CBC Hamilton's Talk section welcomes guest opinion columns from the community. Wayne MacPhail is an emerging-media consultant who lives in Hamilton.
In a Twitter exchange earlier this month, an employee of Dialogue Partners asked what HSR stood for (it's the acronym for Hamilton's transit system). People slammed the company contracted to provide an avenue for Hamiltonians to speak up about city services, and the furor escalated after it was discovered the company's Pinterest board featured a photo from Hamilton, Ohio. Twitter users said it showed the company was out of touch with the community it was being paid to engage.
The city held a private meeting with Dialogue Partners on Wednesday night. City manager Chris Murray was asked to report back to council in two weeks on how the city can best get input from residents on its services.
Here is MacPhail's tongue-in-cheek take on how that in-camera meeting between city officials and Dialogue Partners might have unfolded.
The bar at The Sheraton, downtown Hamilton. A couple is seated at a small table near the window.
Dialogue Partners: Hey.
Dialogue: You look good.
City: You too. Really, I like what you've done with your hair. Oh, you've got a little bit of crow there at the corner of your mouth.
Dialogue: Sorry. Still a messy eater.
City: Ha. Ha. Yeah. Remember that time you used the picture from the wrong Hamilton? Heh.
Dialogue: Wow. Yeah. Glad we can laugh now. That's good, City. Good. Look, I'm ... I'm sorry I haven't been talking lately.
City: Probably best for both of us. Space, you know?
Dialogue: (Looking down) I, I think it's over. Between us.
City: Don't say that.
Dialogue: It's me. Really. I mean, I used to be good in situations with a lot of emotion and conflict, but lately ...
City: You haven't been yourself. Is it someone else? Moncton? Halifax? You were always chatting Detroit up at parties.
Dialogue: No. It's just ... Look. I've made mistakes, a lot. But not that.
City: Are you sure about this?
Dialogue: Yeah. I mean, people are talking about us, about me. They can see we're having trouble. I didn't want this to be about me. Really. So maybe, for your sake, maybe ... you need to find another consultant.
City: Isn't there another way? Couldn't we see a councillor?
Dialogue: We've tried that.
City: I don't want to get lawyers involved.
Dialogue: I don't think we have a choice.
City: Couldn't we just do a 50/50 split? Make it clean.
Dialogue: (Bitterly) Don't do that, don't devalue our relationship like that. You always make this about money. It's not about the money.
City: What's it about then?
Dialogue: Your friends. I know how they talk about me. Inept. Clueless. Carpetbagger. And, did you defend me? No. You let me get dragged through the mud.
City: We agreed we wouldn't talk.
Dialogue: (Looking directly at City) I was testing you.
City: Look, I need time. This is pretty sudden.
Dialogue: It's overdue. Everyone's seen it coming. Everyone but you.
City: (Desperate) Two weeks. That's all I ask. Maybe, maybe there's a way we can save this. Make things normal again.
Dialogue: Things can never be normal again.
City: Maybe they can. I can give up my friends, or maybe set up some guidelines for talking with them ...
Dialogue: You've promised that before.
City: I know but ...
Dialogue: Okay, two weeks.
City: So you think there's a chance for us? I'm mean, if we held a referendum tomorrow, do you think ...
Dialogue: Two weeks. Good-bye, City. I think this engagement went well. There was a frank exchange of ideas and both sides were represented fairly.
City: Yeah. It was good.
Dialogue: You're paying for the drinks.