Editorial

Premier Heather Stefanson addressed the media on Wednesday as part of an announcement regarding the next phase of Manitoba’s COVID-19 vaccine campaign. She faced only a few questions, mostly related to the pandemic-focused matter at hand. Most inquiries were directed to Health Minister Audrey Gordon or vaccine task force medical lead Dr. Joss Reimer.

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This article was published 17/11/2021 (190 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Premier Heather Stefanson addressed the media on Wednesday as part of an announcement regarding the next phase of Manitoba’s COVID-19 vaccine campaign. She faced only a few questions, mostly related to the pandemic-focused matter at hand. Most inquiries were directed to Health Minister Audrey Gordon or vaccine task force medical lead Dr. Joss Reimer.

New premier 'very, very busy' in lead-up to new legislative session

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS						</p>																	<p>Premier Heather Stefanson.						</p>
MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Heather Stefanson.

Posted: 7:00 PM Nov. 16, 2021

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.

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That’s a bit surprising, given the new premier’s relative public invisibility and almost-complete media inaccessibility since being sworn in on Nov. 2. Irrespective of her assertion on Tuesday that she has been "very, very busy … in back-to-back meetings and out at events and things like that," Ms. Stefanson’s unwillingness or inability to make herself available to publicly address urgent issues affecting Manitobans has cast a cloud over her first weeks in office.

The premier has offered scant explanation — either directly, or through her newly assembled communications staff — for her very limited number of public appearances, or for not providing prior media notification for those that she has made, including at a ceremony Tuesday to commemorate the 136th anniversary of Manitoba founder Louis Riel’s execution.

And when asked Tuesday by a Free Press reporter why she has not been available to answer media questions about such issues as the province’s pandemic response or the ongoing labour dispute at the University of Manitoba, but was willing to make time for an interview with a local radio host with a history of racist and misogynist on-air behaviour, the premier’s response was to sigh and instruct, "You know what? Please work through our staff."

Despite that, Ms. Stefanson seemed satisfied Tuesday that her presence at the Manitoba Métis Federation event was evidence that "We’re not trying to be hiding or anything like that."

When she first threw her figurative hat into the political-leadership ring, indicating a desire to succeed Brian Pallister as Manitoba’s premier, Ms. Stefanson signalled an intention to be a more open, collaborative and publicly accountable leader than the person she hoped to replace.

The majority of the Progressive Conservative caucus, and most of Mr. Pallister’s cabinet, lined up in support of Ms. Stefanson’s bid. All seemed eager — perhaps for the first time since 2016 — to distance themselves from Mr. Pallister’s combative style and some of his less-popular policy initiatives.

<p>Matt Goerzen / The Brandon Sun</p><p>Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson</p>

Matt Goerzen / The Brandon Sun

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson

Upon winning the PC party’s leadership by a narrower-than-expected margin — a result being challenged in court by rival Shelly Glover later this week — Ms. Stefanson used her acceptance speech to reach out to First Nations and Métis people, labour and business, and ethnic and cultural groups who "didn’t necessarily feel comfortable being part of our party."

"Hello, Manitoba — welcome to the new PC party," she said. And then, for all intents and purposes, promptly disappeared. If she is to be taken at her word, she has been fully occupied by behind-the-scenes tasks in preparation for the upcoming legislative session.

Brandon University political science professor Kelly Saunders suggested this week that if Ms. Stefanson is intent on differentiating herself from her predecessor and showing leadership in a time of crisis, "ducking and hiding is not the way you get that message across."

On Wednesday, at least, finally, she faced a few questions that had been begging for answers since the beginning of her nascent term as premier. Such appearances should quickly become the rule rather than the exception.

A day earlier, as she looked ahead to her government’s speech from the throne on Nov. 23, Ms. Stefanson advised those listening to "Stay tuned and you’ll see a lot more of me, I promise, in the days and months and years ahead."

One can only hope.