In her first major appearance before Winnipeg’s business community, Premier Heather Stefanson said her government will set an ambitious agenda to grow the economy, and an early step will be a revamp of Manitoba’s provincial nominee program to welcome more immigrants.
“It is clear we have a labour shortage and it impairs progress,” Stefanson, Manitoba’s 24th – and first female – premier, said at the State of the Province lunch. Some 1,200 people attended the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce lunch December 2.
She said the government has heard the concerns of the business community, which she called the “engine of our economy,” about the difficulty finding talent to fill vacancies and to regain productivity lost over the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new premier said drawing newcomers to the province and ensuring Manitoba’s Indigenous people share in the benefits of economic revitalization are central to repairing the pandemic’s damage.
There will be initiatives and policies to develop the economy in northern Manitoba, including working with Indigenous and local communities to boost mining.
And, while Manitoba’s provincial nominee immigration program, initiated by the Filmon government in 1996, has worked well, it is in need of a revamp, Stefanson said.
“We need to grow immigration in Manitoba,” she noted. “We will be seeking expansion of our provincial nominee program.” Language, settlement and training programs will be strengthened.
Stefanson’s address was well-received by the audience, who met for the first time en masse since the pandemic shut down large, indoor gatherings in early 2020.
The event served as an introduction to a new governing and legislative agenda, triggered by Stefanson’s election as party leader October 30th.
Strategic investments in highways, roads, bridges and water and wastewater infrastructure are among the elements of the economic recovery her government will pursue, she said.
Other elements of the economic-growth strategy include:
- A venture capital framework to improve access to capital for businesses and to spur start ups
- Renewed cooperative relationship with the federal government, especially relating to cost-shared agreements, such as the announcement recently made with Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman on the city’s north end wastewater treatment centre and investment in Transit
Stefanson also outlined her government’s plans to: repair an ailing the health-care system, with the help of a task force of health professionals; continue with K-Grade 12 education reform agenda; and, improve care for senior Manitobans, who were among those who suffered most in the pandemic.