Phone records show no calls between Manitoba premier, senior staff during 19 days in Costa Rica
Pallister has said he's in touch 'virtually every day' while vacationing in Costa Rica
Phone records from Brian Pallister's senior staff suggest the Manitoba premier didn't make or receive a single call to his staff via landline at his vacation home in Costa Rica during the roughly 20 days he was there in July and August 2016.
The records, obtained by the Opposition New Democrats through freedom-of-information laws and provided to CBC News, show there was no international calling or texting between the premier and his chief of staff, special assistant, director of communications or cabinet ministers in those months. The original request, made in December of last year, also named 10 other members of his executive council.
During that time, Pallister spent 19 days in Costa Rica over two trips, one between July 8 and 15 and another between Aug. 25 and Sept. 4.
Pallister has said he's available every day while in Costa Rica and is in touch "virtually every day."
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But he has declined to share specifics on how he's contacting staff, citing security concerns.
"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 told reporters in May.
Questions about how he communicates while abroad have surrounded the premier for months. Last July, a similar freedom-of-information request could not find any records of email correspondence between the premier and senior staff, either.
The NDP request also shows the premier's wife, Esther Pallister, was sent sensitive documents via her personal email account on multiple occasions, including legal opinions and budget papers days before the budget itself was made public.
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The premier has not been made available for an interview on the subject.
Chisholm Pothier, the premier's director of communications, pointed to a new policy that came into effect on July 14 of this year requiring the premier and his staff to use only government-issued phones and email accounts for communication.
"I expect he'll do a media [availability] at some point between now and the next election and he will be asked whatever the media wants to ask him," Pothier wrote in an email earlier this week.
'That's not good enough'
NDP justice critic Andrew Swan said Pallister "misled" Manitobans by saying he communicates regularly while in Costa Rica.
"It's very clear that even within months of being elected to govern this province, he didn't think there was anything pressing enough to stop him from being unplugged for weeks at a time down in Costa Rica," Swan said. "That's not good enough."
Manitoba political analyst Christopher Adams said the lack of phone or email records so far doesn't mean Pallister isn't communicating at all while away, but if he's using other technology — like Skype — that raises concerns, too.
"There might be some ways of communicating that we don't know about but we haven't heard from the premier's office what those are," Adams said.
"The question is, how secure are communications if you're communicating through those sorts of avenues?"
Adams said the premier will have to break his silence on the issue.
"The premier will have to address this. I think he probably feels this is going to blow over," Adams said. "This is of concern to people because there are some very major issues that are happening in the province."
With files from Kristin Annable, Bartley Kives and Aidan Geary