Manitoba premier says he doesn't have to defend work ethic or time in Costa Rica

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he is the hardest-working premier in recent memory and doesn't have to reveal how he stays in touch with work while at his Costa Rica vacation home.

Premier Brian Pallister has said he can't say how he communicates with staff while away for security reasons

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he is the hardest-working premier in recent memory. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he is the hardest-working premier in recent memory and doesn't have to reveal how he stays in touch with work while at his Costa Rica vacation home.

Pallister is facing renewed questions about how reachable he is during the several weeks a year he spends in Costa Rica.

The Opposition New Democrats say there is no evidence of phone logs or email exchanges sent or received by Pallister while he has been away.

Pallister has refused to answer questions about whether he uses a telephone or other form of communication while down south, citing security reasons.

He says revealing his method of communication would compromise the security of information he handles.

Pallister says he regularly puts in long hours and does not have to defend his work ethic to anyone  or reveal how he communicates with staff.

"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.