By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson delivered her annual state of the province speech Thursday with a bit more partisan messaging than usual.
The annual speech to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce traditionally involves a premier going over their accomplishments of the past year and focusing on economic development before a business crowd.
Stefanson touched on those, but also said the provincial election slated for next October will be a choice between two very different visions for Manitoba on issues such as crime.
“A decision between a party that has no plan to keep your family safer at home or at work, or a team with a clearly defined plan to reduce crime,” Stefanson told the roughly 1,000 people in attendance.
Stefanson also accused the Opposition New Democrats of favouring tax hikes, the defunding of police and high debt loads at Crown-owned Manitoba Hydro.
She also said a NDP government would lead to longer wait times for surgeries because the NDP opposes using private health-care providers to cut waiting lists.
Stefanson later told reporters she felt the need to include some partisan contrasts.
“I think that it’s time to show Manitobans the difference between the Opposition NDP and ourselves. I think maybe that message isn’t getting out there enough.”
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Stefanson needs to look elsewhere to assess blame.
“The speech we heard today acknowledged that there is a crisis in health care, with crime, with the cost of living,” Kinew said. “And all this has happened under (former premier) Brian Pallister and Heather Stefanson’s watch.”
Kinew also denied the accusations levelled against his party. He said it’s not true, for example, that the NDP favours defunding police.
“The police have an important role to play,” he said, while adding that more money for housing and other services could help address the root causes of crime.
Stefanson took over the Progressive Conservative leadership in the fall of 2021, and the Tories have continued to lag behind the NDP in opinion polls.
The Tories won two consecutive majority governments, but saw their poll numbers drop after the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Manitoba has recorded the second-highest per capita COVID-related death rate among provinces, data compiled by the federal government says.