Costa Rica travel questions follow Pallister's pitch to economic elite in Toronto

Brian Pallister made a sales pitch to Canada's economic elite Friday in Toronto, touting changes on the way that will make Manitoba more business-friendly. But Manitoba's premier was also dogged by more questions, this time from national reporters about how much time he spends vacationing in Costa Rica.

Premier tries to entice out-of-province business investment at Economic Club of Canada gathering

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister speaks to the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto Friday about the challenges facing his province, the steps his government is taking to address them and how that approach may be an example for other governments facing similar challenges. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Brian Pallister made a sales pitch to Canada's economic elite Friday in Toronto, touting changes that will make Manitoba more business-friendly. But Manitoba's premier was also dogged by more questions, this time from national news reporters, about how much time he spends vacationing in Costa Rica. 

"Part of my message to you today is to come to Manitoba and to join with us and rebuild," Pallister said to a gathering of business leaders with the Economic Club of Canada. "If any of you investors like to buy low and sell high, if you want to be part of the most improved province in Canada in the next four years, come to Manitoba."

Much of Pallister's speech focused on what his administration is doing to improve the local economy. His government won't subsidize "money-losing" companies as the previous NDP administration did, Pallister said.

After the speech, Pallister was asked for more details about how much time he spends at his properties in Costa Rica.

Pallister has come under fire for his travel since the election campaign last spring when CBC News found he had spent roughly one in five days travelling to, or in, Costa Rica since being elected party leader in 2012.

Since being elected in April 2016, Pallister has spent 36 days travelling and staying in the Central American country.

Time with family

He told reporters he spends about five weeks a year in Costa Rica, most recently over the holidays, saying it gives him a chance to be with his wife and children.

He defended the time away saying it doesn't affect his ability to do his job. He says he works a lot of nights and weekends so he doesn't see his children.

Pallister says if getting a barrage of questions about his time spent there is the cost of maintaining a relationship with his wife and daughters, then so be it.

"I don't mean to sound like I'm petulant about the realities of public life, but I do work a lot of nights. I do work a lot of weekends and so I don't see my children. We don't have the opportunities many families take for granted," Pallister said.

"If the price of my building a stronger family and relationships with my wife and my daughters is that I get questions like this, I'm happy to take the questions."

'People work remotely all the time'

At the economic gathering Friday, Pallister was asked if he would sign off on cabinet ministers or senior bureaucrats spending as much time away as he spends in Costa Rica.

"Well, totally. I think that people work remotely all the time," he said. "I work 90 per cent of the time when I am down there. I am a pretty effective manager of time.

"I think [anyone] who works understands that urgency sometimes replaces importance, and I try to make sure that doesn't happen."

Pallister says he works on speeches and does research during his time in Costa Rica.

No one should worry about it taking at least a day for him to get back to Manitoba from Central America in the event of an emergency in the province, he said.

'I'm accessible every day'

Direct flights to Toronto, Minneapolis or Chicago are scheduled at various times of the year and he's only been forced to overnight once on his way back to Winnipeg, he said.

"Frankly, it's never easy," said Pallister, who added that weather-related delays can happen to anyone who flies. "(But) I'm accessible every day. No more than a phone call away and no more than a day away from Manitoba."

Pallister said he has never missed a day at the legislature to be in Costa Rica or saddled taxpayers with any of the associated costs.​

Pallister also defended his preference for phone calls rather than communicating via less-nuanced email.

Last week, Pallister said he had limited communication with staff while he vacations in Costa Rica — trips the premier characterized to CBC as working holidays mixed with a bit of family time. 

"You shouldn't let email take over your life."

Ultimately, he said, people should focus on the results he achieves as premier and judge him on his track record.

With files from The Canadian Press and Sean Kavanagh