Facing an embattled economy and health care system, Premier Heather Stefanson looked to assure Manitobans her government has a variety of tools to get the province back on its feet during her first state of the province address Thursday.
Speaking to a crowd of some 1,200 members of the business community at the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce VIP luncheon, the premier’s speech largely focused on economic plans to build back the province, hitting on many of the same themes as she did during her first speech from the throne just over a week earlier.
“To help fill the skill shortage, we will invest more in a skills-based economy and work with business to deliver demand-led skills training that will address labour market needs in areas such as hospitality, trucking, manufacturing and nursing,” Stefanson said, calling the pandemic “the most significant economic event in our lifetime.”
“We know access to capital is a major concern for all businesses, that’s why we will be proceeding with a venture capital framework to improve access to capital for Manitoba businesses and to help emerging companies.”
Stefanson didn’t make any groundbreaking new announcements, however, she highlighted the need for growing immigration to boost the labour force by expanding the Provincial Nominee Program, and affirmed her government’s commitment to reconciliation.
“Advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Manitobans and forging a new relationship based on respect, cooperation and partnership, is fundamental to our economic future here in Manitoba,” the premier said.
“We will listen and learn from Indigenous neighbours, First Nations leaders, elders, knowledge-keepers, families and community members.”
Stefanson also discussed the strained health-care system and a few ways in which her administration plans to respond.
“We are establishing a task force that will include doctors, nurses and other professionals to set a path for clearing surgical and diagnostic backlogs, and to enhance our ICU capacity,” Stefanson said.
“We have set a goal for ourselves to add 400 additional nursing seats in our post-secondary institutions and the practical nursing program in Thompson is set to train 20 students.”
On the issue of retaining those nurses, Stefanson told reporters following the speech that she intends to hear from nurses themselves about what would incentivize them to stay in Manitoba.
University of Winnipeg political science professor Malcolm Bird noted the speech struck a more “cooperative, collaborative” tone than that of her predecessor, Brian Pallister.
“I think that this has significant potential repercussions for her electability and for the general set of values that the Conservative Party is going to put forth and believe in,” Bird said.
That said, Bird added Stefanson may want to find a fine line between putting her own stamp on the party, without straying too far from some of the things that were favourable for Pallister.
“Mr. Pallister actually achieved some quite remarkable things … the most significant of which of course was balancing the budget,” Bird said.
“But the other thing was he implemented some very significant organizational reforms at a host of public institutions that required it.”
The speech came exactly one month after Stefanson was sworn in as premier.