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Manitoba Tory Leader Heather Stefanson stands by ads opposing landfill search

Heather Stefanson

During her first appearance in Winnipeg in more than a week, Manitoba's Progressive Conservative Leader Heather Stefanson stood by her party's decision to take out billboard and newspaper ads that highlighted the province's decision not to search a landfill for the remains of two First Nations women on the final day of campaigning ahead of Tuesday's provincial election.

Stefanson was flanked by many Tory candidates at her party's campaign headquarters on the final day of campaigning ahead of Tuesday's provincial election. She reiterated promises to cut taxes, spend new money on health care and tackle crime if re-elected.

It was the first time in 10 days Stefanson spoke during a press conference in Winnipeg, and the first time she spoke since the Progressive Conservatives took out a stand-alone digital ad in Winnipeg that touted the Tories' position against searching the Prairie Green Landfill for the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran because of safety concerns.

The move sparked backlash in Indigenous communities and beyond, with some calling the decision to campaign on the stance of not searching the landfill insensitive.

Stefanson said Monday she stands by the ads.

"My heart goes out to those families and those individuals. We want to prevent this from happening in the future," she said.

"In this role as premier, you have to make those difficult decisions. We believe that Manitobans need to be informed about where the various political parties stand on this issue."

Stefanson pointed to the Tories' pledge to provide up to $10 million to a First Nations-operated drug treatment centre in Winnipeg if re-elected as an indication her government is investing in preventive measures.

When asked by a reporter whose idea it was to put up the billboard, Stefanson wouldn't answer but said she trusts her campaign team.

"I don't get into the weeds in terms of deciding what goes in our advertising. We have a very competent and capable campaign team."

The NDP and Liberals have both committed to searching the landfill, but only the Liberals have pledged a dollar amount, saying they will fund it 50/50 with the federal government with an initial commitment of $42 million.

The remains of Harris and Myran are believed to have been dumped in the Prairie Green Landfill, a private operation north of Winnipeg, last year.

Jeremy Skibicki has been charged with first-degree murder in their deaths, as well as in the killings of Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found last year at a different landfill, and an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders are calling Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe or Buffalo Woman, whose remains have not been found.

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Wab Kinew ended the campaign the same way he started -- by holding an event in a seat the Tories currently have in suburban Winnipeg.

Kinew said if the NDP is elected Tuesday, he would add beds to hospitals in Winnipeg and Brandon that have seen long wait times in emergency rooms.

"We just don't have the beds in the hospitals for people once they've been triaged and assessed by an emergency room doctor to be checked into the ward."

Opinion polls have suggested the NDP is in a lead over the incumbent Tories, although Kinew has urged his supporters to not take anything for granted.

The NDP has focused much of its campaign on health care, and has promised to reopen three hospital emergency departments that were downgraded under the Tory government.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont spoke in his St. Boniface constituency Monday.

Lamont urged voters to forgo strategic voting and elect a new government into office.

He said if more Liberal candidates take office and neither the Tories or the NDP form a majority government, he considers that a success.

The Liberals held three of the 57 legislature seats when the election was called.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2023.

-- With files from Steve Lambert Top Stories

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