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Thursday 21 February 2013

The Great Revolutionary from The Shore

Since the sanctioning of Muskrat Falls my relationship with Uncle Gnarley had returned to a more normal state.  Once a week we would share a 'wee dram' while he proceeded to educate me on some of the finer aspects of the liberal arts.  These discussions, as one sided as they may be, were always a welcome diversion from everyday life.  As I was driving down the shore I wondered what would be the topic of this evening’s discussion.

I opened the door and saw my old friend hanging, what appeared to be, a framed picture on the wall. 
"Nav... as usual your timing is excellent.  Tell me if this is level to the mantle?"

"Good to see you too, Uncle Gnarley.  It is level, but what is it?"  It was clear that this was no portrait; it seemed to be a legal document of some sort.
"Nav my good friend, in recognition of the 30th anniversary of its creation I have thought it proper to display the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  I remember the pride I had when the late prime minister entrenched this fine document into Canada’s constitution.   He knew that the fundamental freedoms of religion, conscience, peaceful assembly and freedom of thought are vital for any healthy democracy to survive".
With this I knew this evening was going to be a lesson on civics, one of the old economist’s favorite themes.  I started to look for the nectare from the highlands as this subject required that I first ‘dumb my senses’ to ensure optimal enjoyment from the session.

"Well, Nav, I am fearful that the current crop of politicians, are not only inept in basic economics, they are also inept in respecting the fundamental rights protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  It is a sorry state of democracy in Newfoundland and Labrador.  We should all be scared by the complete lack of respect shown by Dunderdale and her cronies!"

I was unsure what event in the news had caused the old economist to build such a big head of steam.  Uncle Gnarley certainly had a bee in his bonnet.  But it was not about Muskrat Falls!
"Uncle Gnarley what has you so worked up this evening?"

"Well, Nav, it is the clear evidence that this Government will abandon the most sacred of democratic principals, to uphold the most unwise of public investments”.  
As I sipped the first dram of the old Balvenie I found myself in the usual state of confusion.  "Uncle Gnarley, what is this evidence?"

"Well, Nav, it seems there is no longer regard for fundamental freedoms, the building blocks of democracy "  With that Uncle Gnarley passed me a piece of paper entitled "Muskrat Falls Media Analysis" 

"You see this government has spent tax payer’s dollars to track the political statements made both in the traditional media, and the new social media.  Included in this document are some of my very own statements I have made on the twitter.  I am what they refer to as a ‘known critic’, and my electronic communications are being tracked by both government, and Nalcor!"
This statement was profound not by this infringement on my friends basic democratic rights, but the fact that the cantankerous old man was on Twitter!  With that I took a stiff drink, uncertain where the conversation was heading. 

"Well, Uncle Gnarley, this should be no surprise to anyone.  I think the profiling of the media has been going on here for a good many years.  All governments, of different colors"
"Nav... precedence does not make it correct.  I am gob smacked that there are those who consider it acceptable for our government, and a crown corporation to track the opinions of private citizens who have studied the project, and dare speak against it.  To monitor what the 'known critics' are saying!"

With this I thought that the old economist was caught in a utopian view of democracy.  This type of activity has always gone on in Newfoundland.  As well, from what I know about Twitter, these opinions are open to the public.  I had to try to speak some reason to the old man.

"Well, Gnarley... from what I know about Twitter any opinion put on it is open for the world to see.  Nalcor are only tracking information which is in the public domain.  What is so offensive about this?"
"Now, Nav, I am new to Twitter.  I follow a small crowd of the province’s intellects, and I also have earned a few followers in the past few months.  But none of my followers include the Government of Newfoundland.  Nor are any of the people, who have declared themselves to be employees, of the Premier's communication staff.

So, my Tweets may be open to the public, but the Nalcor communications department has to take the time to look for it.  To make matters worse, they then use tax payer’s dollars to transcribe it into a report.   
No, Nav, don't be na├»ve enough to think that, just because this is on the internet, this is not eavesdropping on a conversation in which they weren’t invited to participate.  It is no different if the Nalcor representative was sitting next to us in a restaurant, and transcribed the words of a conversation I was having with a group of people.  No difference at all”

As my old friend was known to do, he took a small drink, and paused to collect his thoughts. 
“Nav… there is nothing innocent in what this government has done in tracking the political opinions of private citizens.  It is perverse that it has eavesdropped on my electronic communications.  Me... Uncle Gnarley the great revolutionary from the Shore!
“Now, Nav, I find this intrusion disconcerting not only because it is an affront to democracy,    but, I also feel, this government has infringed upon my basic right for privacy."

With that Uncle Gnarley took out a MacBook Pro.  Yet again I was amazed by my old friend. 
"Nav... not too bad, eh?   I needed this beast to read up on Muskrat; my foray into Twitter was a logical step to keep up with the ‘Crowd of Known Critics’.

The old man then started to type.  His 2 index fingers were moving like an industrial sewing machine.  Once he finished he looked up, clearly proud of his foray into the 21st century.
"But, Nav, back to this evening’s subject.  My rights to privacy are legislated by both Federal and Provincial Legislation.  The Province has it's very own Privacy Commissioner.  There are 2 Acts which relate solely to the issue of personal privacy.  Take for example the the Privacy Act of 1995.
Within this piece of legislation there are specific examples when a person’s privacy is infringed.  With that Uncle Gnarley passed over the lap top:

“Now, Nav, rest assured when I made statements to my 22 followers on Twitter I was not giving consent to the Government of Newfoundland to listen in on these conversations and record any statement which did not agree with the contents of the most recent Blue Book.  It is also without debate that my political opinions on Muskrat Falls are personal information” 
With that Uncle Gnarley moved back over to the mantle, and looked up at the result of his evenings work. 

“Now, Nav… I don’t know if the actions of government to track my individual beliefs and opinions on Twitter to be unconstitutional.  Is it legally wrong?  Honestly, I am not sure.  Is it morally wrong? That is another question” 

“Nav…a great Prime Minister once said, that ‘The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation’.  He was right, and he entrenched this great document to enshrine these basic democratic rights.
I must now ask, why it would now be acceptable for the state to peer through the electronic window, into my den? 

Editor's Note: This Post was written by "JM", the anonymous reseacher, writer and presenter, to the PUB and in local Blogs, on the Muskrat Falls Project. JM has written a number of earlier Uncle Gnarley pieces, including, most recently,   The Harper Paradox.  His latest Paper is entitled: Muskrat Falls Revenue Stream Fact or Fiction.  - Des Sullivan