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A Third Majority? An Interview With Heather Stefanson
Heather Stefanson, leader of the Progressive Conservatives, is looking to win a third majority PC government in Manitoba.
As the election draws nearer in Manitoba, the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats are running neck-and-neck with one another in the province. Kinew is fighting to win government while Stefanson is hoping to hold her party’s majority in the legislature.
I chatted with Heather Stefanson, leader of the Progressive Conservatives, ahead of next week’s election.
In October 2021, you became premier of Manitoba after nearly 21 years of being an MLA for the riding of Tuxedo. How have you adjusted to your role after almost two years?
Stefanson: It's so different, but it's great to be able to make positive change for our province. I'm the type of person who just wants to get things done - and we have taken concrete action for Manitobans to make life more affordable, make our streets safer and heal our healthcare system.
You took over from Brian Pallister who led the party for about nine years. How do you think your approach to politics is different than his?
Stefanson: I'm very conciliatory in my leadership style, and I am a big believer in empowering my team around me. While we won't always agree on everything with everyone, I believe that we can always find places of common ground where we can work together.
Under your leadership, what policy or legislation have you passed that you would say you’ve been the proudest of and why?
Stefanson: I'm proud of the overall tax and income tax changes we have made to make life more affordable for people. Manitobans are saving an average of $5,500 compared to the Selinger NDP - and this is key to our province's affordability overall. I'm also proud of how far we have come on attracting new investment and jobs, and we're one of the fastest-growing economies in the country right now.
By far and away, the single most important issue to Manitoban voters is health care with more than 40% of Manitobans ranking it as their top issue, according to recent polling. What is your party promising to do to address the issue healthcare in the province?
Stefanson: Healthcare didn't break overnight, and we know it won't get fixed overnight, but we're on the path to recovery. The NDP had the worst wait times in Canada - and that was without a pandemic or global nursing shortage. We know we can't go back to that. That's why we have made record investments in healthcare, and have retained or attracted over 2,000 more healthcare workers in the last year alone.
Outside of health care, what would you say is the next most important issue facing Manitobans today and what are you promising to do to address that issue?
Stefanson: Manitobans are having trouble making ends meet. The Trudeau-NDP coalition is punishing Manitobans and driving up inflation with their carbon tax, which Wab Kinew and the NDP support here in Manitoba. The price of everything is going up, and governments need to do what they can to keep costs down.
Your party has promised to cut taxes in the province if re-elected. If you follow through with that, whose taxes are you planning to cut and how will you deal with the subsequent loss of revenue?
Stefanson: We're going to reduce the first income bracket by half, resulting in an average of $1,900 more per year. That's an extra paycheque for many Manitobans, and it's real, long-term relief. It builds on our changes to the Basic Personal Amount, which is already saving Manitobans an average of $75 per month. We're also pledging to take the land transfer tax off for first time home-buyers — a savings of $5,700 on average.
To make us more competitive, we will eliminate the Payroll Tax over eight years. This tax, which the NDP brought in, taxes businesses more for paying higher wages or hiring more workers. We want to create more jobs in Manitoba, and businesses have been asking for this.
We are continuing our plan to phase out the School Tax in 10 years, and are providing 50% rebates this year, averaging over $770 per household. We lowered the PST that the NDP raised, and took it off of things like haircuts and will preparations. We have also pledged to remove it from restaurant meals and trees, shrubs and plants.
Unlike the NDP, who have already pledged $3 billion in spending with no plan to pay for it, our PC Team has created a competitive environment to grow our economy to increase revenues. There are 13 economic projects worth $24 billion right now who are wanting to invest in Manitoba.
Compared to your provincial counterparts, you’ve experienced one of the lowest approval ratings in the country since becoming premier. Traditionally, this means that voters are upset or unhappy with your government. No government is perfect, of course, but what issue would you acknowledge you and your party need to work on to regain the approval of Manitobans?
Stefanson: I don't put a lot of credence into polls. I’m going to continue working hard and doing what Manitobans need me to do. They know that we are the only party helping them make ends meet with a plan to grow the economy and give them bigger paycheques.
Publicly available polling has shown that your party is neck-and-neck with the New Democrats. Things can certainly change in the next couple of weeks, yet as of right now it’s effectively a coin-toss as to who will form government. We all know leaders love this question, and there’s plenty of sarcasm as I say that, but do you plan to stay on as leader of your party in the event the NDP forms government?
Stefanson: We believe we have fought a great campaign and we will leave the decision to Manitobans on October 3rd. Again, I don't put a lot into polls. We're focused helping Manitobans make ends meet, and ensuring Manitoba moves forward with bigger paycheques and a growing economy. The NDP will make violent crime worse, and tax us to a point that Manitobans just can’t afford.
Are the Progressive Conservatives focused more on holding the seats you won in the 2019 election or are you folks looking to secure new seats in the province? If so, what new ridings are you targeting this election?
Stefanson: Yes, we're fighting hard for our constituents, and for everyone in this province. We’ll leave the decision to Manitobans.
Finally, is there anything you would say to those voters who are still undecided about who to vote for this election?
Stefanson: This election is important. It is about the future of our province. I love Manitoba, and I know with the right vision, we can be the strongest, fastest-growing economy in the country with bigger paycheques and even more opportunity.