Multiple trips to Costa Rica prevent Brian Pallister from doing the best job possible: Democracy Watch

By spending 18.2 per cent of his time outside of Canada since 2012, Manitoba's Progressive Conservative Party Leader Brian Pallister could not have fulfilled his role, according to Democracy Watch co-founder, Duff Conacher.

Manitoba's PC Leader would have difficulty fulfilling aspects his role from Costa Rica, Duff Conacher says

Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party Leader Brian Pallister travelled to Costa Rica 15 times since he was elected in 2012, public records show. Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher said those absences would have compromised his ability to fulfill his political role. (Bert Savard/CBC)

By spending 18.2 per cent of his time outside of Canada since 2012, Manitoba's Progressive Conservative Party Leader Brian Pallister could not have fulfilled his role, according to Democracy Watch co-founder, Duff Conacher.

"I definitely think there would be things that he specifically would do [as Member of the Legislative Assembly in Manitoba's Fort Whyte constituency] that he would have difficulty doing from Costa Rica," Conacher said.

Pallister became party leader in July 2012 and was elected as MLA in September 2012 in a by-election. As of Thursday, he had been in the job for 1,317 days. On 240 of them, he was either en route to or in the Central American country, public records show.

According to the official website for the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, MLAs divide their time between their constituencies and their work in the province's legislature. The former, Conacher said, is where frequent absences from Manitoba would have been problematic for Pallister's voters.

"The [2014] flood is the best example. It's pretty difficult to help people out from Costa Rica when the flood is happening in Manitoba," Conacher said.

"That's only one part of your role, being in the legislature. Your other part … is serving voters in other ways."

No job description, no accountability

As previously reported by CBC News, MLAs are not required to report when they take vacations and have no specific vacation day allotment or sick leave, according to a Manitoba Legislative Assembly spokesperson. When the House is sitting, however, they must report any absences to the Speaker.

None of Pallister's Costa Rica trips occurred when the legislature was sitting and Paul Thomas, professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba, said taking frequent trips outside the country doesn't break any of the legislature's rules.

According to Conacher, the problem lies within the guidelines, or lack thereof, for the position of MLA.

"Democracy Watch's proposal is there should be a job description," he said.

"Voters are the employers of every politician and they have a right to know where their politician is and what they're doing other than personal time. That [information] should be on a website with daily updates."

But Conacher said MLAs report their professional activities — and where those activities take place — on a discretionary basis.

"When an MLA wants the public to know they're at a public event, they'll trumpet it. When they're golfing with a lobbyist, they don't put it up there," he said.

"The system is the scandal and it's because politicians write the rules for themselves … They usually leave all sorts of loopholes and they leave weak enforcement and weak penalties that allow them to do all sorts of things without accountability."

'I don't believe him'

That Pallister did not accurately disclose to the Winnipeg Free Press where he was on two occasions due to a memory lapse is implausible, Conacher said.

During the aforementioned 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 paper on April 2, Pallister said he was in North Dakota on his most recent trip outside of Canada. In fact, his last trip was to Costa Rica.

On Friday, Pallister told reporters he "got it wrong."

"I just don't believe him, unless Brian Pallister has a serious, serious memory loss problem," Conacher said.

"He's caught with a bad answer either way because it's either, 'Yes, I misled voters,' or 'I have a serious memory loss problem.'"

Ultimately, Pallister owes it to his voters to disclose where and when he is working, Conacher said.

"We pay their salaries and all their expenses. Don't we have a right to know if they're working or not?"

Days In legislative session by year

  • 2012 - 61 days
  • 2013 - 122 days
  • 2014 - 78 days
  • 2015 - 77 days

Source: Legislative Assembly of Manitoba

with files from Leif Larsen, Chris Glover, Vera-Lynn Kubinec, Joanne Levasseur, and Katie Nicholson

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