Hamilton website angers Oakville mayor

By Bill Dunphy / Hamilton Spectator

Is Ken Seville a democracy activist, empowering voters? Or a reckless publisher ducking responsibility for errors?

The answer, it seems, depends on who you’re talking to.

Seville, a serial tech entrepreneur with a political science bent, says his site, democravise.com, is “a platform for voters to share information” about the upcoming municipal elections.

But Oakville Mayor Rob Burton (pictured above in a file photo) says Seville’s tactics were “extortionist,” the site inaccurate and damaging, and he threatened legal action.

At issue is a site whose modest goal is to help time-challenged voters make better decisions during election campaigns.

Voters visiting the site first answer about 20 questions about which candidate qualifications (education, experience etc.) and election issues are important to them. From this they get a ranked list of candidates, complete with details on their qualifications and campaign platform planks.

“So, now they have a list they can investigate further,” Seville says.

Seville, a military reservist with a political science degree from McMaster, says he is “personally dissatisfied with our political process; I’m not happy with the way we choose our candidates, we should almost be hiring them. We should (use) as rigorous a process as hiring a company’s CEO.”

He hopes to cover the municipal elections in Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville, Mississauga and Toronto. Candidates are given the option of taking control of their “profile” on the site and answering their own questions. If they don’t, the answers are “publicly editable,” according to the email he sent candidates.

It’s that last part — fill out our form or we’ll have the public do it — that angered Burton, plus the fact that the site incorrectly listed his “highest” degree as a bachelor of arts, when he also has a master’s in journalism.

Burton says he regarded the email as “extortionist” and in an exchange with Seville over the weekend, he threatened legal action.

On Tuesday, Burton said the site had been corrected and that was the end of it, as far as he was concerned.

“I suppose if he can threaten enough politicians to fill out his forms then maybe he’ll have a business, I salute his ambitions.”

But he warned that the dispute (which Seville drew to the paper’s attention) was being used to give the site free publicity.

McMaster communications professor Alex Sevigny said the spat highlights broader changes in communications and politics.

“I think Democravise.com is a harbinger of things to come. The idea that the public will construct these websites to help it inform itself is just … going to happen.

“Strategic communication will require (politicians) to do an environmental scan of all these venues and ensure you’re accurately represented in all of them.”

 

bdunphy@thespec.com

905-526-3262 | @BillAtTheSpec

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