WINNIPEG â€” Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister cited security concerns Monday as he refused to answer opposition questions about how he stays in touch with staff while at his vacation home in Costa Rica.
Pallister has been criticized since saying last year he plans to spend up to eight weeks a year at his vacation property. He has since said it will be closer to five weeks this year.
Pallister has repeatedly said he regularly communicates with staff and is always accessible, but refused to say how Monday as he appeared before a legislature committee.
"I'm trying to protect the confidentiality and the information flow that I'm responsible for as premier at all times, and I'll continue to do that because cabinet confidence matters," Pallister said in response to questions from NDP justice critic Andrew Swan.
"What (Swan) is interpreting as reluctance is really a very, very sincere commitment to make sure that I don't say or do anything that would give less security to the information flows on a daily basis."
Swan said there is no reason the premier could not specify how he communicates â€” via landline, cellphone, email or some other avenue.
"He claims his government is being open and transparent, yet he won't even answer simple questions that are very specific," Swan said.
Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the province's freedom-of-information law show Pallister did not send or receive any calls on his government-issued cellphone during a two-week trip to Costa Rica last December.
Documents obtained by the New Democrats under the same law indicate there were no records of phone calls between the premier and three senior staff members â€” his communications manager, chief of staff and director of issues management â€” during Pallister's last four trips to Costa Rica.
Pallister has previously said he covers all his communication costs in Costa Rica himself, which leaves open the possibility that he uses a personal cellphone.
He has also said he rarely, if ever, uses email because he prefers the more direct interaction of phone calls, but told the committee he uses "a variety of email accounts."
Swan told the committee he was disappointed the premier could not provide details to prove that he stays on top of work while in Costa Rica.
Pallister said he would seek advice into whether he should reveal which senior staff he communicated with and when.
In the meantime, he said Swan should know that he keeps on top of events.
"I want the member to be assured that I stay in regular touch and I'm accessible, through my office, to every member of our team as is needed."
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press