Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister is defending the amount of time he spent at his vacation home in Costa Rica, saying he wanted to protect the privacy of his wife and daughters.
He also said he works every day even while he's away.
"I'm probably a workaholic, and I work every day at what I do, and I work hard, but I also want to protect my family's privacy and that balance," Pallister said, at a news conference.
CBC News reported on Thursday that Pallister, who represents the constituency of Fort Whyte, has spent a total of 240 days either en route to or in Costa Rica since becoming a member of the Manitoba Legislature in 2012. That works out to roughly 18.2 per cent of his time.
Pallister did not dispute CBC's reporting on his 15 trips to the Central American country since he returned to provincial politics.
"No public dollars were involved in my travel," Pallister said. "We saved for over 30 years to have a vacation property that we enjoy as a family, but I also work and I would want to be clear about that."
When asked whether he would spend the same amount of time in Costa Rica if he was elected premier as he did in the past, at first Pallister said "probably not" then later said he expects his time there to be reduced by a "considerable amount."
His comments come just days before the provincial election on April 19. The latest poll data shows his party is in position to win a majority.
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None of Pallister's trips to Costa Rica, where he has a vacation home, occurred when the legislature was sitting.
He said he did not publicly disclose his 15 trips to the Central American country because he was trying to "safeguard the protection" of his family and balance that with reporters "knowing where I am all the time."
"I do have an obligation, I feel it's an obligation, to protect my family," said Pallister.
"I signed up for this job, my wife and my daughters didn't."
Pallister challenged on inconsistencies
In interviews with the Winnipeg Free Press Pallister did not accurately disclose where he was on two occasions. During the 2014 Assiniboine River flood — a state of emergency disaster — Pallister was on a 14-day stay in Costa Rica, but he told the Free Press he was at a family wedding in Alberta.
Then in an interview published in the Free Press April 2, when asked where he went when he last left Canada, Pallister said he was in North Dakota when in fact his last trip was to Costa Rica.
"I got it wrong," said Pallister on Friday when asked whether he should apologize for the inconsistencies. The PC Leader apologized to Free Press reporter Bartley Kives for his inaccurate North Dakota answer.
Pallister added he travelled twice to western Manitoba before the flood in 2014 and once after.
"It isn't a case of not loving or caring for the people there," he said.
'I work hard every day'
Pallister defended the time spent in Costa Rica and said he regularly works 60 hours a week, even while away with his wife and daughters.
The PC leader said he often reads and writes speeches in Costa Rica and is in touch with his party in Manitoba while away.
"I spend an extensive amount of time in contact with my office while I'm there, which would be a point of disagreement with my wife," said Pallister.
"I work hard every day," he said.
Liberals and NDP critical of explanation
NDP leader Greg Selinger said Pallister should have been more forthcoming about where he was during the 2014 flood.
"The reality is he did not correct the record about his absence from the community at that time, the reasons for that, family privacy, of course, having some holidays, of course, but misleading Manitobans and covering up where you were at the time of an emergency and continuing to do that raises series issues of his leadership for the province," Selinger said.
Liberal leader Rana Bokhari said she doesn't buy Pallister's explanation.
"I mean frankly, how do you find that much time to be out and about that much. I mean I know it's hard work not even being in the legislature. So you're the leader of the party, leader of the opposition, you're an MLA for a constituency, something has to be getting dropped," she said.