Pallister defiant on Costa Rica communications but will seek advice on security

Premier Brian Pallister stuck to his refusal to specify how he communicates with staff and his cabinet when away in locations such as his vacation home in Costa Rica, but will have security reviewed.

Says current system has prevented leaks of confidential information

Premier Brian Pallister says security is at the heart of his reluctance to discuss communication methods. (CBC News)

A less combative but still defiant Premier Brian Pallister continues to defend his vague descriptions of how he communicates with staff and senior members of his government while out of the province.

He said, however, that he would seek advice on how to make his communications more secure.

Pallister answered queries in Question Period and from the media for a fourth day in a row about how and why he uses non-government email accounts for work.

The clerk of the Executive Council will look at how Pallister connects for government business when he is at his vacation home in Costa Rica or out of the province at other locations.

"I have asked our clerk on security, on the security side, what other measures we could adopt in addition to the ones that he's told me were utilized in the past [because] I am very concerned that we adopt every measure possible to protect the security of information," Pallister told reporters Thursday.

Pallister says he will also pay attention to the results of inquires to Manitoba's Ombudsman by the NDP opposition.

But the premier continues to brush aside concerns that the use of private non-government designated email accounts or mobile devices are virtually impossible to be tracked under Freedom of Information legislation.

When asked if he felt the use of private devices or accounts might compromise the public's ability to track public figures, Pallister repeatedly used a defence that communications with politicians had to be protected to keep sensitive information private.
'Fingers crossed, but we haven't had a leak of any information to my knowledge': Pallister. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"It isn't a small thing to me and I think it is not a small thing to Manitobans to know that when they are contacting an MLA or cabinet minister or premier that they can be sure they can trust those people," Pallister said.

Pallister said so far sensitive information hasn't leaked out.

"And as I said I'm proud of the fact that we — and you know fingers crossed — but we haven't had a leak of any information to my knowledge. I think that's really important for Manitobans to understand," Pallister said. 

Late last year, Pallister claimed to eschew most technology, preferring books to tablets, and not using email or mobile phones. Now, he says he is in contact with staff and cabinet regularly and uses non-government email accounts.

The questions were first asked after he revealed he would be in Costa Rica for several weeks.

"[I'm in the] same place I've always been. I am a pretty well-organized guy. I only take my breaks when I am not in session and I tend to go when there is not a lot of activity or anticipated. So that allows me time to think, time to prepare, time to pray. And I use that time wisely," he says.

He says he is in contact every day.

Pallister was asked if he vacationed anywhere else beside Costa Rica. He responded that he had spent " a couple of days" last year at a cottage in northwestern Ontario owned by his wife's family, and that it had some mobile phone service.