City Orders Consultant to Pull Down Our Hamilton Website

The City just announced it has ordered Dialogue Partners to take down the 'Our Voice, Our Hamilton' website over offensive content.

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 09, 2013

Things just go from worse and worse for Dialogue Partners, the company the City of Hamilton hired to solicit public input on the city's top service priorities.

Earlier today, Graham Crawford noticed that the Our Voice, Our Hamilton website questionnaire created by the Ottawa-based consultancy includes the line:

Talk to people (Aboriginal, newcomer, low-income) who probably aren’t showing up in large numbers at events.

Screenshot of the questionnaire (Image Credit: Dan Jelly)
Screenshot of the questionnaire (Image Credit: Dan Jelly)

In two days, this disastrous project launch has managed to go from comical to defensive to downright offensive.

Crawford alerted City Council to this statement, and the City has responded by ordering the consultant to take down the website.

City media spokesperson Mike Kirkopoulos just issued the following brief statement:

The City of Hamilton has instructed our consultants Dialogue Partners to temporarily take down the Our Voice. Our Hamilton. website due to some offensive and inaccurate content.

Also today, the Spectator reported that Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla will be asking Council to terminate the contract with Dialogue Partners.

The article quotes Merulla saying, "I think they’re at a point of no return. First impressions mean anything. Credibility means everything, and because their credibility is in question, we need to expeditiously cut bait and regroup."

According to a CBC Hamilton report, he's already got some support from other members of council.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By big miss (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 19:39:56

Imagine the people behind Our City Our Future ran this instead? We'd have a wonderful local produced consultation instead of this idiocy, and for probably a fraction the cost.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 19:41:06

I get a sense that the questions on their website were mostly rather one-sided and offensive anyways.

I.E. Should the city listen to everyone's opinion, or only the people who show up to every meeting.

Obviously including everyone is preferable, but why the false dichotemy and the implicit hate towards those who "show up to every meeting"?

I'm paraphrasing by the way, but maybe we can get some other readers to provide example questions that they feel are one-sided and offensive.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2013 at 19:41:45

What exactly is offensive about this:

"Talk to people (Aboriginal, newcomer, low-income) who probably aren’t showing up in large numbers at events."

Have you seen the cultural make-up of our council committees, the talking heads, the heads of our City departments, the elected councillors, even the 'cultural and socio-economic' make-up of the writers on the new urban rag: Urbanicity? Do you see any talking head from these groups on Cable 14?

Do you see any Aboriginal, newcomer, low-income on any of these groups?

This is a deeply honest and sincere question that is not intended to inflame any repressed sentiments in our city. It is a fact. Please challenge it in a respectful manner if you can.

There are many more valid reasons to shut down this site. But "this" is not one of them by any stretch of imagination.

Thank You,

Mahesh P. Butani

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2013-01-09 19:49:37

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 09:12:43 in reply to Comment 85007

My main problem is it's a false dichotemy for engagement.

Do you engage young people, or aboriginals, low income and newcomers.

How about...engage everyone?

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By DanJelly (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 20:51:47 in reply to Comment 85007

There was no need to point at specific groups of people and label them as people who "don't show up". That language puts blame on those groups. At best it's poorly worded, at worst it's borderline classist and racist and should not have shown up on the site verbatim.

I show up more than most. I have never been asked to reveal my race, place of birth or income level (nor should I be). We should stick with what we know, and not stereotype based on what hasn't been counted.

The wording should have been closer to: Be inclusive. Identify and remove all barriers to civic engagement.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2013 at 21:34:16 in reply to Comment 85018

I don't think -that statement- puts blame on specific groups at all. In fact this is the first time that anyone has had the honesty to make an observation of the true conditions that exist in this city - and is in fact trying to bring out the voice of those who have been marginalized in Hamilton.

There is nothing 'racist' or classist in this statement. And I can challenge any professor/major in English language from Hamilton to disprove me on this.

I constantly see the Aboriginal, newcomer, low-income families and individuals being marginalized in the most sickening manner possible in any civilized society, right here in Hamilton.

And we the educated condone it, or support it by claiming offense at the words of those very people who raise such honest issues.

Worse, we invert the closet racism that blatantly exists in this city across generational lines, and accuse those who are trying to reform this twisted behaviour which has made our city famous for it, across Canada.

"Be inclusive" is a phrase that a politician or bureaucrat would use with a flourish!! It has no meaning. It has no power to change behaviour.

Naming all the people/groups who are marginalized in a survey is a far more honest way to bring change.

I have watched this city closely for 17 long years -- its lies, and deceptions, its defensive behaviors across generational lines. It is plain sad to see that this is why the two "ERRANT" councillors who did not have the gonads to respond to real issues as they are on a holiday - wake up and make an issue of this.

In my direct experience, Joey Coleman has personally shown me that he is equally capable of making fundamental mistakes and causing travesties.

In defense of this company, at least they had the courage to apologize, however it may have sounded to some.

I have yet to see people like Joey, Whitehead and Merulla apologize for their wrongs.

Mahesh P. Butani

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2013-01-09 21:49:19

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 13:01:51 in reply to Comment 85022

"There is nothing 'racist' or classist in this statement. And I can challenge any professor/major in English language from Hamilton to disprove me on this."

Yeah, specifically offering to only challenge a professor or major in English isn't classist at all. Nope. Nobody else who uses the language everyday is worthy of your debate I guess.

-Spelling edit.... not a professor!

Comment edited by mrjanitor on 2013-01-10 13:05:16

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By Pitch bend (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 13:21:37 in reply to Comment 85062

Mahesh is less excruciating when he's talking about old buildings. When he gets into calling everyone a racist it's best to just tune it out.

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By DanJelly (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 21:48:44 in reply to Comment 85022

Well instead of arguing about it or pointing fingers, perhaps you should put some of that verbosity to good use and propose solutions to engage those who "probably don't show up".

Regardless of the source, meaning or repercussions of the phrase in question, I maintain that this firm has completely botched this project.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2013 at 21:55:04 in reply to Comment 85023

Thanks for sharing an example of the famous Hamilton defensiveness :))

You are presuming I don't do anything about it.

I do, I collaborate with organizations such as Hamilton Centre of Civic Inclusion and many other, which are doing all they can to educate both the "young" and "old" Hamiltonians of the wonderful world of inclusiveness - not just in letter, but in spirit too.

You do realize that to make Hamilton an inclusive city, it is imperative that those who have created these conditions to exist for generations, need to be educated first.

Those who have been marginalized are not waiting for an invitation for engagement - but having tried to engage in the past and given up, are now only waiting for those who are being educated to graduate and start living more fuller lives.

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2013-01-09 22:11:03

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By DanJelly (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 23:30:03 in reply to Comment 85024

Apparently we're having two different conversations about two different things.

Let's add "Better communication" to the list of things we all need to work on, myself included.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 08:14:21 in reply to Comment 85030

'I'm sorry you didn't understand me' is not the same as 'I'm sorry'. Mr. Butani was communicating quite clearly.

Comment edited by AnjoMan on 2013-01-10 08:14:50

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By Mirror (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 01:32:09 in reply to Comment 85030

Hmmm? Borderline racist and classist? Sounds pretty similar to MB and his usual MO.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2013 at 20:36:50 in reply to Comment 85007

To Terry Whitehead & Sam Merulla:

"“There’s a metaphorical expression - they should be skewed and tattooed.

That’s what I think right now,” said Councillor Terry Whitehead.

“First, the quality of work leaves something to be desired, but secondly, what broke down in our process? Were there steps skipped? Were all the mechanisms exercised? Did they check references?”

Where the hell is your INDIGNATION when a property owner files a demolition permit for multiple-buildings in the heart of the city, which were already recommended for Heritage designation.

The process here was willfully subverted by the Planning Committee and the City Staff, knowing very well that the Council was on a vacation?

"The city cited “some offensive and inaccurate” content in announcing they’d instructed Dialogue Partners to shut the site down."

There were ZERO response from the Council to this travesty, where multiple lies were told by the property owner and the local press. Further, there has been a clear case of ---violation--- by the Planning Committee and the City Staff, on account of which the city stands to lose a part of their city.

Yet, neither you or Merulla, or others on the Council (except for Jason Farr) thought it prudent to make a public statement to allay the worst fears of Hamilton Residents over THEIR Holiday season.

Now, this issue of 'Dialogue Partners'--which in my opinion is hardly an issue which can alter the very "physical form" of our city, brings you and Merulla out from the stupor of your Holiday!!

This is what I find morally and ethically offensive.

Both of you are nothing but cheap opportunists, who pick and choose what to responds and stand up for, in order to serve your pathetic careers that have extended well beyond its shelf-life.

You guys are more pathetic than the mistakes the communication company has made here.

Mahesh P. Butani

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2013-01-09 20:47:37

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By Jim Rudnick (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 19:58:09 in reply to Comment 85007

I disagree my world that is offensive to all three of the noted groups...

Surely that is apparent?

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 09:11:28 in reply to Comment 85010

I also don't understand how it is offensive. We are talking about how to get citizens engaged, and there is something fundamentally wrong with the way our public discourse operates because the three groups mentioned are all under-represented. How are we ever going to identify / solve the problem if we can't even identify the people it affects for fear of insulting someone?

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2013 at 20:43:50 in reply to Comment 85010

What is offensive, Jim?

The fact that this statement was made? or The fact that outsider (from Ottawa) have ---noticed--- that this group the "Aboriginal, newcomer, low-income" are not showing up in large numbers" to events in this city?

Is that a fact or a lie?

Mahesh P. Butani

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By DanJelly (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 21:04:47 in reply to Comment 85017

Mahesh, at least some of the questions on the site were user-submitted. I doubt any actual data or even careful observation went into the formulation of the question.

The administrators simply allowed user-submitted questions verbatim, without editing them to be more inclusive or less inflammatory. (Other responses involving Hot dog eating contests and firearms were removed, but this one remains).

All of this aside, the incompetence of allowing user-submitted questions without moderation simply adds to the growing list of problems with this entire initiative and its execution.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2013 at 00:13:08 in reply to Comment 85020

Dan: I did not get around to visiting the site being referred to above.

However the questionnaire I saw online is here:

Our Voice, Our Hamilton:

There is nothing offensive whatsoever in these 16 questions.

I gather that there was a meltdown on Twitter from a question being asked about what HSR stood for; and the discovery of a picture of T-Shirt on Pinterest. And then it was this above question in this article, which was found to be offensive by a few in this city.

I am trying to ascertain how two of the Councillors here who are supposed to be on a --holiday-- took the time for such a trivial issue to immediately respond on twitter as well as talk to the press in the hope of coming across as being responsive to the people of Hamilton ---- meanwhile for almost three weeks they have maintained total silence with the people of Hamilton, when it came to the much, much more serious issue of destruction of city heritage.

It clearly show their lack of principles and concern for this city's future.

Did Merulla or Whitehead even bother to look at this survey at above link before they shot their mouths to the press based on twitter/facebook comments?

And more importantly -- Are these two on a Holiday or NOT? And if not - I suggest they get their act together, and respond to the scores of emails sent to Councillors on the impending demolition of 18-28 King Street East -- and the Sanford School Building.

Mahesh P. Butani

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2013-01-10 00:24:39

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By Hamiltonian (registered) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 19:14:11 in reply to Comment 85032

So all this kicking and screaming really had nothing to do with the issues citizens have over the city wasting $400k, but your own agenda re: building demolitions?

Why not just make your point instead of trying to call everybody else out? Although I personally was not offended, I can at least respect that some people were. I can also respect your views on the demolition of historical sites. That being said, don't be surprised if you still can't get more votes than Bratina in the next mayoral race with that attitude.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2013 at 22:18:30 in reply to Comment 85076

Hamiltonian: How did you arrive at that conclusion?

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By HeyMikeBrown (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2013 at 16:15:00 in reply to Comment 85032

This is not a trivial issue, Mahesh. The $400k project undertaken by Dialogue Partners was going to be used by the City to determine how to overcome a deficit approaching $200 MILLION.

While I share your concern about our heritage buildings, I'm considerably more concerned about how my tax dollars are going to be squandered by the City.

As for your repeated observations about people being on holiday - a truely trivial issue - you need only take into account how all of this has been discussed: wireless communication. It's not new, and you can do it from anywhere.


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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2013 at 22:16:53 in reply to Comment 85072

HeyMikeB: If you feel it is such a serious issue, as it indeed is, then why did you join the many others in trivialize it by what essentially has been a juvenile "SWARMING" by a few Hamiltonians.

This is what this whole thing amounts to in the minds of many who are looking at Hamilton from outside -- (brought to my attention by someone from Toronto):

"Joey Coleman ‏@JoeyColeman

"I've made my point on Twitter tonight. Sad thing - we've wasted the $376,000 already. Tomorrow, I engage to get something out of it"

Joey Coleman ‏@JoeyColeman

@kyle_a_m @Sam_Merulla - "any chance you can make your statement public - its a good one"

Mahesh P. Butani

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2013-01-10 22:17:26

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By gillianv64 (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 19:56:44 in reply to Comment 85007

I think they could have worded it differently instead of making it sound like the groups mentioned aren't participating while everyone else is. They could have tried using open-ended questions instead of giving their pre-chosen answers. How about "How can the City engage a broader spectrum of it's citizens in a way that makes everybody feel involved?"

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By z jones (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 19:50:42 in reply to Comment 85007

What's offensive is that you get to choose between Aboriginal people or young people. The whole thing is ridiculous.

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By Gabriel (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 20:26:16

just for facts, these were user submitted options, with apparently not much oversight until after I added

- put @joeycoleman in charge

-engage the participatory participants.

-put @laurababcock in charge.

those appeared for a time, and joey actually got a vote!

- Graham Crawford for President - did not make the cut.

the best one though was ' And not the Apple Store only BS crap that you use"

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By gillianv64 (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 20:28:12

Is it just me or is it way past time that the city had it's own web design staff to totally restructure the city's website and run initiatives like this one should have been run. It would be really nice to join the 21st century some time in the near future. We might even be able to save a few dollars by doing things for ourselves.

Comment edited by gillianv64 on 2013-01-09 20:29:57

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By Goin'Downtown (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 20:41:34

I'm pleased that the City has chosen to invest resources in civic engagement/IT (yes, it's about time, particularly considering our dysfunctional 6-bodied, distinct, diverse and divisive family).

I'm also pleased that the DP website has been suspended. And, yep, the next step is to terminate the contract with them and tender the whole project out locally, as should have been done in the first place. I can't see any confidence being restored in this project (nor City Hall) otherwise.

And you're all right...there's certainly an abundance of talented, skilled, impassioned communications/p.r./marketing personnel right here on RTH, nonetheless within our City's borders. An abundance.

I don't think the City should feel that they have egg on their face in doing the above-noted steps; not every decision will work out perfectly and who hasn't been fooled by marketing at some point in their lives?

The whole situation is drenched in irony, but that aside...time to move forward...

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By CyNic (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 20:58:27

On the cost benefit side it's unlikely the CBC could produce a show which generated the same amount of laughter for this budget. For that I say thank you to the City of Hamilton and Dialog Partners laughter has been in short supply around my house recently ... Well timed I say. Nothing locally sourced is likely to make laugh as much.

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 00:57:43

Well, from my experience, many different types of people show up to events and often its depends who is putting on the event, as to who shows up.

I agree with Mahesh in terms of when we look at the makeup of groups, committees and so forth, they are almost always, white people.

Someone mentioned Laura Babcock, well at the Poverty Round Table event Ontario Communities Uniting, she was the communication consultant. I was not impressed as she went on about 150 media pieces in MSM, which have done wonders for the poor, meanwhile in reality, it has gotten worse and worse. Even on the facebook page, they have, meaning Ontario Communities Uniting, she wrote that the CSUMB, lifts people from poverty, which is wrong because what this benefit does is help people who are homeless get access to housing, it does not lift them from poverty. So I do not understand why they have her as speaking for the poor, when she knows nothing.

The poor or low income is made up of many people, which include newcomers and aboriginals. In my opinion, the low income people need to develop their own voice, to develop their own strategies and tactics, which may upset those who do not live in poverty, who are doing most of the talking.

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By uelcan (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 12:50:44

While criticism of the public relations firm is understandable, someone at Hamilton City Hall must have reviewed and signed-off on this project. This is standard practice at most organizations. I can't imagine the agency went live without the City's representatives giving their okay. Has this particular point been addressed?

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By gcam (registered) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 15:30:08

There's a really great tool for civic engagement being developed at MIP. Go check out They are crowdsourcing better questions in order to make better decisions. Questions like "Could we not have hired someone local to do this?"

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By J (registered) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 21:53:00

I get there's a feeding frenzy happening at the moment, but scrapping the contract is completely irrational. It will result in the loss of pretty much all the money. Let's all keep a sharp eye on procurement in the future - this is only a drop in the bucket of wasteful city hall contracting. But the only thing scrapping the contract would do is score some political points for the proposer and throw away even more money.

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By but... (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 22:42:01 in reply to Comment 85077

Is there any way that this company can perform a balanced, functional survey now? The entire process is poisoned. Either way, the money is wasted. Just because we can't get it back doesn't mean we should feel fine about throwing more wasted time into it.

This whole thing is bizarre. All of this just to get feedback on budget cuts? I could understand spending this kind of money on a company setting up a new engagement process that is installed permanently for all future issues... but this seems like this particular project could have been done for nothing more than a salary or two and mailing costs.

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By Flummoxed (anonymous) | Posted January 11, 2013 at 10:11:29

I find this whole affair a further waste of money considering the state of economic affairs in Hamilton. 200 million dollar shortfall, almost 400k spent on this engagement project, which if cancelled, would line the pockets of the Ottawa firm hired to engage, now ordered to disengage. Then you got the police chief doing whatever he can to ensure the wheelbarrows of money keep floating into his stations so they can keep the status quo of goldplated pensions, equipment, new cars every 2 years, brand new toys and equipment. The whole thing stinks more than the smell of the steel mills as soon as one enters hamilton from that side of town. Engage?... Hold a pot rally. Half of Hamilton and more would show up. Or how about engaging those on welfare ?.... Find that offensive?

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