The first thing the premier said after “hello” this month was how wonderful it was to attend Treaty Land Entitlement days and to celebrate with the Sikh community. These two events came immediately after an out-of-province meeting with the Western premiers.
Events such as these are a chance to see what has been happening to our province since Covid-19 shut us down. We all see things with new eyes now and the Premier is awed by these experiences. “It’s so wonderful to attend events such as these,” she says, in terms of her growing connection with communities that she never had the chance to really get to know before.
I dragged her back to the hard, cold world of finance and opportunity. She pivoted quickly and just as enthusiastically. There were so many critical topics on the agenda at the Western Premier’s Conference but key among them were, once again, health and economic opportunity, particularly as it exists in the north.
“We talked of many things,” she explained about the premiers meeting, “but chief among these is how we fix the supply chain from a western point of view. How do we export our gas and potential hydrogen production as well as our agricultural products so that our First Nations will benefit with the rest of us? We have to explore all the options.”
She added that she has gained new confidence about Manitoba’s role in the future from these talks.
“We have so much potential,” she repeated. “And the other provinces see it. They envy us for our hydro energy and the minerals that are in demand right now. We have tourism and, of course, our coastal access offers tremendous possibilities.” She noted that our seaport can be active much more than four months a year with the right investment in facilities and in icebreakers to keep the port open for a longer season.
It is very encouraging to hear Premier Stefanson grasp the significance of these possibilities after so many years of negativity about our North. Right now her economic development committee is looking at all the options and the Premier is looking forward to attending the PDAC conference in Toronto in mid June. PDAC is the world’s largest mining and minerals conference. This is an important place to make connections and let the world know that “we are open for business” she says. “We are also examining and addressing the red tape and things like permit delays. We know that investors need certainty and we will provide that.”
Having a fresh, young labour force is critical and another of Manitoba’s advantages. “Business today is recognizing the importance of First Nations. They are smart and bring fresh perspectives that are needed for development,”she said.
The premier is also encouraging Manitoba Hydro to be more proactive and creative. “Hydro is our greatest asset but we inherited some challenges from the previous government when it come to the finances,” she said. “How do we deal with the huge debt and the cost overruns without burdening the ratepayer?” She is not content to accept status quo thinking, something that must be refreshing to hear for many who have felt stifled in their jobs at Hydro for the past number of years.
The other big topic on the Western premiers’ minds is the health system. The Premier wants the backlogs and the other problems solved. She is open to all ideas.
“When it comes to private delivery of health care, not all the other provinces are onside with that. I think we need to focus on what works for the patient to ensure they get the diagnostic and surgical procedures that they need. We cannot take an ideological approach to health care. We need to explore innovative ways to deliver these services in our provinces. Private delivery of services within a publicly funded system needs to be explored further to help alleviate the backlogs.”
“Manitoba has fallen far behind the other provinces. Some are already using private services to deal with backlogs in diagnostics and surgery. Provinces such as B.C. have used these options to make their public system more robust.” She sees the value behind this open-mindedness to fix what is broken and she is determined to take whatever action is necessary to get the job done.
This ability by our premier to encourage outside-the-box ideas and solutions is music to the ears of this writer, because that is exactly what the province needs. She is a bundle of positive energy charging up the people around her, asking for their best and looking for the brightest to get the right answers!
Female leaders are not mirror images of their male counterparts. They are open and direct and fiercely pragmatic. Premier Heather Stefanson is like a south wind: soft and warm but with tremendous power behind it. And like a south wind, she brings good things with her.