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Russell Wangersky: There’s more to politics than razzle-dazzle

Popularity contest
Popularity contest

We have a funny issue with fame. Panache has become panacea. We seem to have developed a penchant for thinking that, because someone’s good at television or real estate or self-promotion, they’ll suddenly be a great fit for politics.

Russell Wangersky

That, simply because they’ve built star power, they’ll necessarily be the right ones to set government straight or drain the swamp, even though more experienced politicians, people who know what they are doing, have failed at the exact same task.

Well, I’ve been to the swamp.

And it’s not that easy. (By way of explanation, watching Kevin O’Leary as a television pundit at the Conservative Party leadership convention this weekend, I breathed a huge sigh of relief that he dropped out of the race before the votes were cast.)

But back to the swamp. I found my way downhill from the highway, through the always-opportunistic alder and then into the scrub spruce and larch and straggly birch, looking for a brook that, given the shape of the valley, should have wound from southwest to northeast. It’s a narrow brook, but with enough water to occasionally fill into a long steady, the kind of pools where small, fast trout hang. The topography of the valley was simple: there was really only one line the brook could take, and I’d been along a part of the brook before, decades ago, so I knew at least where it was coming from.

In fact, I’d thought that I knew most of it, even where I was going — I hadn’t reckoned on the new expanse of swamp, or the huge amount of water I suddenly found in the valley.

I hadn’t known about the beavers.

There’s a big beaver lodge now, but I’m not sure there are any beavers left; there are still pathways pounded down to the water, but no fresh tracks, and the chewed stumps are greyed with age. There’s no sign of new cuts, and there’s no way the beaver wouldn’t have been out for fresh forage by now. The top of the lodge is still hard-packed mud and woven branches; it hasn’t started to come apart.

It’s windless down in the valley, and there’s no sign of anything — except the occasional trout — breaking the surface or moving underneath. Around the edges, the raised water has built floating bog, a treacherous place to stand, the water filling in on top of the blanket of mosses and water plants as you stand there, the bog-smell of sulfur bubbling up and catching in your nose.

At the foot of the pond, the dam is long and crescent-shaped and failing in at least four places; there’s the main branch of the stream running in its old course, and three fresh new branches that each eventually wend their way into the main course again, and the recombined stream bends around a fat grey boulder, a rock the size of a transport truck cab, and once you’re past it, you can see the trees falling away and another pond appears, more and more with every step.

The beaver had come to a larch in the midst of their dam construction, and simply left it standing. The change in the water table around its roots killed the tree stone dead, leaving it as a larch-shaped grey snag, standing like a channel warning at the water’s edge. I’ve seen the swamp; I’ve seen the dam.

I’m good at some of the things I do.

Does that make me a shoo-in for a job at either swamp-draining or dam-building?

Of course it doesn’t. Being good at one thing doesn’t mean being good at another.

And simply knowing a name is no reason for checking off a ballot. It’s democracy, not fame-ocracy.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 30 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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