September 21, 2017

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Premier changes story about contact with staff while in Costa Rica

Premier Brian Pallister has backed away from past assertions that he remains in regular contact with his staff while at his vacation home in Costa Rica. He now says he's "accessible" and "available," as the need arises.

At a news conference Wednesday, his first since last week's revelations about his communications practices while abroad, the premier said he's focused on his job every day.

“Not a day goes by that I’m not available, accessible. Not a day goes by that I’m not focused on the job of making Manitoba a better place for the people who live here.”

When it was suggested that being available was different than communicating regularly with staff, Pallister responded: “Well, frankly, if sending emails and phone calls was your measure of effectiveness, we should have a teenager as the premier of Manitoba.”

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Premier Brian Pallister has backed away from past assertions that he remains in regular contact with his staff while at his vacation home in Costa Rica. He now says he's "accessible" and "available," as the need arises.

At a news conference Wednesday, his first since last week's revelations about his communications practices while abroad, the premier said he's focused on his job every day.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister talks about his travel and communication activities in his office at the Manitoba Legislature.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister talks about his travel and communication activities in his office at the Manitoba Legislature.

"Not a day goes by that I’m not available, accessible. Not a day goes by that I’m not focused on the job of making Manitoba a better place for the people who live here."

When it was suggested that being available was different than communicating regularly with staff, Pallister responded: "Well, frankly, if sending emails and phone calls was your measure of effectiveness, we should have a teenager as the premier of Manitoba."

Pallister said he's effective in how he manages his time and he has a reputation for being dedicated and focused on the task at hand.

New questions about how much work Pallister does while in Costa Rica emerged last week after the NDP released the results of a series of freedom of information (FIPPA) requests. The results showed little contact between the premier and senior staff or ministers while he was abroad on three occasions last year, particularly during two trips last summer.

Private phone used

Government records obtained under FIPPA also showed Pallister frequently has frequently used a private phone and email account in his wife's name for government business. The records showed that a draft of a budget speech and a potentially sensitive legal opinion were sent to the premier via Esther Pallister's private email account.

Last month, as the premier's communications practices were about to be revealed at the urging of Manitoba's ombudsman, the province implemented a new policy requiring that all ministers and staff use government-issued communication devices for government business.

Meanwhile, Pallister suggested Wednesday that his wife plays a significant advisory role in his business dealings.

"She doesn’t receive a salary from the taxpayers of Manitoba. She’s my principal adviser and confidante in my life," he said. "She’ll remain so."

"She screens messages and so on so that when I’m home with my family, I can be home with my family." - Pallister on his wife's handling of government emails

Pallister also revealed that his wife Esther was the recipient of government emails when he served as the Member of Parliament for Portage-Lisgar in the 2000s and served as chairman of the House of Commons finance committee.

He said his wife has long acted as a gatekeeper between him and the job when he is away from the office.

"She screens messages and so on so that when I’m home with my family, I can be home with my family. This is part of our motivation as a family," he said. "It’s part of the reason, quite frankly, I think that there’s strength in our marriage and our relationship with each other and our children."

'It’s time for this premier to take responsibility'

NDP MLA Andrew Swan said the premier should have been upfront when asked originally about how he communicates with staff while he's abroad.

"It’s time for this premier to take responsibility and to apologize for having misled the Opposition, the media and the people of Manitoba for months and months and months," he said Wednesday.

Swan again accused Pallister of using his wife's cellphone and email accounts to conduct government business in an attempt to avoid scrutiny under FIPPA, which the premier has repeatedly denied.

Pallister has said his wife's phone and account were used to ensure he paid for the costs of all communications with colleagues and staff when he was out of the country.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

 

Read more by Larry Kusch.

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Updated on Wednesday, August 9, 2017 at 3:42 PM CDT: Adds video

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