Premier Heather Stefanson’s inaugural throne speech was more an act of political penance and a plea for forgiveness than the usual partisan, self-congratulatory rhetoric that marks the opening of a new session of the legislature.
Governments typically blow their own horns with all the bravado they can muster during throne speeches. They use the occasion not so much to lay out their legislative agenda (which is usually so vague it’s essentially meaningless) but to tout their accomplishments, pat themselves on the back and remind the public how lucky they are to have such good government.
Not this time.
Tuesday was more a day of self-reflection and contrition for the Progressive Conservative government, as it tries desperately to hit the reset button in the wake of the carnage wrought by their ex-boss, former premier Brian Pallister.
Three sentences into the speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon, the Tories promise Manitobans a "new beginning" and a "new direction" after more than five years of Pallister rule.
"You will notice our style of government is one with a willingness to listen and an openness to engage," the speech said, as opposed to Pallister, who rarely listened or engaged. "We are committed to collaboration, co-operation and reconciliation."
It was a theme repeated ad nauseam throughout the address, as the Stefanson government vowed to "consult," "heal" and "co-operate" in a mostly rambling, awkwardly worded 12-page speech.
"Our government embraces the values of quality, inclusivity and understanding," the speech said. "We are here to focus on respect, reconciliation and repairing broken relationships."
They were grovelling.
There were few celebrations of past achievements. While the government credited "health-care professionals" for their "notable work" to improve some aspects of the health-care system (including ICU capacity, which was reduced under the Pallister government’s hospital consolidation plan), the government practically admitted the system is broken.
They vowed to address chronic staff shortages in health care, fix the gaps in long-term care (they admitted seniors have not been receiving "dignified care") and rethink planned changes for rural health care.
It appears the government may finally listen to experts to find evidence-based solutions to treat and support people with addictions (supervised injection sites?), according to the speech. The Tories are now willing to "re-engage" with post-secondary institutions to improve funding models.
The Tories promised a "renewed partnership with the Government of Canada," (after years of fractured relations under Pallister) and even reached out to public servants (often maligned under the former boss), by pledging to recruit and retain high-quality talent in the civil service.
"Too often, their contributions are taken for granted," the throne speech said.
Stefanson promised Manitobans everything from better health care, education, addictions services, infrastructure, to a stronger and greener economy, and improved relations with Indigenous people. Her government is going to listen and collaborate with everyone, including "Indigenous leaders, with all levels of government, with business leaders and business owners, with people throughout the public sector, the private sector and not-for-profit organizations." Maybe even the gardener.
In other words, they’re going to try to be everything Pallister wasn’t.
The question is, will Manitobans buy it? Except for Pallister himself, the people who make up the government today are largely the same ones who have been in power since 2016. They can blame their former boss for much of the damage he caused (or "forced" them to cause). But there’s a limit. They were still in the cabinet room — they have a record.
The throne speech was an attempt to turn a new leaf and convince Manitobans the Tories are a more caring and compassionate political party than they have been in the past. Is it a good strategy? Probably. There’s not much else they could do right now.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.