In my previous post, I published the letter from Dr. Michael Graham, Chair of the Burin Peninsula Regional Council, asking that Pam Pardy Ghent be reinstated to the Rural Secretariat.
I had an extensive email conversation with Ghent on the subject this week, in which she reflected on her infamous Facebook post, and the fallout from it. Not surprisingly, she expressed some strong and colourful opinions. And it was all ‘on the record.’
To start, she elaborated on the comment itself; the one that got her fired from the secretariat. Ghent said the entire situation is “insane.”
“What I posted would have been something I said in the setting of a Rural or Provincial Council meeting, if the Westcott topic had come up,” Ghent told me. “Similar, slightly off colour things have been said both my me and by others at these meetings. A Facebook status, to me, should be like the casual spoken word. To be perhaps seen, chuckled at (or not) and then ignored.”
As for the penis dimension update, Ghent said, “I thought I was being clever, posting my take on the whole Westcott/premier/sexual and mental disease thing. There was one question Westcott didn’t ask, so I asked it, in jest.””
Since being ejected from the board, Ghent said she has received numerous messages of support from people in her area.
“Even young volunteers have sent me messages of support saying the actions of Minister Skinner were ‘immature’ at best, and that they expect better from their politicians. ‘School yard bully,’ is the term most used. And this is from young, school-aged volunteers. Sad, really, that they have to fear their Facebook usage might get them kicked out of the breakfast clubs in this province. Crazy.”
Her privacy settings are firm – casual browsers cannot read her updates – and neither Premier Williams, Minister Shawn Skinner, or Deputy Minister Bruce Gilbert (who fired her) are on her list.
“The only way they would have… seen them was because someone forwarded them on. The only purpose that served was to make sure that more people saw it than the thousand plus on my Facebook site.”
Ghent said that she has several politicians, including PC MHAs, on her friends list, and that they use Facebook mainly for self-promotion.
“If they are spending their Sunday morning cruising pages like mine, then if you are a Facebook friend of any politician in the Williams Government, beware. Because what you post might damn well come back to haunt you in sneaky and unexpected ways… And honestly, what I said was posted before 8 am, on a Sunday filled with many other posts. Surely there is some privacy that can be expected for ‘bullshit’ on Facebook. That’s what it’s for; a place to ‘hang’ and just be random… People have MPs and MHAs on Facebook to be seen and not heard from, in my opinion. Obviously, if they have Facebook for promotional purposes, they need to have blinders on for the other stuff if they expect people to keep them as a friend on social networks where they can reach the most people with all their ‘look what I did, look at me!’ stuff.”
Ghent claims she was lied to, when initially advised on October 31 that she was off the Secretariat.
“There are two facts that people need to remember in this entire situation. One, either Bruce Gilbert lied to me when he called, telling me I was off council because they needed new blood, or Minister Skinner lied to him, telling him that was the reason. But I know that isn’t the case because as I was challenging the whole ‘we want new blood’ bullshit with Gilbert, he (probably out of frustration, because I wasn’t going quietly into the good night so to speak) let it slip that he had other calls to make, that I wasn’t the only one he had to let go. When I asked who else and why, and kept asking, he finally told me that there were ‘others’ out there doing horrible things to the premier, doing things like ‘writing letters to the editor’ and stuff. Imagine! That is the most troubling of all, that anyone who volunteers for any board or government advisory board in this province has to put up and shut up, or they’ll be gone. I want people in Newfoundland and Labrador, any volunteer who has ever been told they are off a board or a committee, for whatever lame reason they were told, to think back on why they really were let go. Did they challenge the Williams government by writing a letter to an editor, or by speaking up on one of our open line programs? Or did they say something casually at a gathering, or post something on Facebook, or say a little something in an email? Honestly, if this has happened to me, it’s happened to others. The only reason the truth came out in my case was because I refused to shut up about it.”
Ghent said the way she was dismissed was “vindictive and childish.”
“My comment was posted before 8:00 am on that Halloween Sunday,” she wrote. “By 6:30 that evening, as my kids were still out trick-or-treating and there was still candy to be handed out, I get a call that I’m off the Rural Secretariat. Obviously, Skinner called Gilbert because someone called him and said, ‘Get that woman off that council! And do it now!’ At least we know one thing about Gilbert – he’s obedient. Too bad they were too childish, too full of the immediate need to punish me for my horribleness, that they couldn’t wait. If I had been told a few days or a few weeks later… I wouldn’t have connected the dots as I did between my status update and my dismissal.”
She also criticized Minister Skinner for not getting in touch with anyone on the local council to explain her removal from the secretariat.
“These people have worked so hard for so many years, going above and beyond on their own time to do what they felt was valuable work. Sad that none of that mattered; that this government sees no value in all the hours spent, all the community consultations done, and all the money they’ve spent on the process, to boot, with a full staff on payroll! What a waste! And while the letter sent on my behalf asks that I be reinstated, I doubt that will ever happen at this point. The government only wants puppets, it seems, on any council affiliated with them. They are sorely underestimating the people they have on these nine councils if that is what they think they have… I know the true value of a volunteer, and no one willing to give of their time is ever not of value.”
The situation, Ghent said, has been mishandled from the start. She was talking to a select group of friends, she said, and did not expect to have someone copy, paste and forward her comments to those in charge. She said she would have readily deleted and apologized for the comment, if asked to do so.
“I still would, will, and do take ownership for my written quip and extend my sincerest for injured feelings. I think the Rural Secretariat, and the Provincial Council… had an opportunity to benefit by a public extension of an olive branch between Minister Skinner and myself after he received that letter of support and concern from my Burin Secretariat colleagues. Instead, it seems he didn’t give it the time of day… This is an opportunity lost to reassure all volunteers that they are safe to tell a joke at a volunteer appreciation luncheon hosted by Minister Denine or some area MHA. That they are safe to express a concern about their region, publicly or privately, and that such an expression won’t cost them a position in their region, volunteer or otherwise. Because, lets face it, if this crap happens to volunteers, don’t think it isn’t happening out there in the working world. Some company getting political dollars holds job interviews. Some job hopeful happens to ‘like’ Stephen Harper on Facebook, or, God forbid, ‘like’ Quebec. Someone else in the running forwards that on to the powers that be, and suddenly, guess who doesn’t get the job? Is this what this province has come to?”
The situation is awkward for Ghent, who has always been a vocal supporter of the Williams Government. She has learned, she said, that we should be careful what we say on Facebook – but also know who our friends are.
“Social networks are very dangerous places, in more ways than we think. Just like the criminals who lurk there, trying to see when you are leaving for vacation so they can rob you blind, some politicians are on there trying to… steal every bit of dirt they can find on you. At the very least, they want to know who is friend and who is foe. Sad thing is, sometimes status updates, with their so few characters, can be misleading, and like in my case, can be misunderstood, and a friend and supporter is seen as a foe and an enemy.”
Ghent is still astonished that her offhand quip, within a Facebook profile with private security settings, became the subject of provincial and national headlines. She says politicians also make statements in public that they would not expect to see or hear in media, offering as an example an encounter she had with Education Minister Darin King.
“I was on the Long Pond bridge, just after Hurricane Igor, when you had to walk across because there was no traffic allowed, and along comes the politicians. (MHA) Clyde Jackman was a darling, shaking hands and talking to people. And I’m organizing things for the Red Cross, when (MHA) Darin King tosses me a cell phone... ‘I gotta get re-elected,’ he tells me. ‘Take some pictures.’ And I’m there for the Red Cross, trying to get food out to people. I did it… But now in hindsight, that really ticks me off.”
I have my own opinions on this story as well, which I have not aired until now.
Frankly, I am disappointed with how quickly the public recoiled in disgust, and rushed to judgment, at Ghent's comment. Over and over, I have heard people say that any employer would have fired Ghent for making such a comment about her boss.
But the fact is, this was not her employer, and Minister Skinner was not her boss (though clearly, they see themselves in that role, a position that is damaging the credibility of the Rural Secretariat). Ghent was not on the province’s payroll. She was a volunteer, giving generously of her time, because she wants to see her region survive and thrive.
Equally irritating were the people who said, ‘She should know that everything on the Internet is public.’ This is not true. Millions of emails are sent every day, all privately. Numerous web sites are password protected, accessible to a select few. This incident took place on Facebook, where users set their own privacy settings, controlling who can see personal information. And Ghent had tight controls on her privacy. Only approved friends could access her profile, and read her updates. (Try it – go to facebook.com, search for Pamela Pardy Ghent, and try to access her profile. You can’t.)
Unfortunately, several provincial MHAs are on her friend list. And at least one of them seems to have ratted her out to the minister. I wonder what our Privacy Commissioner would say about that...
On this, I will give the final word back to Ghent, who left the following comment on my Facebook profile, after yet another person suggested that Ghent got what she deserved for making “such statements on public airwaves.”
“I am not above my raisin' and never pretend to be,” Ghent replied. “And don't make me laugh about being smart enough to know better. We're talking about politicians here. Last cabinet grouping I presented at, one member walked up to me afterwards and told me a very off-colour joke, saying I seemed like a good bit of fun. Never spoke to him before in my life. The premier himself has said that if you can't take the heat, then you are in the wrong kitchen. I wasn't brought on to be highbrow, classy or proper. I was put there (I was told) to be honest, and to help get locals to open up, share and be honest. That, I am good at. I'm willing to bet that at least the majority of the volunteers in this province have poached, eaten poached, or know who is poaching moose or other critters; have bought, drank, or know folks who do drink or buy St. Pierre booze; have paid or worked under the table, or know someone who has or does; have driven over the speed limit; have farted in church. One hundred per cent have said something they should not have said. Get rid of all those folks, too? Grow up.”
No, you won't be able to read the above comment, if you visit my Facebook profile. I changed my privacy settings, after witnessing what happened to Ghent. I also deleted all PC MHAs from my friend list.
If you care about your privacy, you should do the same.