BRANDON — IF there’s one word Heather Stefanson wants to get across about her leadership style, it’s “conciliatory.”

BRANDON — IF there’s one word Heather Stefanson wants to get across about her leadership style, it’s "conciliatory."

The Tuxedo MLA, who is the first official candidate to replace Brian Pallister as leader of the PC party and by extension the next premier, used the word early and often in a 20-minute interview with the Brandon Sun Thursday.

"It’s something that’s in my nature and it’s the way I’ve always taken an approach to things ever since I was elected 20 years ago," Stefanson said. "I think Manitobans have been saying they want a government that listens a little bit more, reaches out and takes a collaborative approach to things."

Though she shied away from directly criticizing the premier, it was clear she wants to differentiate herself from the brashness that got Pallister in trouble this summer over his comments on reconciliation, which sparked the resignation of his Indigenous and northern relations minister, Eileen Clarke.

After the premier announced his intention to leave politics last week, Clarke posted on Facebook it was what she was "silently hoping for but in no way expecting."

She had said she had felt her voice and others weren’t heard at the cabinet table. By comparison, Stefanson said there’s a need to listen to her colleagues.

"I think this is a time to bring people together," Stefanson said. "All of my colleagues, they are out listening to their constituents and they’re hearing loud and clear and that was obviously one of the things that we heard with Bill 64. Manitobans don’t want to move forward with that bill."

One of Stefanson’s first announcements on Wednesday while declaring her candidacy was to promise to cancel the bill that would replace school boards with a centralized governance structure.

"It’s a lot of change," she said. "I think, right now, Manitobans are exhausted from COVID-19. There’s been a lot of challenges in people’s individual lives, and I don’t think they’re up for that amount of change on the governance side of things right now."

However, Stefanson didn’t say what part of the proposed governance structure was a problem or what problems she has with the bill.

As health minister, Stefanson was frequently criticized for not making public appearances or speaking to the media for weeks at a time during the pandemic. According to her, that was because Pallister had taken the lead in addressing the public and she was working behind the scenes.

"I’m not a person that necessarily needs to be in the limelight every day," she said. "I think it’s more important and Manitobans are more concerned with whether they have a minister that’s working hard to ensure that we’re taking on the challenges of the health portfolio. Health, in general, is a very challenging portfolio, and then you put a pandemic in the middle of that. There are a lot of moving parts. It’s not something you do as an individual."

After the premier’s comments on colonialism and reconciliation, Indigenous groups made it clear their relationship with the province had been damaged. To try to get reconciliation back on track, Stefanson said she would take that conciliatory approach and listen to First Nations.

Stefanson called residential schools "absolutely horrific" and "a terrible situation."

Despite that, she wouldn’t say if she thought Pallister’s comments on colonization were wrong, only acknowledging that it might not have been the approach she would have taken.

"I don’t want to look to the past," she said. "I think the premier has made his decision to move on...

"Is my approach the right way? I don’t know. What I am hearing from Manitobans is that it’s the kind of approach they’d like to see moving forward."

— Brandon Sun