Premier’s promise: not like previous premier

“Stay tuned.”

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/11/2021 (264 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

“Stay tuned.”

This seems to be one of the phrases favoured by newly installed Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, who on Tuesday got down to the serious business of governing after the recitation of the speech from the throne by Manitoba Lieutenant Governor Janice Filmon.

“Stay tuned” is the vague generality with which Ms. Stefanson has responded to most requests for specific details regarding policies and priorities since being declared winner of the Progressive Conservative Party leadership race and thereby being designated as the province’s 24th — and first female — premier.

And “stay tuned” is what Manitobans are left to do after the presentation of the aforementioned throne speech, which — like almost all such exercises — was much more about outlining the government’s conceptual approach and broad ambitions than describing with any precision exactly how it intends to achieve its goals.

‘Stay tuned’ is the vague generality Heather Stefanson has been using since being named leader of the Manitoba PC Party. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

In the case of Tuesday’s throne speech, the document read in the legislative assembly seemed at least as much focused on what the Stefanson government won’t be and won’t do as on what it will. Specifically, it won’t be like the government headed by the new premier’s predecessor, Brian Pallister, whose combative and autocratic inclinations had become both a hallmark of and a millstone for the governing PCs.

“With a new premier, our government is embarking with you on a path in a new direction,” began the address, which in its first few sentences pledged to work “side by side” with Manitobans to create a stronger, healthier and more inclusive province that is “committed to collaboration, co-operation and reconciliation.”

“You will notice,” the speech further promised, “our style of government is one with a willingness to listen and an openness to engage.”

In other words, not your previous premier’s government.

The priorities laid out were many — massive improvements to health care, a path to reconciliation with First Nations and Métis Manitobans, improved relations with other levels of government, enhanced focus on meeting climate-change goals, a recommitment to education reform but in a more collaborative framework, safety and support for seniors, and reinforcement of the province’s immigration programs.

Beyond a fleeting mention of being “mindful of our government’s expenditures and spend(ing) wisely in the best interests of all Manitobans,” there was no hint of the hardcore austerity and balanced-budget fixation that were the province’s core values under Mr. Pallister’s watch.

Stefanson and the rest of the PC MLAs were around the table when decisions were being made by former premier Brian Pallister. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Taken at face value, the throne speech might be welcomed as exactly the sort of fresh-air breath Ms. Stefanson had been promising to provide since entering the PC leadership race. What must also be given consideration, however, is that neither the new premier nor any of the supportive veteran MLAs who will presumably continue to hold cabinet positions arrived at this revivification moment as fresh-faced newcomers with no ties to the Pallister legacy.

Ms. Stefanson et al were at Mr. Pallister’s side, publicly supporting his policies and maintaining an impenetrably united front even as successive pandemic waves slammed Manitoba and polls showed PC fortunes declining sharply. Absent one departed leader, and despite one aspirationally divergent throne speech, the party that applauded Ms. Filmon’s reading of the throne speech is for all intents and purposes the same one that steered the province into the crises to which vague solutions are now being proposed.

“We still face difficulties,” the speech concluded, “but we are ready to meet the challenges that lie ahead of us with a renewed sense of openness.”

How — and if — that is to be achieved will definitely be worth staying tuned to see.

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