5 weeks? 7 weeks? Premier hounded over time in Costa Rica at question period

The answer to how long Premier Brian Pallister spent in Costa Rica last year seems to depend on one thing: when you start counting.

Cool welcome back as Pallister walks back 6-8 weeks comment; '5 weeks after the election is what I said'

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister say he won't return to Costa Rica until August at the latest. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

The answer to how long Premier Brian Pallister spent in Costa Rica last year seems to depend on one thing: when you start counting.

If you ask Pallister, the counting begins after the election — which is five weeks. If you ask the Opposition NDP it begins on Jan. 1, 2016, which brings that number to over seven weeks.

Pallister's two months in the tropical locale have been used as constant cannon fodder by the New Democrats, who have spent the first two days of question period hammering Pallister on his past and future vacation plans.

'We find out more and more' about Pallister's visits to Costa Rica, says NDP MLA Andrew Swan. (CBC)
"The premier is trying to hide that both as Opposition leader and as premier that unlike virtually every Manitoban he represents, he is entitled to be far away from Manitoba for eight weeks a year," said New Democrat MLA Andrew Swan.

"Every time the media has dug in and done hard work or we have asked questions as the Opposition, we find out more and more things."

Following question period, Pallister clarified questions about his travel timeline and accused the NDP of misrepresenting the time he spends at his vacation home in the Central American country. He also told media he doesn't plan to return to Costa Rica until August or September of this year. 

"The NDP have been misrepresenting and some journalists have been misrepresenting repeatedly the time I spend or plan to spend in Costa Rica and I made that clarification almost seven weeks ago and it continues to be falsely reported," he said.

The CBC obtained Pallister's updated travel records for 2016, which show his entry and exit records into the country.

The records reveal Pallister spent at least 51 days — or 7.5 weeks — in Costa Rica during 2016. 

'I am always available'

Pallister spent just over 10 weeks in Costa Rica in 2015 and over 12 weeks in 2014.

Pallister told the Canadian Press while visiting Toronto in January that he spends about five weeks annually in Costa Rica — walking back remarks he had made the previous month that he typically spends six to eight weeks in Costa Rica a year. 

When asked a few days later if had changed his travel plans, he replied, "We did five weeks last year in total and I would emphasize I am always available."

When asked Thursday about the inconsistencies, he clarified the record, explaining that it was five weeks since becoming premier. The travel records back that up, showing Pallister spent roughly 36 days in Costa Rica between election day and the end of the year.

"Five weeks after the election is what I said," he said, then repeated he was referring to dates he was in Costa Rica since the April 19 election.

"So it was five weeks, two weeks at Christmas and three the rest of the year."

Away during 2014 flood

Pallister came under fire during the 2016 provincial election campaign after a CBC investigation revealed he was in Costa Rica during the summer floods of 2014. He told media at the time he was at a wedding in Alberta when the province declared a state of emergency over the flood in July.

The same investigation also revealed Pallister spent nearly 20 per cent of his time in the sunny locale since becoming an MLA in 2013.

Pallister has been steadfast in insisting he does work while in Costa Rica, despite the fact he rarely uses emails — he prefers to use the phone. 

"I prefer direct contact by phone or face-to-face ahead of email because emails can sometimes be misunderstood," he told CBC in January.

Pallister has said the quiet time he has in Costa Rica gives him an opportunity to focus and be with his family.

"I write my own speeches so I tend to use that time where I don't have as many interruptions to effectively manage those types of tasks," the premier said. 

With files from Sean Kavanaugh