Brian Pallister is enjoying time with his family instead of joining a delegation of Canadian premiers this weekend in Washington, where trade will be top of mind.
A spokeswoman for Pallister confirmed Thursday he would not attend. She said the premier was "enjoying some time away with his family."
Five of his peers — Saskatchewan's Scott Moe, Alberta's Jason Kenney, Ontario's Doug Ford, Quebec's Francois Legault and New Brunswick's Blaine Higgs — will take part in the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, a three-day event beginning on Friday.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland will also be in Washington for meetings with U.S. officials at the same time.
Despite agreement on a new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal last year, Canada remains concerned about Buy American policies and rising U.S. protectionist sentiment.
The United States is by far Manitoba's most important export market, with sales there totalling $10.9 billion in 2018. (The province's total exports that year stood at $15.7 billion.)
Key exports include farm products and machinery, electricity, aircraft parts, pharmaceuticals and buses.
"We're as dependent on the U.S. as any other province is. This is our big trading partner, there's no question about that," said Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce.
However, he said he would "give the premier the benefit of the doubt" as to why he chose not to attend.
"Would it be ideal if he were at this? Probably. But I don't think it's going to negatively impact Manitoba businesses to any great extent," Davidson said.
Pallister has been more reluctant to show the flag at such events than his predecessors.
For example, former premiers Gary Filmon and Gary Doer were fixtures at western U.S. governors' meetings, and Greg Selinger attended them as well. But Pallister has avoided the events.
If Pallister went to Washington this weekend, he would likely have the opportunity to meet with important senate and congressional delegations.
One prominent businessman who asked not to be named said such face-to-face meetings are important.
"If you're mingling and talking, it makes it easier to deal with tough issues when they arise. If you don't take advantage of these opportunities to build a relationship, it's harder to solve the big problems going forward," he said.
"Everybody is entitled to a vacation, but I think as premier you have a duty to Manitobans to promote our exports, especially with our largest trading partner." - NDP finance critic Mark Wasyliw
NDP finance critic Mark Wasyliw said Pallister should have structured his vacation time so as to attend the event.
"Everybody is entitled to a vacation, but I think as premier you have a duty to Manitobans to promote our exports, especially with our largest trading partner," he said. "We need to grow our economy in Manitoba to pay for health care, for the services Manitobans rely on, and this is the government being asleep at the switch."
Manitoba did not send a cabinet minister or any other representatives in the premier's place, his spokeswoman said.
In an emailed statement, she noted that Pallister and Freeland "have an ongoing and extremely positive working relationship."
"The two have met twice in the last two months to discuss a variety of topics of joint interest and concern, including (U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal) ratification, international trade and inter-provincial trade," she wrote.
Saskatchewan's Moe, this year's chairman of the Council of the Federation (comprising the premiers of each of Canada's 13 provinces and territories), is leading the provincial leaders in Washington.
He acknowledged earlier in the week that U.S. protectionist sentiment is on the rise, making it critical to continue to engage key trading partners on issues both within and outside the USMCA, such as the ever-present softwood lumber dispute.
"For Saskatchewan, that's over 150 countries around the world; 55 per cent of our product does go to the U.S. All the more reason for us to be on the ground in those particular areas of interest," Moe said.
— with files from the Canadian Press
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.
Updated on Thursday, February 6, 2020 at 10:03 PM CST: Fixes typo.