The Progressive Conservative leadership campaign, which ends Saturday with the selection of Manitoba's next premier, has been bereft of policy discussion. The only debate between the two candidates to this point was brief and very limited in terms of the issues on the table.

The Progressive Conservative leadership campaign, which ends Saturday with the selection of Manitoba's next premier, has been bereft of policy discussion. The only debate between the two candidates to this point was brief and very limited in terms of the issues on the table.

Heather Stefanson and Shelly Glover sat down with the Free Press this week to answer eight questions about some of the most pressing challenges they will face if they emerge from the weekend's convention as the province's premier-designate.

We covered topics ranging from systemic racism to health-care reform, the pandemic response and whether a made-in-Manitoba carbon tax was ever going to materialize.

Systemic racism

Do you believe systemic racism exists and if so, what would you do to address it in your government and society on the whole?

Shelly Glover: "Absolutely, it exists and I think it's important we acknowledge it. If you don't acknowledge it, it's hard to deal with."

In terms of actions, Glover suggested training videos promoting awareness about "cultural differences between races," for anyone working in government and an annual celebration at the Legislative Building, "sort of like a Folklorama, where we have all of our races and cultures that we value so much here in Manitoba." 

 

Heather Stefanson: "I do believe that it exists and I do believe that there are people who are hurting out there as a result of it. And we need to work with them and help them heal."

Stefanson, Manitoba's justice minister from 2016 to 2018, said she wants to work with racialized groups, including Indigenous people, "to learn from them about what their experiences (were) and help them heal."

Stefanson said she has "no time for racism whatsoever in any form" but would not, however, pledge to remove any ministers or MLAs in her caucus who made racist statements. 

 


 

Pandemic response

What, if any, specific mistakes were made in the province's pandemic response, and what would you do differently?

Glover: A former police officer, Glover said most provinces made a mistake by not using existing emergency responses to devise a COVID-19 response: "I don’t understand why we didn't follow a plan, given that there are emergency plans across the country."

Using her knowledge of these plans, Glover said rather than locking everyone down in their homes and closing businesses, she would have locked down personal-care homes, keeping patients and staff isolated to protect the most vulnerable people.

Glover also said communication has been horrible throughout the Manitoba response, both on social and economic restrictions but also on the arguments in favour of vaccination.

Stefanson: As minister of health from January to August 2021, Stefanson said she has come to believe government must adopt "a different way of doing things" when it comes to the pandemic response.

Stefanson continued to defend the government's actions, but did say she would like more people with different perspectives on the pandemic involved at the centre of government decision making.

She also said she would bring outside experts, including clinical leads in the health care system, together with internal experts.

"I felt that there was somewhat of a disconnect between our clinical leads, what they were experiencing on a daily basis and what... was coming out of the government side and the bureaucracy." 

 


 

Vaccine mandates

Do you support vaccine mandates and the use of social and economic restrictions on unvaccinated Manitobans as part of a broader strategy to contain COVID-19 and encourage vaccinations?

Glover: The issue of vaccine mandates has dogged Glover throughout the leadership campaign because, she said, new media have "truncated" her answer. Glover is fully vaccinated herself and believes that getting as many Manitobans vaccinated as possible is the ultimate goal.

However, there need to be "other options as well as vaccines" when deciding who can work on the front lines of health care or education, she said.

Right now, Manitoba offers public-facing workers the option of vaccination or PCR testing. Glover said she wants to expand that to include antibody testing for those who've had COVID-19, and rapid testing. (Glover was unaware that rapid testing is already the standard for on-site testing of health-care workers.)

She also said it's imperative the testing be done in a discrete location to ensure "they are not bullied or harassed" by co-workers, a problem Glover said has happened. If someone refuses vaccinations and multiple forms of testing, "then, yes, they stay home. That's the end of it." 

Stefanson: "I believe in vaccine mandates the way they are and giving them a choice about whether they want to be vaccinated or tested. I think that is a responsible approach."

Stefanson said she is concerned about health-care workers who have been suspended from work for refusing vaccination or the option to be tested.

"I hope we can work with them towards a better solution moving forward. We need their help moving forward."

 


 

Health-care reform

The Winnipeg hospital reorganization plan has struggled to achieve its goals. Wait times are longer than ever, and a nursing shortage is threatening to cripple hospitals. What would you do to get it back on track?

Glover: Having worked within the health-care system as an aide in a personal-care home, Glover said she saw first hand how badly the current government managed the Winnipeg hospital reorganization.

If she becomes premier, she would reconsider the entire plan, including the possibility of reopening emergency rooms closed under premier Brian Pallister's government.

"All options are on the table. I don't think you can ever say, even when you make a plan, that it is finished. You have to be re-evaluating and talking to the experts and collaborating on approaches that make sense. All things are on the table because we have problems."

Glover also said she would remove the cap on elective surgeries if the system has the capacity to do more procedures. 

Stefanson: The previous health minister would not necessarily undo the hospital organization, but she wants to deal directly with some of the problems that left hospital ERs and critical-care units desperately understaffed.

"I think I would say that I want to make it work better. There are things that we learned from COVID that we could make better, that weren’t necessarily the best way of doing things before and we can improve the system."

Stefanson said she thinks the recently signed contract with the Manitoba Nurses Union will go a long way to repairing the relationship between nurses and the government. 

 


 

Education Property Tax cuts

Manitoba is facing record deficits from the pandemic. On that basis, will you cancel the second property tax cut scheduled for 2022, or follow through with the former premier's promise? If you will honour the planned tax cut, how will you pay for it?

Glover: "I will honour (the Education Property Tax cut). People are planning for that, so I will honour that."

Glover rejected the idea that proceeding on schedule with a second cut in the spring of 2022 — which, combined with last year's cut, will drain an estimated $300 million from the provincial treasury — would add to the debt or deficit.

She said finding savings within government or shifting spending priorities could cover off the cost: "I want to see if we can move money around and compensate for (the property tax cut.)" 

Stefanson: If she becomes premier, Stefanson said she will likely delay the second 25 per cent cut to the education portion of property taxes: "I just want to make sure we're being responsible and that we're taking that responsible approach."

Stefanson said the original tax-cut pledge was to get rid of education property taxes over a 10-year period, a schedule her government would honour. However, she said the priority in next year's budget will likely be investments in health care.

"Our focus will be on tackling the health-care backlogs, both surgical and diagnostic, and I know that investments will have to be made there." 

 


 

Previous bills

Interim Premier Kelvin Goertzen agreed to "clean the slate" of several pieces of contentious legislation to help the new leader determine her own path forward. They included an overhaul of public education governance and one that would have massively diminished the role of the Public Utilities Board in setting Manitoba Hydro rates.

Will you bring back any of those bills — Bills 64, 16, 35, 40, and 57 — in their current form, or in amended form, when you take over as premier?

Glover: The bills that were wiped off the order paper by Goertzen "are dead," Glover said. However, she will revisit the underlying policy issues in each bill to see if they should be brought back in some form.

"I need to talk to the stakeholders who would have been impacted by those bills and we need to talk to the officials that were involved in making those bills.... That's the only way to know if there are some changes that are required."

On the former premier's decision to allow cabinet to set Hydro electricity rates and diminish the role of the Public Utilities Board, Glover would not say whether she was prepared to give the PUB total control over future rate increases.

"I don't like to speculate. I like to collaborate and investigate." 

Stefanson: At her campaign launch, Stefanson announced that Bill 64 (the Education Modernization Act) was dead. However, on all the other bills that were wiped from the order paper, Stefanson said she would like to empower cabinet ministers "to take those bills back and revisit, talk to various stakeholders out in the community" to determine if they should be brought back in some form.

One notable exception was a bill that greatly diminished the of the PUB in setting electricity rates. Stefanson said she does not want to set rates by cabinet decree, as the Tory government has done for two years, but would like to limit full PUB hearings to every "three to five years," a schedule that is a hallmark of Bill 35.

"I think three to five years is appropriate. I don’t think it has to go back every single year." 

 


 

Vaccination of MLAs

You and your government have been insistent that Manitobans get vaccinated, and have implemented public-health measures to ensure public-facing government workers get vaccinated or undergo testing. Will you ensure that all elected members of your government are fully vaccinated as a condition to sit in caucus and/or cabinet?

Glover: Applying the same principles she outlined in her plan for vaccine mandates, Glover said MLAs or cabinet ministers must either be vaccinated or tested to attend in-person meetings of caucus or cabinet.

"If those options are exhausted, they're not coming to a meeting."

Glover said she would not kick anyone out of caucus for not being vaccinated or refusing to be tested. 

Stefanson: As was the case with her opponent, Stefanson would not kick anyone out of her government for refusing to be vaccinated or tested.

To attend in-person meetings of caucus or cabinet, elected Tories would have to be fully vaccinated or tested. Stefanson said she would not, however, ask for proof of either.

"If they are showing up, I would assume they would have that test or proof of vaccination." 

 


 

Carbon taxes

Manitoba recently had a legal challenge of the federal carbon tax dismissed in court. Would a government you lead seek to impose a made-in-Manitoba carbon-pricing mechanism to replace the federal carbon tax? If not, what direct action would your government take to address climate change?

Glover: A carbon-pricing plan, devised in Manitoba to replace the federal tax, is "on the table," Glover said. However, she said she'd like to investigate other options "that are much more effective than (a) tax."

Glover cited a plan to offer long-term loans to farmers to have them fallow more of their fields to act as carbon sinks. She also said more has to be done on the recycling front, including the reuse of old concrete from roads as part of reconstruction projects. 

Stefanson: Rather than fighting Ottawa through the courts, Stefanson said she would like to work more collaboratively with the federal government about whether the federal tax stays in place or a Manitoba carbon-pricing mechanism was used.

Stefanson would not commit to imposing a made-in-Manitoba carbon tax but acknowledged that "we need to be part of the solution when it comes to greenhouse-gas emissions and... climate change." 

 

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.