December 13, 2017

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Can you hear him now? Pallister uses phone in Costa Rica; email for emergencies only

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Premier Brian Pallister in his office Friday with a sample of the reading material he had with him in Costa Rica. </p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Brian Pallister in his office Friday with a sample of the reading material he had with him in Costa Rica.

For years, Manitoba's cabinet ministers, MLAs, bureaucrats and staffers have been armed with smartphones all day, every day for sending and receiving the emails and texts vital to modern-day political communication.

Except for Premier Brian Pallister.

Pallister, who took the reins at the legislature nearly nine months ago, has never used his personal government email account — anywhere.

"I don't like using email; that's going to be abhorrent to anyone under 40," Pallister said Friday following the publication of a Free Press story that raised questions about how much work he gets done and how he does it while enjoying the tropical sun at his Costa Rica vacation home.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/1/2017 (340 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For years, Manitoba's cabinet ministers, MLAs, bureaucrats and staffers have been armed with smartphones all day, every day for sending and receiving the emails and texts vital to modern-day political communication.

Except for Premier Brian Pallister.

Pallister, who took the reins at the legislature nearly nine months ago, has never used his personal government email account — anywhere.

"I don't like using email; that's going to be abhorrent to anyone under 40," Pallister said Friday following the publication of a Free Press story that raised questions about how much work he gets done and how he does it while enjoying the tropical sun at his Costa Rica vacation home.

Pallister said any communications relating to government business while he is away are conducted on the phone, and he'd only use email in an emergency.

The premier was back at the legislature this week after celebrating Christmas in Costa Rica, and will head south again shortly for much of January. He previously said he intends to spend about two months in the Central America country this year, quickly offering assurances that while he might be wearing shorts, he's on the job.

"I'm available. I'm available as needed," he said Friday.

Prior to the interview, Pallister covered his desk in government reports, books and notepads to illustrate the amount of material he packs along with sunscreen. And he said he has an Internet connection there to keep up with current events in the province.

His office has maintained that he is in regular contact with cabinet members and staff when he is away, although details remained a mystery until Friday. He said he covers any long-distance charges from Costa Rica, although some people might consider it a cost of conducting the affairs of government.

"I pay for it. We're not billing taxpayers for where I am," he said.

The premier said he's not worried about his emails being released to the public at some point through access to information legislation, citing his commitment to being open and transparent. But he has concerns about the security of government information, he said.

An email address — pally@leg.gov.mb.ca — is linked to his office, but a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act co-ordinator said it has never been used.

The Free Press contacted the offices of Canada's other premiers to find out about their email use and how they conduct government business while on vacation. Only Alberta Premier Rachel Notley's office responded.

"Premier Notley has a government email account — she uses it daily," said press secretary Cheryl Oates.

"We try to let her enjoy her time with her family," Oates said, adding Notley is available when "the need arises."

Notley hasn't taken holiday time outside Canada, she said. Notley communicates with staff via email, texts, phone calls or face-to-face contact when she's away, depending on the urgency of the issue.

 

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

kristin.annable@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Kristin Annable and Nick Martin.

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