Manitoba’s temporary new premier is a football fan and walking encyclopedia of legislative protocol who was raised poor and puts his family first.

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This article was published 1/9/2021 (298 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba’s temporary new premier is a football fan and walking encyclopedia of legislative protocol who was raised poor and puts his family first.

Kelvin Goertzen started his political experience as a 20-something Progressive Conservative intern who was happy to just man the photocopy machine in that legislative environment.

He studied law and earned excellent grades and academic awards.

Goertzen was first elected to the legislature in 2003, at age 33, and residents of Steinbach re-elected him in all four provincial votes since then.

He now writes frequently about politics and the law, and serves as the party’s house leader and legislative affairs minister.

He often said he had no intention of becoming premier, noting that irony as he comfortably answered dozens of questions from reporters a short time after being sworn-in as premier Wednesday.

"If you’re going to take on a leadership role, you need to commit a decade," Goertzen said.

"Those aren’t the key roles that I aspire to. And in speaking to my family, it wasn’t a hard decision."

Goertzen was 11 when his father died of alcoholism at the age of 33, leaving the future premier's mother to raise him in government housing. That’s in part why he helped found the first food bank in Steinbach — and why his one son is his main priority in life.

"That to me is the most important role that I could have, that of being a good dad and a good husband."

Goertzen comes from a Mennonite background, but said he does not follow the faith.

"I’m proud as someone with Mennonite roots… I hope the community is proud of me, too," he said.

Goertzen has been questioned about his support for LGBTTQ+ Manitobans, saying in 2017 he would not attend the local Pride parade. Organizers, he said, "dedicated so much... time to shaming individuals" who chose to not attend.

On Wednesday, Goertzen said he learned a lot from events and meetings with gender and sexual minorities during his time as health minister from 2016 to 2018.

"I’m a premier for all Manitobans and I will represent all Manitobans," he said.

As health minister, Goertzen oversaw controversial hospital reforms that defined the 2019 election, as well as bitter talks over health transfers with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government.

He caused a stir last fall when he posted on social media about the approval of COVID-19 vaccines by declaring that everyone has the right to refuse a shot.

Goertzen was thrilled to be able to attend a recent Winnipeg Blue Bombers game, made possible by the football team's vaccination requirement for fans.

"It was emotional time for us, actually. (It was) a long year between winning the Grey Cup, and then wondering if we’d ever seen another Bomber game again," he said.

"That’s really small in what’s going on in life and society right now, but for a lot of people, those small things matter."

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca