Now you see her, and now you don’t
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/05/2022 (216 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I have to wonder whether Premier Heather Stefanson ever had aspirations to be a magician when she was a kid. She certainly has learned a few handy tricks about disappearing and reappearing in plain sight.
Over the past three days, Premier Stefanson and several of her ministers have been blitzing western Manitoba locales to hand out some cash, while trying to grab a few good positive vibes — and headlines — from local news media, with a few cheerful grip-and-grins at every stop.
Although this three-day sunshine tour through western Manitoba came as something of a surprise to Winnipeg media, here at the Sun we were waiting for the press releases to begin.
During her last trip to Brandon, during the state of the province speech she gave at a Brandon Chamber of Commerce event, we had been forewarned the premier and a number of ministers were planning a three-day tour of Westman — part of what she called a “break” from the Manitoba legislature.
Consider, too, that it was only just last week Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont filed a formal complaint in the Court of Queen’s Bench alleging Premier Stefanson violated conflict of interest rules when she failed to disclose selling property for about $31 million. This, plus any number of other ongoing political issues that reporters regularly harangue her about, no doubt gave her more than enough impetus to avoid pesky questions for a bit, and avoid having to give out a few answers under the legislature spotlight.
I also note that during her previous trip to Brandon for her state of the province speech, Premier Stefanson had expressed an interest in sitting down with the Sun for a one-on-one interview with our political reporter when she returned. Of course, when you work in Manitoba’s second-largest city, such promises always come with a large dose of salt. But I digress.
And so on Monday, unsurprisingly, Stefanson made her way to Dauphin’s city hall, where she announced a $13-million commitment to rebuild Highway 5A, the main access route into that city. As a Winnipeg Free Press columnist noted earlier this week, this was a “clever bit of political strategy” that gave her a good-news announcement without any nasty news media from Winnipeg — or Brandon, I might add — to rain on her parade.
Then on Tuesday, the premier was originally scheduled to tour the Russell Health Centre chemotherapy unit expansion as part of $700,000 in funding from the province to help the Expanding Community Care Committee meet its $2.5-million goal. In actuality, deputy premier Cliff Cullen took her place — likely much to the chagrin of those government lackeys in charge of issuing press releases who were apparently not told of the change in plans.
The premier, we were told, had decided instead to join Turtle Mountain MLA and Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Doyle Piwniuk in viewing flood-affected areas. Where precisely this was taking place, we were not told. Cue the late-afternoon notice issued by said lackeys at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday correcting the official record.
Clearly, Brandon was supposed to be the last stop on their whirlwind Westman tour. And sure enough, the release went out regarding a ribbon-cutting planned at the Koch Fertilizer plant’s new administration building, with the premier, Mayor Rick Chrest and economic development director Sandy Trudel in attendance. Media had been invited to join the event, with the notice of a “media q&a [question-and-answer]” in the press release. This was one of several media events in Brandon involving government ministers yesterday.
But since last Friday, we had been having trouble reaching Premier Stefanson’s press secretary for a green light on a specific interview date and time for our one-on-one. Late Tuesday, I personally reached out and finally learned the premier was planning to be in eastern Manitoba for most of the day. She still planned to be at the Koch Fertilizer event, however.
On Wednesday morning, I received a text from one of the Sun staff who attended the 9:30 a.m. announcement at the YMCA with Minister Eileen Clarke, stating that Premier Stefanson was no longer planning to be in Brandon at all that day, and instead would be touring flooded regions in eastern Manitoba.
And yet, much to our surprise — and the apparent surprise of many of the dignitaries in attendance at the Koch ribbon cutting — Premier Stefanson showed up anyway. And then promptly refused to take questions from media in attendance, including representatives from the Western Producer and the Sun.
And without any fanfare, the premier promptly moved on to tour the new Koch facility, with media only learning then and there that we were barred from joining. So much for the “q&a.”
Quite clearly, we were dodged, just as she has been attempting to avoid difficult questions in Winnipeg for the past number of days. I don’t doubt that in light of poor poll results over the last several months, the premier has her eyes on shoring up support for the party outside the capital where Progressive Conservative votes remain strong.
But this disappearing-reappearing schtick she’s got going on to confuse her critics seems quite effective. Perhaps she should change careers.
» Matt Goerzen, editor