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Manitoba premier defends trips to Costa Rica vacation home

Brian Pallister said he has never missed a day at the legislature to be in Costa Rica nor saddled taxpayers with any of the associated costs.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister speaks during the First Ministers Meeting in Ottawa, Friday December 9, 2016. Pallister said he spends about five weeks annually in Costa Rica — his most recent stay was over the Christmas and New Year's holidays with his wife and children.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister speaks during the First Ministers Meeting in Ottawa, Friday December 9, 2016. Pallister said he spends about five weeks annually in Costa Rica — his most recent stay was over the Christmas and New Year's holidays with his wife and children.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister defended his decision Friday to spend up to two months of the year at his vacation home in Costa Rica because it gives him a chance to see his family. 

Pallister recently told The Canadian Press that he plans to spend up to eight weeks a year in Costa Rica. After a speech at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto on Friday, he said he spends about five weeks annually in the central American country — his most recent stay was over the Christmas and New Year's holidays with his wife and children.

He defended the time away by saying it doesn't affect his ability to do his job.

"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."

Most Canadians enjoy a trip "once in a while," he said.

Pallister has come under fire for his travel since the election campaign last spring when the CBC found he had spent roughly one in five days travelling to, or in, Costa Rica since being elected party leader in 2012. He also denied being there in early 2016 when it later turned out he was.

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.

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 nor saddled taxpayers with any of the associated costs.

Good time management allows him to get necessary work done while he's away, he said.

He would also be fine with members of his cabinet or the civil service telecommuting since working remotely is commonplace, he added.

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

"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.

During his luncheon speech, Pallister painted a gloomy picture of a province languishing in economic decay and drowning in debt, but one in which the future is looking brighter with his government's plan to balance the books, slash red tape and show the country that Manitoba is both "open for business" and a welcoming investment environment.

Companies looking for subsidies, he said, are not welcome.