The only surprise in Premier Heather Stefanson’s first state of the province address may have been the names of her dogs, but the tone and content of her speech were just what the 1,100 attendees at the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce event needed to hear.

The only surprise in Premier Heather Stefanson’s first state of the province address may have been the names of her dogs, but the tone and content of her speech were just what the 1,100 attendees at the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce event needed to hear.

“I think people that were here today got the message that there’s a new tone, there’s a new direction, and the next two years are going to be very active,” chamber president Loren Remillard said Thursday.

The last major event was a 2019 address by then-premier Brian Pallister who was known for his authoritarian style of leadership.

“Today, what we heard was a new premier with a very clear direction inviting the business community to the table and a real willingness to listen to what business has to say (and) ‘let’s work together,’” Remillard said Thursday.

“It outlined, in broad strokes, some of the actions we’re going to see from her government,” he said. “Access to capital, skills shortages, recognizing credentials — she really hit all the key pain points that business is experiencing at this time, and what we’d been calling for — increased action and collaboration.”

In the 20-minute speech, Stefanson reiterated her vision and touched on the highlights of last week’s throne speech. She began by reaffirming a commitment to advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, something she described as “fundamental to our economic future here in Manitoba.”

Stefanson said her government is not content with the status quo when it comes to the accessibility of health-care services, including surgery and diagnostic procedures.

“To ensure that we deliver on our commitment, we’re establishing a task force that will include doctors, nurses and other professionals to set a path for clearing surgical and diagnostic backlogs and to enhance our ICU capacity,” she said.

<p>MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Premier Heather Stefanson has a fireside chat with Winnipeg Chamber board chair Liz Choi at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021. For Carol/Tom story. Winnipeg Free Press 2021.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Premier Heather Stefanson has a fireside chat with Winnipeg Chamber board chair Liz Choi at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021. For Carol/Tom story. Winnipeg Free Press 2021.

She highlighted the need for a new energy policy framework, a renewed seniors strategy, measures to address labour shortages and expand immigration.

Stefanson told business leaders to expect a reduction in “red tape” for investments in mining in northern Manitoba.

“Northern and First Nations communities also have abundant mineral resources and we will make Manitoba one of the most attractive places in mining investments that will expand job opportunities for northerners,” she said.

The premier said the government must focus on stimulating the economy after borrowing more than $2 billion to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A strengthened provincial economy will generate the revenues that benefit our government and citizens allowing us to invest in important areas like health care, like education and social services,” Stefanson said.

In a “fireside chat” after the address, Stefanson told chamber chairwoman Liz Choi about her dogs, Harper, Reagan and the late Thatcher. She joked about the conservative-themed names of her pooches, an homage to two prime ministers and a president — but not her family’s devotion to them.

“We love our dogs,” she said when asked what she likes to do on weekends. “We like to take our dogs for a walk.”

Choi asked the premier about the best advice she has received. “My mom always said ‘be humble and kind,’” Stefanson said.

“It’s been such a challenging time especially during COVID for everybody,” Stefanson said, offering some advice of her own. “We’re all part of a big family we call Manitoba,” she said. “Just remembering that and being kind to others is incredibly important.”

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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.