November 23, 2017

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Premier defends work ethic in first interview since Costa Rica communications revelations

Brian Pallister rejects notion he used private phone and email to avoid scrutiny

Premier Brian Pallister suggested the story about his out-of-country communications didn't immediately come to light because of the decisions of provincial bureaucrats who handle freedom of information requests.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Brian Pallister suggested the story about his out-of-country communications didn't immediately come to light because of the decisions of provincial bureaucrats who handle freedom of information requests.

Brian Pallister takes offence at being accused of being lazy because he doesn't send a lot of emails or make many phone calls while at his vacation home in Costa Rica.

And he rejects the notion that he used his wife's personal phone and email account for government business because he was trying to avoid public scrutiny.

In his first interview since last week's revelations about his email and phone use while abroad, Pallister defended his work ethic.

He also suggested the whole story about his out-of-country communications didn't immediately come to light because of the decisions of provincial bureaucrats who handle freedom of information requests.

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Brian Pallister takes offence at being accused of being lazy because he doesn't send a lot of emails or make many phone calls while at his vacation home in Costa Rica.

And he rejects the notion that he used his wife's personal phone and email account for government business because he was trying to avoid public scrutiny.

In his first interview since last week's revelations about his email and phone use while abroad, Pallister defended his work ethic.

He also suggested the whole story about his out-of-country communications didn't immediately come to light because of the decisions of provincial bureaucrats who handle freedom of information requests.

"I could send more emails and act like I was working (while in Costa Rica), but the fact of the matter is I'm best measured on results and outcomes," he said in a nine-minute interview late Tuesday. "And there isn't a day that goes by that I'm not thinking of a way to make Manitoba better for people here. Not one day.

"Every job I've undertaken I do with all my heart, and that's exactly what I'm doing now. Nobody like me likes to be attacked on being lazy. It's not valid. It's not fair, and I shouldn't have to be in a position of having to defend it."

He said the periods he's been away in Costa Rica since becoming premier — parts of July and August last summer, and from mid-December until just after the New Year — "tend not to be the most heavily active government times."

"Would there be the same frequency of interaction (with staff) if a man delegated intelligently? How is it an indication of my effectiveness as a leader the number of emails, texts and phone calls I make between Christmas and New Year's?"

New questions about how the premier spends his time while abroad emerged last week after the NDP released the results of a series of freedom of information or FIPPA requests. The results showed little contact between the premier and senior staff or ministers while he was out of the country. They also showed that Pallister frequently uses a private phone and email account in his wife's name for government business, including for receiving a draft of this year's budget speech and sensitive information concerning a legal case.

On the very day that the province decided — after being pressured by the ombudsman — to release the information to the NDP, the government created a new policy barring the use of private communication devices for government business.

NDP Minto MLA Andrew Swan said Tuesday the premier and senior government staff misled Manitobans about their communications practices before the ombudsman's interventions.

Swan said earlier FIPPAs requesting emails and phone records between Pallister and senior staff while the premier was away always came up empty.

"The premier, unfortunately, has surrounded himself with people who appear to be practising a culture of deception," the former NDP justice minister said. "If it was one call or one email that was forgotten, I think anybody could understand that, but we are now seeing that the premier seems to have come up with an alternative way of communicating, using other than his government email and other than his government phone.

"They’re now creating policies because the premier has now created a culture of trying to get around the (FIPPA) law and get around what was common sense for the previous government (to use government phones and email for government business). And it’s unfortunate that’s been necessary. If it means that the premier will admit he’s wrong and change his ways, that’s a positive step. But it should never have come to this."

Pallister had a different explanation as to why earlier responses to NDP FIPPA requests failed to turn up records relating to his wife's phone and email. He said the FIPPA official charged with responding to the NDP's requests based their decision on past practices.

"I'm not blaming the FIPPA co-ordinator, but the questions that the FIPPA co-ordinator wants to answer, they answer. I'm not the one that takes charge of that."

Pallister said he wishes he had done more research a year ago or so before deciding to use a private device for government business — a decision he claimed was to avoid burdening the taxpayer with communication bills related to his travel to Costa Rica.

"If I had any regret it would be that we didn't dive deeper into that topic earlier — of government versus personal devices," he said.

Pallister said he asked a senior government official early on if a private phone would be any less secure than a government one, and was told there was no difference.

He said he has since learned that there are ways of enhancing security on government devices so they are more secure than private ones.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Larry Kusch.

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Updated on Tuesday, August 8, 2017 at 8:56 PM CDT: adds new photo, related stories

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