Premier Heather Stefanson aimed Tuesday to turn the page on Brian Pallister's fractious chapter in government, promising to improve health care and help Manitobans recover from the pandemic.

Premier Heather Stefanson aimed Tuesday to turn the page on Brian Pallister's fractious chapter in government, promising to improve health care and help Manitobans recover from the pandemic.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson speaks to the media prior to the reading of the Speech from the Throne, Tuesday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JOHN WOODS

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson speaks to the media prior to the reading of the Speech from the Throne, Tuesday.

"What I'm hearing from Manitobans is they want a departure from the style and the way things have been done in the past," Manitoba's first female premier told reporters at a news conference prior to her first throne speech.

The government laid out its agenda in broad strokes for the year ahead as it promised to listen and collaborate and "re-engage" with "stakeholders" on issues, from Indigenous reconciliation to health-care reform and education.

"I think there have been many good things done that we can build on," Stefanson said. "We don't have to reinvent the wheel, but I think that there's a better way to do things in a more collaborative way with Manitobans. I think Manitobans are ready to engage and we're ready to engage with them," she said.

"What I'm hearing from Manitobans is they want a departure from the style and the way things have been done in the past." — Premier Heather Stefanson

The throne speech contained a few specifics: it promises 400 new nurse training positions, a practical nursing program for up to 20 students in the north, as well as expanding the list of presumptive work-related cancers for firefighters, whose Winnipeg union endorsed Stefanson as a PC leadership candidate.

The 11-page manifesto says it is seeking an "early agreement" on funding to modernize and expand Winnipeg's waste-water treatment plant — but it doesn't say when.

"Stay tuned," Stefanson said when asked if money for the long-awaited commitment will arrive by year's end. It's become the premier's common refrain. When asked about the pledge to re-examine proposed rural health facility changes, Stefanson said "there are many other exciting expansion projects to be announced and to... stay tuned."

Much in the throne speech promised to "re-examine" issues and "re-engage" with stakeholders, including the review of kindergarten-Grade 12 education and to connect post-secondary funding to labour market needs. Stefanson said those priorities were set after listening to Manitobans.

"They want an education system that's there for their kids... with better things in our curriculum and better outcomes for Manitoba children. Those are things outlined in the K-12 review and we'll build on them," she said.

Lt. Gov. Janice Filmon, reads the Speech from the Throne at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Tuesday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JOHN WOODS

Lt. Gov. Janice Filmon, reads the Speech from the Throne at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Tuesday.

"I think what we're hearing from Manitobans is we're in a labour shortage," said the premier. "We have to work with our post-secondary institutions to ensure we address the labour shortage in Manitoba."

The throne speech reiterated the PC government's promise to set up a task force with doctors, nurses and others to clear the backlog of surgeries and procedures. It's what Doctors Manitoba called for in June to address a backlog that has grown to an estimated 136,000 Manitobans waiting.

The opposition NDP said many items in Tuesday's throne speech echo PC throne speeches during the Pallister era.

NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine.

"We saw nothing new here today and, in the midst of a global pandemic, it's incredibly disappointing that Premier Stefanson is doing the 'same old, same old,'" said NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine. "Today was a historic moment, an opportunity for the new premier to do things differently, to fight for Manitobans," she said.

"The narrative 'we're going to talk with people and come up with plans' is not something new," said the member for St. Johns.

"Brian Pallister said the same thing and what we saw was the antithesis of that," she said.

"Things are getting worse here in Manitoba. We have an outbreak at a PCH 22 months into the pandemic," she said referring to Gladstone's Third Crossing Manor.

"We need action today," said Fontaine, who argues the government has the power and resources to address the surgical backlog. "They're delaying that action by saying they're going to start up another advisory committee."

"We saw nothing new here today and, in the midst of a global pandemic, it's incredibly disappointing that Premier Stefanson is doing the 'same old, same old.'" — NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine

Stefanson said Manitoba and other provinces need financial help to deal with the tens of thousands of delayed surgeries and procedures caused by shifting health care resources during the pandemic.

"We are calling on the prime minister to call a first ministers meeting as soon as possible to have a discussion on the Canada health transfers," the premier said. "This is going to be key to moving forward to ensure we are able to invest money in these critical, critical areas."

While the premier is looking to Ottawa for financial help with health care, the throne speech didn't offer financial help to Manitobans struggling with rising prices, noted NDP Leader Wab Kinew.

"The PCs didn't mention the cost of living or inflation," Kinew said in a phone interview Tuesday. "It seems like a pretty big oversight. I think it reflects how they're out of touch with the reality of so many people in our province."

Provincial Liberal leader Dugald Lamont.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Provincial Liberal leader Dugald Lamont.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont called the throne speech "disappointing" because rather than acting on the surgical backlog crisis now, the government that's been in power for more than five years is only now planning to create an advisory committee to address it. He called it a "painfully cynical and political document" that plays to the party's base of support.

"They're going to reconsider (health-care) reforms, but only for rural Manitoba; and cancer treatments, but only for firefighters," Lamont said.

Before delivering the throne speech, Lt. Gov. Janice Filmon addressed the house, saying she expects it will be her last throne speech after serving as the Queen's representative in Manitoba for more than six years. "To say it was an honour is an understatement."

The 78-year-old, who had hip surgery in September and arrived at the chamber with the aid of walker, acknowledged the 56 MLAs for their service. "I don't think you get the thanks or the recognition you deserve," Filmon said.

It marked the first throne speech with a premier, Speaker and lieutenant governor who are all female.

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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