03:12:31 am on
Sunday 16 Jun 2024

The Working Vacation
David Simmonds

Politicians that fly a little too close to the vacation sun often receive their come-uppance. When Justin Trudeau and his family and friends enjoyed the helicoptered hospitality of the Aga Khan at his private island off the Bahamas, he touched a raw nerve.  

A politician too close to the vacation sun gets his come comeuppance.

Then there is the case of Manitoba premier, Brian Pallister. Mr. Pallister spent 34 days of 2016 in Costa Rica and plans to spend up to 58 days there in 2017. The premier’s office states this will be working vacation time. It also acknowledges the premier stays in touch with his office not by e-mail, but by phone. This distancing enables him to ensure “the urgent does not overtake the important” and to “focus uninterrupted attention on policy documents, research materials and speechwriting,”

Some Manitobans seem to have difficulty accepting the Pallister explanation. They decry the premier is apparent unwillingness to put in longer hours on the job; a complaint he addressed in the past by noting that when he is in Manitoba he regularly puts in 16-hour days. They complain that Mr. Pallister, by eschewing e-mail, is stuck with stone-age technology, which is embarrassing to the province’s reputation. They worry the province does not come off looking good when its leading light shines dimly from a refuge in Central America.

Surely, these criticisms don’t withstand analysis. As to the absence of long hours on the job, if we measured success by time spent on the job, we would be rewarding the time-wasters of the world; those that don’t know how to separate what’s important from what’s trivial. It would be like saying you can distinguish a good County councillor from a not-so-good one by noting how many times she attended meetings and read her materials beforehand.

Bush 43 took 879 vacation days in 8 years and no one notice.

George W Bush took some 879 days away from the White House, on vacation, during his 8-year term; nobody suggested that was the worst thing about his presidency. Further, employee wellness lore suggests workers not overtax themselves. If you say Mr. Pallister is taking too much vacation time, could you define, objectively, a reasonable vacation period?

As to the distaste for e-mail, you can’t pick up a newspaper or magazine these days without reading an article in which people complain about how much time they spend reading and responding to e-mails of little value. It seems to me Mr. Pallister is not technology shy but rather ahead of the trend. 

As for the reputation of his province, Mr Pallister has paid professional tourism people that could easily turn the negative publicity into a positive.  Some inviting slogans come to mind: “Manitoba: Unchill my heart"; “To love Costa Rica more, see Manitoba first”; “Manitoba: Cold climate, warm reception.” They came up with the 2013 campaign “Manitoba: Canada’s Heart ... Beats,” about which the tourism minister at the time stated, “We know tourism is going to explode in Manitoba.”

If we look at the premier’s schedule from a business perspective, we will want to tip our hats to Mr. Pallister. Business wants a chief executive to delegate as effectively as possible. Business wanted him spending time thinking of the big picture’ thinking of how his organization fits into his vision.

If Pallister can do that job most effectively far from the madding crowds at Portage and Main, why shouldn’t he be free to do it wearing a Hawaiian shirt and hoisting the occasional gin and tonic? As his office noted, if a real emergency arises, Mr. Pallister can just hop on the next plane and scoot the 6,000 kilometres back home in no time or at least, in enough time to deal with something that is both urgent and important. It's not as if North Korea is poised to launch nuclear missiles against Brandon.

As usually despite logic ....

Despite the cool logic of these rebuttals, I suspect there is another factor in play here, one that goes largely unspoken. I call it the “I suffer, therefore you should” syndrome; the feeling it’s just not fair that someone else should have it as hard as you because, well, just because. Your average Manitoban may feel that taking 58 days away from the office in the middle of winter insulates the premier from such picayune tasks as shovelling away 12 feet of snow and dressing up to fight minus 30 degree temperatures. Then again, your average Manitoban does not have the pressure of having to cope with policy documents, research materials and speechwriting,

Let’s cut Mr. Pallister a little slack, shall we; at least until we hear those speeches. With all that time he' giving himself to prepare them, I’ll bet they’ll be humdingers.


Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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