Pallister has a ‘perfect system’ for staying in touch while in Costa Rica

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Premier Brian Pallister says he pays "every single nickel" of the cost of communicating with staff in Manitoba when he is away at his vacation home in Costa Rica.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/05/2017 (1964 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Premier Brian Pallister says he pays “every single nickel” of the cost of communicating with staff in Manitoba when he is away at his vacation home in Costa Rica.

He also indicated Wednesday he does not use government-issued devices for such communications, although he refused to be specific.

“I’m following the same protocols that the previous government utilized,” Pallister said in a sometimes testy exchange with the media at the legislature.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Premier Brian Pallister faces media after question period at the Legislative Building on Wednesday.

“Our instructions are clear, ‘Don’t outline how you communicate too clearly because it would facilitate those who might try to find out what the confidential information is that you’re dealing with,’” the premier said. “If I am sharing detailed information with the media, I am not making it more secure.”

Pressed by reporters on how he communicates with staff while away, he said, the “same communication methods that any of you would use.”

Pallister said he was also proud no information had been leaked. “Perfect system so far,” he added.

Asked point-blank whether he used non-government devices for business while in Costa Rica, he replied, “Right, which don’t cost the taxpayer a single cent.”

The NDP Opposition has raised concerns about Pallister’s out-of-town communication methods and whether he actually does any work while away, as he has repeatedly said.

The NDP has sought records of phone calls and emails made by the premier, through freedom of information legislation (FIPPA), and come up empty. Such records would not be available if calls were made and emails written using non-government devices and accounts.

On Wednesday, when asked if he simply “unplugs” when he is away, the premier said: “I don’t respond at all to that. I respond with the fact that this government is operating well, effectively.

“I work harder than any premier that’s been around here for a long, long time. I don’t have to defend my work ethic. I take less vacation time than the previous premier and the one before that.”

In year-end interviews last December, Pallister said he planned to spend six to eight weeks a year in Costa Rica. He later revised that, saying he would spend five weeks this year in the Central American country. He was there in January and will likely return in August and September, he said.

NDP MLA Andrew Swan said there are two issues regarding Pallister’s communications while out of province.

“No. 1, is he in communication? We know that when he was in Costa Rica, other provinces were actually cutting deals with the federal government on a national health-care accord (that Manitoba has yet to sign). Other provinces were getting things done,” Swan said.

“It’s unclear how he communicates, even if he communicates, with staff when he’s down in Costa Rica.”

Secondly, and even more concerning, Swan said, is the suggestion Pallister conducts government business on non-government phones or email accounts.

There are protocols in place through FIPPA that allow Opposition MLAs, media or individual citizens to obtain information about how the government is conducting its business, Swan said. “And if this premier is bypassing all of that because he wants to use some other means, that’s not acceptable,” he said.

Swan said government-issued phones and email would also be more secure. He said that’s what he used for conducting business when he was a cabinet minister.

“I’m not sure how getting a phone with a SIM card in Costa Rica or using a Gmail account, if that’s what the premier is doing, could possibly be more secure than using proper government equipment,” Swan said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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