Manitoba·Opinion

Premier Brian Pallister needs to give up risky solo hikes or job

Hiking alone, without cellphone service or appropriate equipment to make your way safely, isn’t wise, says Joanne Seiff — and people with important jobs, like Premier Brian Pallister, need to safeguard their well-being regardless of location.

Responsibility requires sacrifice and Pallister's hiking accident shows he needs to make choices: Joanne Seiff

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister suffered multiple injuries and numerous cuts and bruises after getting lost and falling while on a hike in New Mexico. (Submitted/Brian Pallister)

As a kid in Virginia, I learned to skate at the local rink. But when it closed, there were few opportunities to practice and I never became very strong on the ice. When I was 14 and my family visited friends in Ottawa over winter break, I took to the schoolyard outdoor rink — where my skate blade got caught in an air bubble on the ice. I broke my leg and went home with a cast from toes to thigh.

As I moved around as an adult, ice time was sometimes hard to find and expensive, so I still wasn't very good when we moved to Winnipeg. I nevertheless enjoyed skating once a week with a new friend.

Then something happened. As soon as I knew I was pregnant with twins, my outlook changed. Even after my twins were born, I knew no matter how tempting the outdoor ice at the neighbourhood park looked, I couldn't risk it.

Joanne Seiff gave up skating — an activity she says was risky for her — when she became a mom. She says responsibility means sacrifice, and that means the premier might have to choose between risky solo hikes and his job. (FotoDuets/Shutterstock)

I had a big new job title with a lot of responsibilities: "mom." With no family backup in Canada, my household wouldn't function if I broke a bone again. I decided to quit skating for a while — it seemed like the responsible thing to do.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister — who we found out this week broke his arm while hiking in New Mexico — apparently doesn't do a similar analysis when he goes off on his own, despite the responsibility that comes with his work. It's not exactly the same job title as "mom of twins," but both require a certain amount of personal accountability and good judgment.

Hiking alone, without cellphone service or appropriate equipment to make your way safely, isn't wise. I've been to New Mexico and yes, it would be easy to get lost there — but you can get lost on the tundra, in a forest or even in a big city. People with important jobs need to safeguard their well-being regardless of location.

Heck, even Curious George episodes show how to be prepared, use a compass and be resourceful when running into trouble outdoors.

Premier Brian Pallister says he's grateful to be alive after getting lost in the New Mexico desert wilderness last week, leaving him with a broken arm, bruised ribs and lacerations all over. 7:15

More than 15 years ago, my brother told me his wife had one of the new iPods that were on the market. My sister-in-law loved to exercise outdoors, but my brother insisted that when she was out running on Washington, D.C.'s city streets, she couldn't wear those earbuds.

"You have to be aware of your surroundings!" he insisted — for safety's sake.

While some might call this hyper-vigilant, it seemed logical to me. It's too easy to get mugged (or worse) when you can't hear anything and your thoughts are turned inward. Better to hear what's going on around you and be able to react quickly.

Safety first

I mostly "hike" in my neighbourhood, with at least one dog and sometimes more than one kid. Getting exercise is important, and I see plenty of wildlife within a few kilometres of home. Yet when I say hello to people I see every day, some don't respond. They have earbuds in and turn their bodies away from their neighbours.

Whether in a city or the wilderness, I was taught it's important to be aware enough of the surroundings to acknowledge those who pass by or to find the way home. If it's a place with ravines or rattlesnakes or a sketchy part of town, all the more reason to recognize what's happening around you.

You don't have to be a member of an opposition party to see that Pallister's recent New Mexico mishap was problematic. Sure, his cellphone wouldn't work — but most parents of young kids know that a phone might have had a flashlight app on it — or, failing that, the screen backlight alone could be used to signal to rescuers or to light up the surroundings.

As Opposition MLA Andrew Swan mentioned, hiking with friends is a joy. Hiking with others is also much safer.

Getting away from everything is part of a vacation for some. However, there's a fine line between rugged individualist and common-sense street smarts. Many would suggest that if a person chooses a job with significant responsibilities, some sacrifices must be made.

Responsibility comes with sacrifice

I didn't sign up to be Manitoba premier, and my first vacation choice wouldn't be a long solo hike in New Mexico. However, I have thought carefully about my current job titles. When I examined what it meant to become a parent, I realized it came with heavy responsibility. I've given up some things in order to honour my commitment to my twins.

When my brother-in-law became a dad, he gave up skydiving.

My dad gave up his motorcycle when I was born.

Not everyone does this as a parent, but even Spider-Man recognizes "With great power comes great responsibility."

While focusing inward is great for contemplation, it's not part of any set of safety tips. When we choose earbuds or long hikes in unfamiliar territory, we're choosing to cut ourselves off from society.

One of the responsibilities of Canadian citizenship is that individuals should take care of themselves and their families. It's called a Canadian value in the citizenship book.

No matter how one views this solo hike in the New Mexico wilderness the week before the Manitoba throne speech, the optics are bad. Given the premier's interest in privacy, we might never have known about the hike if all had gone well.

Mr. Pallister, I gave up practising my skating in order to be on duty as a responsible mom. I think the job of premier pays a lot better.

What will you give up — solo hikes or the job?


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About the Author

Joanne Seiff is the author of three books. She works in Winnipeg as a freelance writer.