'I'm available every day:' Manitoba premier won't defend Costa Rica trips
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, May 10, 2017 6:35PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 10, 2017 6:57PM EDT
WINNIPEG -- Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he doesn't have to explain his work habits or reveal how he communicates with staff while at his vacation home in Costa Rica.
"I work harder than any premier that's been around here for a long, long time. I don't have to defend my work ethic to you or anyone else," Pallister said following question period Wednesday.
"I'm available every day and I'm in touch virtually every day."
The issue of Caribbean communications has become a dominant theme in Manitoba politics since Pallister said in December he planned to spend between six and eight weeks a year at his vacation home. He later revised the estimate to five weeks.
Pallister has said he works hard while on vacation and communicates regularly with his staff and others. But he cites security concerns for not revealing how he stays in touch.
"I'm not outlining the detail of how I communicate because it would defeat the purpose of the security which I want around all information."
NDP justice critic Andrew Swan has accused Pallister of being completely disconnected from work, because documents obtained through Manitoba's freedom-of-information law show no records of phone calls between Pallister and senior staff during his last four trips to Costa Rica.
Pallister has said taxpayers do not pay a dime for his communication costs while he's away, which leaves open the possibility that he uses personal phones or email addresses that would not be subject to freedom-of-information requests.
The New Democrats had their own Caribbean communications problem this week when it was revealed NDP backbencher Rob Altemeyer rang up a $5,000 cellphone bill during a wedding vacation in Mexico earlier this year.
Altemeyer said Wednesday he thought he was using the hotel's wireless network instead of his cell signal and never received a message from his cellphone provider -- Bell-MTS -- that he was using international roaming fees.
"I am talking with the service provider to see if we can come to an understanding on resolving it," Altemeyer said.
The bill, like all other monthly invoices, was sent directly to the Members' Allowances Office -- the legislature bureau that oversees politicians' spending accounts, Altemeyer said.
"The bills have already been paid by the time I see what the amount is ... and this month I found out -- after the bill was paid -- that it was a lot more than it usually is."
Bell-MTS said all users are warned of roaming fees when they cross international borders.