Heather Stefanson said she’s ready to roll up her sleeves and get down to the business of strengthening Manitoba’s broken health-care system and its battered economy, shortly after she was sworn in Tuesday as the province's 24th premier, and its first female leader.

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This article was published 2/11/2021 (282 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Heather Stefanson said she’s ready to roll up her sleeves and get down to the business of strengthening Manitoba’s broken health-care system and its battered economy, shortly after she was sworn in Tuesday as the province's 24th premier, and its first female leader.

"We want to ensure that we're going to tackle those health-care backlogs — both surgical and diagnostic — as well as get the economy back up and running. These are the priorities Manitobans want us to focus on."

Stefanson said she expects the legislature will sit later this month and a throne speech will be unveiled. She wouldn't say whether she would dramatically shuffle her cabinet, the majority of whom supported her bid for leader.

Stefanson was hesitant to commit to anything other than meeting with and listening to Manitobans — something she has done since announcing her leadership campaign after Brian Pallister stepped down as premier in September.

At her first news conference as premier, she refused to be pinned down on key issues such as measures to combat soaring COVID-19 cases in Southern Health to specific plans for an Indigenous land acknowledgement in the legislature. She said she would consult with affected groups on a range of issues — a huge departure from Pallister's iron grip on power.

"We want to ensure that we're going to tackle those health-care backlogs ‐ both surgical and diagnostic ‐ as well as get the economy back up and running. These are the priorities Manitobans want us to focus on." — Heather Stefanson

Stefanson, the longtime MLA for Tuxedo, took the oath at a swearing-in ceremony in the Speaker's reception room at the Manitoba legislature, just days after she won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party, which has governed since 2016. Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon, the Queen's representative in Manitoba, co-signed Stefanson’s oath of office.

In her speech to a small group that included cabinet ministers and her husband and two children, Stefanson acknowledged the importance of a woman attaining the highest office in the province.

Heather Stefanson is Manitoba’s 24th premier. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Heather Stefanson is Manitoba’s 24th premier. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

"I stand before you today as Manitoba’s 24th premier. This was something that was once unthinkable. I reflect on the many people who have paved the way to make this possible and I promise that our government will embrace their values of equality, inclusivity and understanding," she said.

She acknowledged the sacrifices Manitobans have made during the pandemic, the challenges to the health-care system and the economy, and the importance of reconciliation with Indigenous people.

She promised to be "humble" and listen to everyday Manitobans. She said by the time the next election is held, in 2023, her party will have gained voters' trust.

"You will see yourself in our priorities and our vision. I will work every day to gain and maintain your trust. This is my mission and together we will accomplish great things for this great province of ours," she said.

“I stand before you today as Manitoba’s 24th premier. This was something that was once unthinkable. I reflect on the many people who have paved the way to make this possible and I promise that our government will embrace their values of equality, inclusivity and understanding.” — Heather Stefanson

Don Leitch, clerk of the executive council, began the ceremony with an Indigenous land acknowledgment before a bagpiper piped Stefanson into the room.

The new premier, who is Canada's only current female first minister, was sworn in under a cloud after rival Shelly Glover filed a court challenge of Stefanson's victory.

Stefanson said the controversy was "disappointing" but she wouldn't focus on it.

"I haven't been watching what (Glover's) doing today," Stefanson said. "I've been caught up in my own ceremony."

Heather Stefanson walks in to her swearing-in ceremony hand-in-hand with her family at the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg on Tuesday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Heather Stefanson walks in to her swearing-in ceremony hand-in-hand with her family at the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg on Tuesday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

She said she's focused on getting to work and will meet with the PC caucus and cabinet Wednesday to plan for the new session of the legislature that will begin later this month once a date is determined.

"Our focus has to be on governing and not getting involved in these other situations that are happening," said Stefanson.

"I'm going to take the same approach that I have pretty much most of my political career life. That's listening to Manitobans and listening to people within the party. If they've got challenges, I want to hear them." — Heather Stefanson

Stefanson said she plans to consult with the nearly half of the PC party that supported Glover in the hope that they can unite.

"I'm going to take the same approach that I have pretty much most of my political career life," the 24th premier said. "That's listening to Manitobans and listening to people within the party. If they've got challenges, I want to hear them."

Since the leadership race began, Stefanson has pledged to collaborate with groups that often clashed with Pallister. In addition, he riled up his Progressive Conservative supporters almost as often as opposition parties by intervening in the operations of Crown corporations and making divisive comments that Indigenous leaders deemed racist.

Stefanson, who was health minister during the province’s disastrous third wave of the pandemic last spring, was also criticized for staying in the background as dozens of Manitobans were flown to ICU wards in other provinces because the health-care system was overloaded.

Since being elected in 2000, she has also served as deputy premier and minister for justice and families.

After Pallister resigned two months ago, Kelvin Goertzen served as premier on an interim basis, working to warm the PC government’s frosty relationship with various groups.

Stefanson has pledged to continue that approach, but has been vague on what specific PC policies she would change once she's in charge.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

Dylan Robertson

Dylan Robertson
Parliamentary bureau chief

In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"

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.