Premier-designate Heather Stefanson said rebuilding Manitoba's economy is going to be her focus and is key to the province recovering from the pandemic.

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This article was published 1/11/2021 (208 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Premier-designate Heather Stefanson said rebuilding Manitoba's economy is going to be her focus and is key to the province recovering from the pandemic.

"We're going to focus on tackling those health care backlogs, we're going to focus on rebuilding our economy," she told reporters, after being declared the winner of the Progressive Conservative leadership Saturday.

"Once we do that, we'll have more money to spend on health care, education, social services," she said. "It has to be our priority moving forward."

The Tuxedo MLA said focusing on the economy is one thing that can unite all Manitobans — including those in parts of southern Manitoba who have opposed the PC government's pandemic restrictions and vaccination requirements.

"There are things those individuals are concerned about as well — like the future of Manitoba and what it means for our economy," she said. "We need to start rebuilding our economy. I'm going to reach out to them and say 'how are we going to do this together?' We don't agree with everyone on every issue. Let's find the common ground and move forward."

Some supporters of rival Shelly Glover, however, remain reluctant to find common ground — let alone accept the outcome, following a slew of issues with the leadership vote.

On Sunday afternoon, protesters gathered outside the PC headquarters downtown to call for a recount and investigation into the race, noting that at least 1,200 people did not receive their mail-in ballots days before the vote.

Stefanson received 363 more votes than Glover to claim the title of premier-elect.

"If we lost by 400 ballots, those 1,200 missing ballots is a huge deal," said one protester, who identified herself only as Sharon. Sharon said she drove an hour to the protest Sunday to make her opinion known and raise concerns about "corruption" in the party.

Glover’s campaign team indicated Sunday that the leadership hopeful — who has yet to concede — would be making a public announcement Monday.

Meantime, after the results were announced Saturday, Stefanson said she's been listening and meeting with Manitobans and taking a collaborative approach to issues.

That "tone" and focusing on economic growth are how she plans to lead the PCs to another majority government in the next general election in 2023. The party had fallen behind the opposition NDP in the polls under the leadership of Brian Pallister, who was known for having a more combative tone and the face of the province's pandemic response.

"We need to get out of the pandemic and make sure there's hope and opportunity in Manitoba," Stefanson said. She said she's ready to get to work but hasn't decided on a date for her swearing-in ceremony, or when a byelection will be called in Fort Whyte, the seat Pallister vacated with his Oct. 4 resignation.

Stefanson indicated that she may be ready to call back the house as early as Nov. 16, with a throne speech and a cabinet chosen.

"It's not easy to turn these things around quickly," she said. But, being an elected member of the assembly for 21 years and having served in many senior cabinet roles, she's got a jump on what needs to get done "so we can really get on the ground running."

As for being the first women premier, Stefanson said the province has come a long way and "there's more work to be done."

"Look across the country right now," she said. "I will be the only woman premier once I'm sworn in. I look at that challenge, and I embrace it and I look forward to working with my counterparts across the country."

Stefanson said she wants to encourage more women to run and get involved in politics. She wouldn't commit to gender parity in her cabinet, though.

"We have a lot of great people in our cabinet including women," she said. "I want to ensure people are in the best roles possible."

A longtime observer of Manitoba politics says that Stefanson may be anxious to get to work but she shouldn't rush to choose her cabinet and call back the house.

"She's got to get things right," said Paul Thomas. "She's got to make this a smooth transition. She shouldn't install a bunch of new cabinet ministers that will constitute her team because if she's got a session coming up right away, inexperienced ministers are more prone to making mistakes," said the University of Manitoba political studies professor emeritus. He advised her to take the time to develop a "strategic premiership."

"Get yourself installed. Plan a big spring session with some impressive bills," Thomas said.

With a new premier selected, the province announced over the weekend that a former president of the Business Council of Manitoba would be taking the reins of chief bureaucrat as of Monday.

Premier Kelvin Goertzen announced in a release Sunday that Don Leitch is replacing David McLaughlin as clerk of the executive council and secretary to cabinet.

"Leitch has extensive executive experience in both the public and private sectors including having served as the clerk of the executive council and deputy minister to the premier in Manitoba for over eleven years previously," said Goertzen, in a prepared release.

Leitch has served on the boards of the Forks-North Portage Development Corporation, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Poverty Reduction Council at the United Way of Winnipeg, and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

His resumé includes experience as a deputy minister in B.C., where he oversaw economic development, international investment and trade, small business, and tourism files.

— with files from Maggie Macintosh

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.