The release of Brian Pallister's official events calendar sheds no new light on why the premier took a weeklong trip to Ottawa in mid-September as the second wave of COVID-19 was ramping up in Manitoba.
The Free Press obtained a copy of the calendar, through freedom of information legislation, after his office repeatedly refused to provide an itinerary for the trip. He left for the nation's capital on Sept. 15 and returned on the 23rd.
While in Ottawa, he joined fellow premiers Doug Ford (Ontario), Jason Kenney (Alberta) and Francois Legault (Quebec) at a Sept. 18 press conference to argue for higher health transfer payments from the federal government.
A scheduled face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sept. 21 was changed at the last minute to a teleconference session between the two leaders as Ottawa saw a surge in coronavirus cases.
But the premier and his office have supplied few other details of how he spent his time in Ottawa, and his official calendar provides no additional information.
For the five full working days he spent there — Sept. 16-18 (Wednesday-Friday) and Sept. 21-22 (Monday and Tuesday) — his calendar cites only "Ottawa meetings" for a block of time each day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. No names or meeting times are provided.
Neither does his office cite any exemptions under Manitoba's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act for failing to disclose the details.
When Pallister returned to Winnipeg, he told reporters that he made "maximum use" of his time in the nation's capital.
"I had meetings for five working days... and they were productive and positive and important," he said.
Pallister revealed that he also met virtually with Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
He said he also met with the Conference Board of Canada, the Institute of Fiscal Studies at the University of Ottawa, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Labour Congress and various senior officials in government departments.
Pallister had met with several of the same organizations during a trip to Ottawa in July. On that trip, he spent several days of personal time in the capital before cramming meetings with six organizations on the final two days of a weeklong trip. He has said he wouldn't bill taxpayers for a large chunk of that trip.
A government spokesman said Friday if the Free Press has concerns about how its freedom of information request was handled it can speak to a government FIPPA co-ordinator or appeal to the Manitoba Ombudsman's office.
NDP finance critic Mark Wasyliw said Manitobans should receive a full accounting from the premier about what he was up to during his time in Ottawa.
"Manitoba taxpayers paid for that trip. They deserve to know how their money was spent."
The Opposition has argued that Pallister's trip accomplished little and the fact that key meetings wound up being carried out via Zoom shows that he didn't need to leave the province.
"This was a critical time in Manitoba. We were struggling with testing and (contact) tracing back then and people were waiting for hours in lineups... and there was basically no one at the helm at that time," Wasyliw said.
He noted that two days after Pallister returned from his trip the Winnipeg region was put on notice that code-orange restrictions — including the requirement that masks be worn in all indoor public places — were to be imposed on Sept. 28.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said he believes the impetus for the trip was to push the Conservative premiers' narrative that a lack of federal funding is to blame for the health-care cuts that they are making.
"They’re saying to the federal government, 'If you don’t give us more money we’re going to have no choice but to cut.' So if (Ottawa) doesn’t come through, they can blame the federal government for something they actually wanted to do all the time anyway, which is cut the public system and make it more private."
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.