An agenda of hope and optimism in a sea of personal attack and negativity

Dorothy Dobbie

“Filled with a sense of relief, hope and optimism,” is how the Premier describes the first few in-person meetings of her caucus. “People are excited about their jobs. It is important to be in touch and for members to be able to attend events and hear from their constituents in person,” she added. “It’s a new world. We have to get used to personal interaction and we are developing a new sense of camaraderie.”

This sense of relief is visible outside her caucus. When she went to the Legislature after mask mandates were lifted, she was gratified to see big smiles on open faces. 

Heather, on a radio broadcast while she visited southern Manitoba.

“People need to have a choice and if they are not comfortable without their masks, they should still wear them,” she said, adding that she will keep hers on for a while longer in certain circumstances.

Meanwhile, her team has been very busy introducing several bills to help kickstart the economy and make it easier for business and for individuals to live and progress. 

Among these bills is one to remove more regulatory barriers to doing business and another to help municipalities and individuals to use the same grade of pesticides as are approved by the federal government. Previously, the Manitoba regulations were so stringent that parks, homes, and gardens have been overcome with weeds. Another bit of very good news for small root vegetable farmers is a change to the Act that governs who can sell what and where. 

 “Our province’s farmers provide nutritious, local food to Manitobans, though for years they have not had the freedom to grow and sell their table potatoes and root crops in the province,” said Minister Derek Johnson in a press release. “At the same time, regulations have prevented Peak of the Market from modernizing its business model to promote, sell and distribute Manitoba’s table potatoes and root crops to the world. This legislation would allow producers to grow as many table potatoes and root crops as they wish and to sell to any buyer, while paving the way for a modernized business model for Peak of the Market and strengthening our provincial economy.”

Solid changes such as these will help our province grow by allowing more freedom for small local businesses. This past month also saw the establishment of the Premier’s Economic Development Board, which she personally chairs, and which is already creating a new confidence among businesses that Manitoba truly is ready to receive and welcome enterprise. 

“People are very excited and coming forward with requests for meetings to talk about how we can work together,” the Premier notes. She tries to grant as many requests for meetings as she can and encourages ministers to be proactive in seeking out advice from the citizens most concerned with each area of responsibility. While civil servants can provide much useful background information, it is filtered by a whole list of realities, including personal opinion. Hearing from as many different sources as possible makes it possible to weigh all the information and come to decisions that work best for the whole province.

The Premier is also carefully monitoring the progress of the state of our health, particularly with the new mental health ministry understanding what a critical issue this is as we come out of two years of isolation and fear over COVID-19. Seniors were most affected, and she has appointed a separate minister, the Hon. Scott Johnston, to focus on the needs of seniors

Heather is not one for a lot of hyperbole, but she takes seriously her responsibility to repair relationships with our Indigenous people. She is determined to be their advocate with the federal government when it comes to things like clean drinking water and better housing. She talked a bit about her recent interactions with some of the chiefs and others. “We all learn from each other,” she said. “And each community is different. Each time I go, I learn something new.” She pauses and adds reflectively, “I find it so peaceful there.”

On a broader front but critical to development in the north is the issue of good Internet connection. This is being examined on several fronts because it is now a critical part of the infrastructure and without reliable Internet, nobody can prosper.

And prospering is what this premier is all about, making sure that individuals have the means to provide for themselves and their families, hence the focus on business. However, underlying that essential thrust is her deep interest and concern for families and for those who needs a hand up the ladder. She is determined to see that all those whose health needs were set aside due to COVID-19 are cared for as expeditiously as possible. She is working on initiatives that will support children at risk and ensuring that the somewhat dysfunctional Child and Family Services supports are improved and modernized.

None of this is easy. As the first female Premier of this province, Premier Heather Stefanson is charting new ground while government opposition members, instead of focusing on the substantive issues, are spending all their time working to discredit her personally. That makes them a very ineffective force for helping to improve the province. Slanderous language and the persistent search for nonexistent personal flaws certainly do nothing to bring new ideas or a positive agenda for change to the table. 

Furthermore, the members of the opposition seem to forget that they also have a job as legislators to make good things happen for their constituents. That is very hard to achieve when the total of focus is on personal attacks instead of on researching positive action and demanding answers to significant questions.

Let’s give the first woman leader of our province an opportunity to bring her agenda of “hope and optimism” to fruition. 

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