November 16, 2018

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Pallister addresses Costa Rican tax issue, mum on potential lawsuit against Free Press

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Premier Brian Pallister scrums with the media at a town hall on the proposed Lake Manitoba outlet in St. Laurent, Manitoba on Monday.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Premier Brian Pallister scrums with the media at a town hall on the proposed Lake Manitoba outlet in St. Laurent, Manitoba on Monday.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/4/2018 (213 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he’s still determining whether he owes luxury taxes on his vacation home — nearly two weeks after telling the public he would get to the bottom of the latest controversy involving his Costa Rican property.

Speaking to reporters Monday after a meeting in St. Laurent, Pallister refused to discuss a potential legal action he is considering against the Winnipeg Free Press for its coverage of his tax situation.

“It’s potentially a lawsuit, and so I won’t comment on it,” he said.

A day after the Free Press published a story that revealed taxation issues surrounding his Costa Rican home, the premier vowed to determine whether his property was subject to the Central American country’s luxury tax and, if it was, he would pay it.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/4/2018 (213 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he’s still determining whether he owes luxury taxes on his vacation home — nearly two weeks after telling the public he would get to the bottom of the latest controversy involving his Costa Rican property.

Speaking to reporters Monday after a meeting in St. Laurent, Pallister refused to discuss a potential legal action he is considering against the Winnipeg Free Press for its coverage of his tax situation.

"It’s potentially a lawsuit, and so I won’t comment on it," he said.

A day after the Free Press published a story that revealed taxation issues surrounding his Costa Rican home, the premier vowed to determine whether his property was subject to the Central American country’s luxury tax and, if it was, he would pay it.

"We’ll do the right thing. We’ll investigate... and if we owe money, we’ll pay it," the premier said April 4. He had been silent on the issue ever since

On Friday, Pallister’s lawyer, Robert Tapper, put the Free Press on notice of a possible defamation suit. In order to avoid any legal action, Tapper made a number of demands on the Free Press, including a front-page apology and a requirement the newspaper reveal its source for the story.

"These articles by their ordinary meaning of the words contained or the innuendos of same, create the impression that premier Pallister flouted the law of Costa Rica, ignored tax obligations and did not make tax payments that were due and owing," Tapper said in a formal notice under the Defamation Act, delivered to the Free Press.

On Monday, Pallister did not challenge the story’s central premise, but said it was "not true" his vacation home was 7,700 square feet in size, as has been widely reported. He declined to say how large it is.

He also took issue with any suggestion the home is "ocean-front property," a term the Free Press has not used. Pallister said the home is "10 miles from the ocean." The Free Press has described his property as being located near Tamarindo, which is located along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.

As for the still-unanswered questions about the luxury tax and his Costa Rican home, Pallister had this to say to reporters: "We’re making that determination as we speak. There’s a process to do that, and that involves a number of things. So, we’ve embarked on that."

Pallister was absent from the legislature Monday afternoon when the Opposition NDP asked about the threat of a lawsuit in question period.

The premier was on the road, meeting with Delta Beach community members and the Manitoba Association of Cottage Owners, following a community meeting earlier in the day in St. Laurent, 90 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, where he vowed swift action on building an outlet channel for Lake Manitoba.

Justice Minister Heather Stefanson, who is also deputy premier, deflected questions about the lawsuit threat, challenging the NDP’s priorities and accusing it of conducting a smear campaign.

NDP MLA Andrew Swan said Pallister promised to provide more information on his tax situation and then he "lawyered up."

"He’s hired (lawyer) Robert Tapper to try to intimidate the Winnipeg Free Press into silence. Who’s paying for the premier’s lawyer?" Swan asked in the legislature.

Later, Swan referred to a media story in which political scientist Christopher Adams said he had never heard of a Manitoba premier threatening to sue a media outlet. "I’ve studied Manitoba politics going back to the 1870s, and I don’t recall anything like this before in Manitoba," Adams told the CBC.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of the advocacy group Democracy Watch, said legal threats by politicians against media outlets — at least those that become public — are relatively rare.

"I haven’t heard of it very much at all, and I’m guessing they usually try to do it quietly because... there’s a political cost in trying to silence the media."

Paul Thomas, a retired University of Manitoba political scientist, said he is not surprised, given Pallister’s "combative style," that he issued a legal threat.

"This may be Tapper huffing and puffing and hoping that he’ll weaken the spine of the institution of the Winnipeg Free Press," he said of the lawyer’s letter.

— with files from Nick Martin

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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