August 12, 2020

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Pallister shines little light on Ottawa trip

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he won't be billing taxpayers for a large chunk of his weeklong trip to Ottawa earlier this month.

At a news conference Tuesday, Pallister spoke for the first time publicly about the trip, including an incident at Pearson International Airport, where he and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer were caught violating the rules requiring the wearing of face masks in the Toronto terminal.

Pallister left for Ottawa July 1, but did not participate in any meetings until July 6-7, during which he packed six meetings with business groups and think tanks over the course of a day-and-a-half.

Premier Brian Pallister spoke with media about his trip to Ontario at the Legislative building on Tuesday.

JESSE BOILY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Brian Pallister spoke with media about his trip to Ontario at the Legislative building on Tuesday.

Asked Tuesday if the trip was a combination of business and vacation time, Pallister said he sought advice from the chief provincial public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, before venturing into a part of Canada that has recorded a far greater incidence of COVID-19 than Manitoba.

"(Roussin) said that approximately a four-day period of isolation would allow me to monitor my symptoms and see if I caught anything on the plane," the premier said. "Essentially, that's how I took it."

Pallister said he followed the doctor's advice, although he didn't elaborate on how he spent his time, except it was in the national capital region.

Neither did he wish to elaborate on the involvement of his wife, Esther, who joined him in Ottawa, while also spending time with their daughter in Toronto. She is now self-isolating at home, he said.

As an elected official, Pallister is exempt from having to self-isolate.

When Pallister first announced to reporters at the end of June he was heading to the national capital, he made no mention his wife would be accompanying him or that the trip coincided with his 66th birthday (July 6), which he celebrated in Ottawa.

"Taxpayers of Manitoba don't get a bill for four days of me waiting to see if I'm healthy, though," he said Tuesday of his four days of self-monitoring.

Apart from providing a list of the organizations with whom the premier met, his office has provided little information about the trip, other than to say the province's chief civil servant, David McLaughlin, accompanied Pallister at his business meetings.

Following his return to Winnipeg on July 7, Pallister issued a brief statement about his failure to wear a face mask at the Toronto airport, calling it "an error on my part" and promising "it won't happen again."

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, right, and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister are shown not wearing masks at Pearson Airport in Toronto last Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO</p>

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, right, and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister are shown not wearing masks at Pearson Airport in Toronto last Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

Several persons took photos of Pallister and Scheer at the airport, posting them on social media.

On Tuesday, without mentioning Scheer and a second person by name, the premier explained the incident further, saying: "I was wearing a mask until I approached two people who weren't. And then, not having seen them for a year, I thought it best to slide my mask down to talk to them — at an appropriate distance."

It's not the first time the premier has made news — for the wrong reasons — while travelling outside the province.

Last year, Pallister said he would be representing Manitoba at a ceremony in France to honour Canadian soldiers who fought on D-Day during the Second World War.

"Taxpayers of Manitoba don't get a bill for four days of me waiting to see if I'm healthy, though." — Brian Pallister

However, it was later learned the premier skipped the main event, meeting instead with representatives of French agribusiness Roquette, the food manufacturing giant that is investing $400 million in a pea-processing facility in Portage la Prairie.

Pallister also raised eyebrows two years ago, when he travelled 1,220 kilometres by car to Iowa, accompanied by his wife, to meet with researchers to learn more about the effects of cannabis-impaired driving. One expert the premier met with said the two had "a good chat," although he was surprised Pallister did not take any staff along with him to the meeting.

Pallister v. CERB

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says Ottawa should redesign the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit so it does not penalize Canadians wishing to return to work.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says Ottawa should redesign the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit so it does not penalize Canadians wishing to return to work.

Pallister told a news conference Tuesday that CERB was "essential" at the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The program pays $2,000 over a four-week period to those who stopped working during COVID-19 or saw their EI benefits run out.

However, CERB is increasingly acting as a disincentive to work for some Canadians, as they are cut off from the federal program if their earnings rise above $1,000 a month, Pallister said.

"Now is the time to shift our focus more to recovery to help Manitobans and Canadians to get back to work," the premier said.

Pallister said Manitoba recognized the disincentive to work early on and created the Manitoba Job Restart Program to support those who voluntarily come off CERB and take full-time work. More than 2,500 Manitobans have applied for the restart program, with hundreds of new applications being received daily, he said.

The premier suggested the federal government consider a phased reduction of CERB benefits — rather than a sharp cutoff — so workers can return to their old jobs or start new jobs without losing money.

He also applauded Finance Minister Bill Morneau's decision to extend a federal wage subsidy program until the end of December.

A spokesperson for Carla Qualtrough, federal minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, said Ottawa is continuing to assess how best to support Canadian workers affected by the pandemic, and is "evaluating a number of existing systems including those that deliver the CERB and EI" as the country shifts to recovery.

"No decisions have been taken as of yet," she said in an email.

Pallister did not bill taxpayers for the trip.

Meanwhile, the premier said his meetings in Ottawa were productive and he is keen on setting up a "task force" that will include several cabinet ministers for a return trip in the first half of August.

"You can get a lot done with Skype; you can get a lot done through electronic means. But I think face-to-face meetings have a place," he said.

While in Ottawa, the premier met with representatives of the Parliamentary Budget Office, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Macdonald-Laurier Institute, Business Council of Canada, Conference Board of Canada and the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa.

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.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Tuesday, July 14, 2020 at 11:08 PM CDT: Fixes multiple typos

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