November 11, 2019

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Costa Rican controversies create unnecessary distraction

Editorial

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/6/2018 (506 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/6/2018 (506 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Surely, it should be among the questions most frequently asked in circles populated by this province’s Progressive Conservative supporters, strategists, staff and elected members: why?

Why, in the name of all things fiscally responsible, socially conservative and politically progressive, can the leader of this party and premier of this province not stop obscuring the accumulated accomplishments of Manitoba’s two-year-old government with continuing distractions and controversy linked to his Costa Rican vacation property?

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Premier Brian Pallister </p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Brian Pallister

The opportunity to trumpet Tory successes is undermined by yet another cluster of Costa Rican concerns.

Premier Brian Pallister was in the headlines again this week for reasons that should confound the Tory faithful even more than they perplex the general public, as more questions arose about the Costa Rican estate, specifically related to allegations that Mr. Pallister has failed — through either bureaucratic delay or inexplicable inaction — to reassess the value of the home as required by local laws.

Without the required reassessment, it remains impossible to determine whether the taxes on the property are paid in full, as Mr. Pallister has continually claimed, or in arrears, as information provided by Costa Rican officials seems to suggest. At issue is a luxury tax imposed in Costa Rica on larger properties in an effort to generate revenue to improve housing for the poor.

The tax was instituted in 2009 and is levied in addition to standard Costa Rican property taxes. Earlier this week, it was reported that Mr. Pallister and his wife, Esther, through their holding company, have failed to reassess the vacation home as required; a civic official in Costa Rica later confirmed that Mr. Pallister has not submitted the required property declaration form at the municipal level since the home was constructed in 2008.

When pressed for an explanation, the premier reverted to a familiar set of responses, stating he has taken all the necessary steps, he’s waiting for a report back, it takes a long time to obtain a property appraisal in Costa Rica and he still doesn’t know when he’ll know whether he owes taxes.

This is clearly not a subject Mr. Pallister enjoys discussing publicly. He has disputed media reports about the Costa Rican estate’s size and value — which would determine whether the property is subject to the luxury tax — and has threatened to sue the Free Press over its stories probing the possibility of associated tax arrears.

"If we owe money, we’ll pay it," was the premier’s answer in April. But this week’s revelations suggest the actions necessary to determine the "If we owe" portion of that pledge have still not been completed.

So, again... why?

As his government moves forward with its fiscally prudent agenda, making measured progress on health-care reform and, more recently, successfully negotiating a federal-provincial funding agreement for much-need flood relief measures in Manitoba’s Interlake, the opportunity to trumpet Tory successes is undermined by yet another cluster of Costa Rican concerns.

"These sorts of things do take the premier and his government off-message," observed political scientist Christopher Adams.

Indeed. But what’s the reason? If it’s a simple case of bureaucratic wheels moving slowly in Costa Rica, Mr. Pallister deserves whatever sympathy can be afforded someone suffering such a first-world problem.

But if it’s a matter of Mr. Pallister deliberately not attending to details for reasons of personal stubbornness and/or strategic tax avoidance, then he really is compelled to directly face his Progressive Conservative colleagues and provide a thoughtful and substantial answer when they ask the inevitable question about the unnecessary distraction that just won’t go away: for goodness’s sake, why?

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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