News / Winnipeg

Manitoba premier bristles at questions about using wife's email in Costa Rica

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister speaks at a press conference during the Council of Federation meetings in Edmonton Alta, on Tuesday July 18, 2017. Pallister is bristling at questions about his use of his wife's personal email account and cellphone to conduct government business while at their vacation home in Costa Rica.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister speaks at a press conference during the Council of Federation meetings in Edmonton Alta, on Tuesday July 18, 2017. Pallister is bristling at questions about his use of his wife's personal email account and cellphone to conduct government business while at their vacation home in Costa Rica.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

WINNIPEG — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is bristling at questions about his use of his wife's personal email account and cellphone to conduct government business while at their vacation home in Costa Rica.

While government records indicate he didn't communicate with his staff each day, he said was "accessible" every day.

"Frankly, if sending emails and phone calls is your measure of effectiveness, we should have a teenager as the premier of Manitoba," Pallister said at a news conference Wednesday.

Last December, documents show government staff reached out to his wife, Esther, through her email account while trying to set up a conference call with Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen.

A document obtained by the Opposition New Democrats shows a draft of this year's budget speech was emailed to Esther Pallister nine days before the budget was delivered.

Pallister took exception to questions about his wife's access to confidential government information.

He said he has shared information with his wife for 25 years and they have never been associated with a leak. His wife has acted for years as his gatekeeper, including screening calls and emails to allow him to spend time with his family, Pallister said.

Pallister appeared to take umbrage when asked if his wife is a government employee.

"No. Are you questioning my wife's integrity?" he said. "She doesn't receive a salary from the taxpayers of Manitoba. She is my principal adviser and confidante in my life and she will remain so."

Pallister said it's possible he used his wife's email account during his career as a Conservative MP, including when he served as chairman of the Commons finance committee and as a parliamentary secretary.

He reiterated that he now uses government equipment and accounts.

"Because I take it seriously, we have stepped up the practices," he said.

"We are taking action to change those rules to make them more effective. We are trying to stay ahead of those who would try to access government information for mischief or personal gain."

Pallister said his position about the emails and his work habits haven't really changed and the media need to figure that out.

"A few weeks ago, I was a totalitarian dictator and a control freak and now I am supposed to be lazy."

His vacation home in Costa Rica has been an ongoing issue for Pallister since last December when he said he planned to spend up to eight weeks a year there.

When the issue came up again in May, Pallister said he didn't have to reveal how he communicates with staff while at his vacation home.

"I work harder than any premier that's been around here for a long, long time," he said. "I don't have to defend my work ethic to you or anyone else."

— By John Cotter in Edmonton

More on Metronews.ca