings and out at events and things like that," she said, after laying a wreath at a ceremony commemorating the 136th anniversary of Manitoba founder Louis Riel's execution.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Premier Heather Stefanson at an event commemorating Louis Riel on the anniversary of his execution at the MMF head office in Winnipeg on Tuesday.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Heather Stefanson at an event commemorating Louis Riel on the anniversary of his execution at the MMF head office in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

When asked why she had time last week to be interviewed by controversial radio host Dave Wheeler, Stefanson sighed and said: "You know what? Please work through our staff."

When told her staff wasn't responding to interview requests, she apologized.

"We're not trying to be hiding or anything like that, as you can see," Stefanson said at the MMF building downtown.

The premier has been showing up at such events without prior media notification, posting pictures of herself on social media after attending functions. The MMF event news release, for instance, mentioned dignitaries would be in attendance, without mentioning the premier.

“I've been in back-to-back to meetings and out at events and things like that." — Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson

On Tuesday, she also spoke at the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak assembly, tweeting about it afterward.

When asked if she thinks there is a crisis in Manitoba — with rising COVID-19 hospital admissions and outbreaks at schools and, specifically, Third Crossing Manor personal care home in Gladstone — the new premier expressed concern, adding it's being addressed.

Honouring Riel

Leaders of all political stripes and levels of government gathered Tuesday to lay a wreath in honour of Manitoba Métis leader, Louis Riel.

Every year on the anniversary of his execution — that took place136 years ago — the Manitoba Metis Federation holds a ceremony to honour Riel and remind Manitobans of his contribution to Canada.

Leaders of all political stripes and levels of government gathered Tuesday to lay a wreath in honour of Manitoba Métis leader, Louis Riel.

Every year on the anniversary of his execution — that took place136 years ago — the Manitoba Metis Federation holds a ceremony to honour Riel and remind Manitobans of his contribution to Canada.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson and Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman spoke at the event, along with Liberal MP Terry Duguid (Winnipeg South), NDP Opposition Leader Wab Kinew and Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont, as well as Métis leaders and elders. In attendance were Métis veterans, RCMP officials and Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth.

Riel fought to protect the land and rights of the Red River Métis and led his provisional government in the creation of the Manitoba Act. He led the Métis in the Red River Resistance and the Northwest Resistance — not to prevent settlement in the region but to secure the rights of the Métis and First Nations people who lived there, the MMF said in a handout.

Riel was 41 when he was tried and subsequently hanged as a traitor at the Northwest Mounted Police barracks in Regina. His body was brought back to the Red River Settlement for burial at St. Boniface Cathedral, where his grave site remains.

"I am concerned about the numbers, that they're on the rise. That's why (chief provincial public health officer) Dr. (Brent) Roussin was out along with (Health) Minister (Audrey) Gordon and talking about further restrictions in some of those areas," she said. "We'll do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of Manitobans."

Stefanson said she’s getting ready for the Nov. 23 throne speech and an "exciting" legislative session. "Stay tuned and you'll see a lot more of me, I promise, in the days and months and years ahead."

The first female premier of Manitoba says she is planning to hold a news conference "as soon as possible."

"I have just been on the ground running and that's what Manitobans are expecting me to do. We are also empowering our ministers to do their jobs; they've been out and doing their jobs," Stefanson said, alluding to former premier Brian Pallister's controlling leadership style.

"Things will be a little bit different."

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson speaks at Brandon Sun editorial board meeting. (Matt Goerzen/The Brandon Sun)</p>

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson speaks at Brandon Sun editorial board meeting. (Matt Goerzen/The Brandon Sun)

Attending the MMF event, for one thing, was different, as Pallister had a rancorous relationship with federation president David Chartrand.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for David Chartrand," Stefanson said. "We have good relationships here with the Manitoba Metis Federation, and look forward to continuing that dialogue with them and working with them.

"We need to work together towards reconciliation and there's lots of opportunities."

At the MKO assembly Tuesday, Stefanson said she would be meeting with Grand Chief Garrison Settee later this week for his input on the throne speech that sets the tone for the coming legislative session.

The speech usually includes an Indigenous land acknowledgement, that in the new legislative session could become part of the daily proceedings of the house, along with the traditional prayer.

When asked about court action taken by her Progressive Conservative party leadership rival, Shelly Glover, and if the party has explained the alleged election irregularities that are the basis of Glover's complaint, Stefanson wouldn't comment.

"It's disappointing that she's taken this path," said the premier, who has asked the court for intervenor status in the case aiming to have the result of the leadership race declared invalid.

"I'm focusing on doing my job which is representing Manitobans."

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.