Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson says a top priority for her government is ensuring all Manitobans have access to health care when they need it.

On Monday, Doctors Manitoba announced the backlog of surgeries and diagnostic procedures in Manitoba had increased to more than 136,000 cases. Stefanson, who promised a task force to address the backlog concern, was asked on Tuesday when this task force will be unveiled.

"We can see it very, very shortly," says Stefanson. "I know the Minister of Health is working diligently on that and I know that she will have more to announce in the weeks to come."

Stefanson says with Manitoba in the middle of the 4th wave of the pandemic, the province needs to ensure it has the ICU capacity for individuals when they need it. As of Tuesday, there are 25 COVID-19 patients in ICU in Manitoba.

So, how much money is Manitoba willing to spend to remedy this problem? Stefanson says that question is being discussed at their Council of the Federation meetings across the country, as well as in meetings with the Prime Minister. She notes they are asking the Prime Minister to call a First Minister meeting as soon as possible to discuss Canada Health transfers.

"This is going to be key moving forward, to ensure that we are able to invest the money in these critical, critical areas," notes Stefanson. "And so I think there is a recognition on the part of the federal government as well as governments across the country on how critical this is to ensure that we can tackle the diagnostic and surgical backlogs that are not just unique to Manitoba, but indeed across the country."

Meanwhile, Tuesday's Speech from the Throne includes 18 proposals surrounding areas of health care, education, family, the economy, infrastructure and Indigenous initiatives.

With respect to education, Stefanson says her government will go back to the K to 12 review to see what is actually in there and then build upon it.

"I think we've been meeting with stakeholders all across Manitoba, and that's one of the reasons that we didn't go forward with the governance structure as set out and under Bill 64," she says.

Stefanson notes her government wants to listen to Manitobans moving forward to see what they want to see for their education system.

"What I have been hearing is that they want an education system that's there for their kids, that is a quality education system, that looks at better things in our curriculum, that looks at getting better outcomes for Manitoba children and so those are the things that we will be focused on and those are the things that are outlined in the K to 12 review," she adds.

As for the economy, Stefanson says in order to remove barriers for expansion in Manitoba, tools must be given to businesses in order to get them running at 100 per cent capacity. She notes they must also look at the opportunities being lost to other provinces.

"Where businesses are choosing to expand in other provinces, maybe outside the country we need to have a look at what are the reasons for that and how do we address those barriers to expansion here in Manitoba," she adds.

The 18 initiatives noted in the Speech from the Throne are:

Indigenous-centred initiatives:

working with Indigenous leaders, elders, knowledge keepers, families and community members to advance shared goals and seek reconciliation, healing and a path forward together
working with community partners to meet the needs of single parents, Indigenous youth and people with disabilities

Education initiatives:

improving the kindergarten to Grade 12 education system to better prepare students for their future
promoting collaboration between advanced education and training institutions and employers to provide Manitobans with the right skills to succeed that meet the evolving needs of the labour market
ensuring Indigenous and new Canadian students are given opportunities to participate in postsecondary education and training

Healthcare initiatives:

removing barriers that delay Manitobans from getting the medical care they urgently need
addressing the nursing shortage with increased and targeted training opportunities
improving access and co-ordination of mental health and addictions services

Family initiatives:

expanding supports for those experiencing family violence
implementing a renewed seniors strategy so aging Manitobans are able to stay safe in their own homes, close to family and their personal support systems, for as long as they choose
accelerating the implementation of the federal-provincial agreement on early learning and child care
partnering with the federal government to boost immigration and provincial nominee programs

Economic initiatives:

advancing the Skills, Talent and Knowledge Strategy to accelerate post-pandemic economic recovery
implementing a venture capital framework to attract international investment and help businesses grow at all stages of their development

Infrastructure initiatives:

preserving nature and heritage spaces, and promoting tourism and the arts and culture sector throughout Manitoba
committing to a renewed partnership with the Government of Canada to advance shared priorities and opportunities including transportation and strategic infrastructure, agriculture and food production
modernizing and expanding the City of Winnipeg’s waste-water treatment system
creating a greener Manitoba with an energy policy framework to explore innovative technologies that will reduce emissions and stimulate the economy