To serve with honour

Ed Smith
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I don’t know if you’ve heard the explanation for Mike Duffy.

An old farmer in the Anapolis Valley was explaining it all one day for a group of politicians.

“To me,” he said slowly, “that man is very much like a post turtle.”

“A post turtle? What the hell is a post turtle?”

“Every once in a while,” the old farmer went on, “you see one of those little turtles on top of a fence post. He hasn’t a clue what to do now that he’s there because he’s never been in a situation like this before.”

“So how is that like Senator Duffy?”

“Well,” he said, “at first you’re inclined to pity him because of the situation he’s in. And then. …”

“And then?” several of them chorused.

“You get to wondering what kind of stupid arsehole put him up there in the first place.”

The Peter Principle states that people rise to the level of their incompetency. Nowhere is this more true than in the fascinating field of politics. If we were being kind — and I’m trying hard — we could say this is because politics is so transparent. Everything a politician does is held up for scrutiny and he lives and dies on the consequences.

Unfortunately, not enough of those who die politically get buried politically. The extreme stunned among them often do get caught with their hand in the till or doing something really stupid like pretending to live in Prince Edward Island without being noticed. Mike Duffy tips up whatever end of that island he steps on by about six inches.

Seeing through

Transparency of profession, however, isn’t the real reason for politicians finding themselves at the highest level of their incompetency. Others in their ranks have often furthered their advancement to that position. If you’re looking for the appropriate rear end to perform that chore, you may be searching in the wrong place. Granted, the prime minister is always good for this kind of activity, but he’s certainly not the main person responsible for elevating people over their heads.

So who is, pray tell?

Why you, is who. And me, and all the other poor schmucks who conscientiously try to honour the memory of those who fought to preserve our democracy, by voting every chance we get.

But that isn’t what makes us poor schmucks. It’s the fact that we dishonour those who came before us by electing to office men and women who not only can’t tell their asses from a hole in the ground, but if their asses didn’t itch, wouldn’t know that they had one or what it was for.

Even then they try scratching behind their ears instead of down where their brains actually are.

I hasten to say, as always, that they obviously are not all like that.

But I don’t mind stating that those who are a few veggies shy of a stew are in the preponderance, and sometimes, it seems, in the ascendancy.

My gosh, Big Edward Alexander, you say wonderingly, what’s got your drawers in a knot? Muskrat Falls? The power link to Nova Scotia? Brad Cabana? Nope, none of the above.

Truth is, Canada Day always leaves me depressed. I suppose next you’ll be wanting me to explain that.

I read somewhere yesterday that Forbes 500 (the best of the best crowd) has just declared Canada to be the best country in the world in which to live. Duh! There were umpteen countries involved in the survey and multitudinous criteria to be examined by thousands of people. After all that, we still came out on top. Also included in the Top 5 were, as usual: Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark and New Zealand — the perennial favourites. The U.S., for comparison purposes only, was 19th.

On Canada Day we are acutely aware of how blessed we are to be living in this wonderful country, and on top of that to be living in this beautiful province — the blessed of the blessed, you might say.

When an election, federal, pro­vincial or municipal, rolls around, a majority of us still try to honour those who fought to preserve the democratic way by getting out to vote. It’s the least we can do to say thank you. Democracy is the worst system of government on Earth, Churchill once said, except for all the rest. So we exercise our right to vote and maintain that system.

Opposite effect

You with me so far?

And then, instead of honouring our forefathers through exercising our democratic right, we actually bring dishonour on their heads by electing to public office the most scurrilous, the most self-absorbed, the most greedy and the most stunned of the works of us.

I hasten to add once again, that they are not all like that. But you’ll forgive me for suggesting that far too many are. Those who are honest and interested in doing the best job they can rise to the top like marshmallows on top of hot chocolate. There is another figure of speech, for that as well — use it at your own discretion. It more applies to those who are out for themselves.

So we get the spectacle of politicians stealing money for one purpose or another and by one means or another from the people who elect them. Everyone from the prime minister’s right-hand man to senators who don’t know where they live to MHAs who misuse funds intended for other purposes to those of all stripes who can do nothing other than parrot the party line on whatever issue that’s current.

And who puts them on top of their particular fence posts? We, the voters. We who try to defend our democratic rights. We who do such a great job that most people are thoroughly sick of watching the shenanigans that go on in public life.

And that, dear friends, is why honouring this great country, in one way, is so depressing.

We let it down so thoroughly through the likes of Duffy and those who are like him.

Ed Smith is an author who lives in

Springdale.  His email address is

Organizations: Forbes 500

Geographic location: Anapolis Valley, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia Canada Sweden Switzerland Denmark New Zealand U.S.

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Recent comments

  • Bob K.
    July 06, 2013 - 18:26

    Trouble is we don't know some of 'em are scoundrels until they get access to "d'spiles" as Rossie Barbour once said. For the life of me I don't understand where the MHA's were on these Muskrat and Bill 29 deals. Silence of the lambs was deafening. Really enjoyed your column Ed.