Mayor's opt-in email strategy signals new privacy paradigm at City Hall

Post by Mike Klassen in


Do you need to be more careful about emailing anyone at Vision City Hall?

Imagine the following. A concerned citizen emails former Premier and MLA Gordon Campbell last year with a question about support for daycare in his Vancouver-Point Grey riding. Then some weeks later that same concerned citizen receives a response back, something like this:

"Thanks for your letter about daycare to Premier Gordon Campbell. The Premier is following up on the matter, and furthermore if you want to know the many ways Gordon Campbell is serving your interests you can sign up for his email list."

That hypothetical scenario didn't happen, but one can only imagine the grief it would have caused Campbell had his office done that. However, did you know the exact same practice is now occurring at the City of Vancouver Mayor's office? If you send a communication to Gregor Robertson about any number of issues, your message is vetted by a staff person based upon the subject, and you are sent the following response back:

From: []
Subject: A newsletter invitation from the Vancouver Mayor's Office.


We are contacting you because we received your email to the Vancouver Mayor’s Office regarding [INSERT ISSUE HERE].

Mayor Robertson has been working hard to provide you with new ways to hear about the issues as they happen, and how to get involved and be heard. We’d like to invite you to join our bi-weekly newsletter so that we can keep you informed about the topics you care about and upcoming public engagement initiatives.

Click Here to Sign Up: Sign Up Form for Vancouver Mayor’s Office Newsletter.

If you do not wish to sign up, you will not be contacted again as per our privacy policy.

Thank you,

Vancouver Mayor’s Office

I've received several emails from people asking me, what the heck is this? They tell me that they wrote the Mayor about a re-zoning, or the casino, or some local issue that was important to them. One person I talked to said she got a runaround after she emailed Robertson, receiving only auto-replies that said the Mayor was very busy and to contact his assistant. After she emailed that assistant another auto-reply came saying pretty much the same thing: "we'll get back to you."

They never did get back to this person regarding her question, but then she got the above message to subscribe to Gregor's list. "It must be an election year," she quipped to me.

I'm familiar with the protocol that the Mayor's office used to have, and what many MLA & MP's offices practice here in Vancouver. There is a clear line drawn between governing and politicking. Smart constituency office workers know that you don't allow your office to become political, unless you want to lose your job and embarrass your MLA or MP.

Under the newly politicized Vision City Hall, I confess that I'm not at all surprised by this turn of events. Mike Magee and Kevin Quinlan while sitting at their desks in City Hall regularly send out political jabs and put-downs on Suzanne Anton and the NPA over Twitter. If a Minister's assistant were to behave that way and tweet out opposition attacks in Victoria, they would be promptly fired. Mayor Gregor either couldn't care less what his attack dogs are up to, or he can't control them. I suspect it's the latter.

I note that the email references a privacy policy page on the City's website. That page references the policy of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. Speaking with an OIPC representatitive, they think that Mayor Gregor's email marketing scheme represents a possible "change in the term of use" for messages sent to City Hall, but would have to investigate it before making a ruling.

For the uninitiated, in order for the OIPC to investigate, a complaint would have to be first filed to the City of Vancouver. That complaint to the City would go to: Barbara Van Fraassen, Manager, Corporate Information and Privacy, and emailed If a satisfactory response is not received within thirty business days then a formal complaint to the Provincial Privacy Commissioner can be made.

But then a waiting game begins. If you're lucky you'll get a ruling in six months, but a year-long wait would not be unusual. It's because of this reality that I think we must accept that Vision have changed the rules around email privacy, and the terms of use relating to written inquiries made to the Mayor.

So what are the implications of this decision, which most likely has been approved by the city manager?

Technically, it now means that anyone who contacts the City of Vancouver – whether it is to raise a concern about a zoning, or to complain about a neighbour's dog crapping on their front lawn – can be in return pitched to sign up for a pro-Vancouver marketing campaign.

Want to sound off to the Director of Permits and Licenses? No problem. Sign up for Will Johnston's monthly newsletter. Got issues with a new zoning? Sign up for the Brent Toderian Report. And so on.

As for the list that the Mayor's office is building, surely this list should be available for use by ALL city councillors? By signing up for Mayor Gregor's list why shouldn't David Cadman, Tim Stevenson or (god forbid) Suzanne Anton be allowed to send out their own e-blast to these subscribers? They are on that list because they were concerned about a decision by council, were they not?

So I challenge Mike Magee and Gregor Robertson to explain openly what the terms of use are for emails collected for their newsletter subscriber list, and for the city manager to also explain what the implications of this new privacy paradigm means for the City of Vancouver. They can do much better than to hide behind a hyperlink to the OIPC web page.

If you are someone who is unhappy to have received one of these emails from the Mayor's office, I recommend that you take it up with Ms. Van Fraassen's office. But remember, by doing so you might now get asked to sign up for the Freedom of Information Policy monthly newsletter.

- Post by Mike Klassen. Mike is a city council candidate for the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA). If you're an elected official or candidate seeking a nomination and want to write about urban issues, please send your 450-500 word submission to

Follow Mike on Twitter or on Facebook or visit his website at


I am very concerned about who controls that email list and how it might be used in future.

What's the big deal? You don't like it, don't sign up.

Well done Mike.

I really hope that some more substantial issues emerge to differentiate NPA and Vision. Yes, there's a principle here, but you'll notice that the invitation is a positive-option, not a negative-option; as with 'boohoo', don't like it, don't sign up. Like the 311 thing, totally overblown.

Mike - where are you on the big themes, the big issues? What's your stand on the Cambie Corridor planning work? Are you going to push engineering to change their transport priorities? Based on previous blog posts here, (plus your involvement in the work done by Sam Sullivan), I suspect that you likely have some interesting and worthwhile positions on big issues. Let's see more of that, and less of this sort of attacking, nitpicky stuff.

It's going to be difficult to encourage people to vote if insider points of procedure like this are all the campaign can offer. I know that you can't offer 'vision,' (whatever that may be) but show us your foresight?

Boohoo, it is a VERY BIG DEAL.

I may very well want email notifications from the city- IF that is all it is used for. How many folks will sign up because it seems like a good idea to only discover they are getting political propaganda along with their newsletters about the latest city recycling program.

Email lists,especially qualified email list, (as this one would be)are invaluable ... especially when you are hoping to get yourself re-elected.

I want to know who owns that list, who has access to it, and how would it be used.


It's an email. Just delete it if you don't like it. Talk about a mountain out of a molehill.

Like D, I want to see some posts about policy, about positive ideas, about how to make this City better. Stop telling us how bad the 'other side' is and start telling us what you'd do differently. If you can't/won't do it, then you're no different than they are.


This is important.

Who owns this 'list' is a big question.

Can this list be sold, is another question.

If it is a general database, then yes, it should be open to all other city councillors to use. But as it if is being used solely for the purpose of promoting the Mayor and his agenda....that is horse of a differnt color.

no, it is not an email, it is a LIST that cannot be obtained by looking in the telephone book.

If Sam Sullivan was collecting private emails of potential voters in his capacity as mayor, you would be screaming bloody murder.


Nor can it be obtained unless you give it to them, so don't. I don't care if the City has my email on file, if they send me junk, I spend all of .2 seconds deleting it.

This is the kind of bs that drags the whole discussion down. Let's talk about something important for once.

The Thought of The Day

'Aren't you on the fastest growing social network 'Fatassbook' yet? Not familiar with Tittier? Are you looking for a reliable girlfriend experience? Having problems with Premature Thoughts? Is your boyfriend not treating you with the same respect as Will is treating Kate? No problem. Join the Mayor Shorthand E-Mail List. Become a member.'

So,I did.
Then the 'Sweet Girls With Donuts' popped up on my computer screen.
And then they asked me to become...a member.

Thank you City Hall!
I heard that this was supposed to get you hooked, and it worked.
Thank you, Quinlan.
Thank you, Magee.
Thank you, Robbie.

But, no, but, yeah, but, no, but, yeah, but, no, but, yeah,, please, allow me, Thank U!

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.


If you are not interested in this topic, then why did you bother commenting to it in the first place?

I have a business. Can I get that list that the city is collecting so I can hit them with invitations to buy my stuff? While I am at it, I would like to ask them to donate to my personal retirement fund.

If people don't want the email, they can just delete it.

I want the list, after all, I am a taxpayer and I co-own the computer the data is being stored on and I pay the salary of the staff that manage the database.

@Des. Some of us are less interested in the mechanics of privacy and governance than others. Planning is your bag. I've got lots of views on planning our city that I hope in the weeks ahead I'll be able to wax about here and elsewhere.

However, there are some things I hold sacred that aren't just about the Cambie Corridor, such as instilling trust with citizens. To me the use of emails to Gregor to generate a good news database for the Mayor is pretty cynical stuff. It also shows that the office is scrambling to find ways to improve the Mayor's image.

While in opposition Vision mocked Mayor Sullivan's use of email newsletters for getting out news about the work of his government. Now it's a good idea, kind of like 311 and EcoDensity suddenly became stuff Vision liked.

I have listened to your posts and in the name of progressive initiatives am pleased to announce my commitment to end 'street' e'mail solicitations.

Follow our newest initiative- the Mayor's Facebook page. We invite all citizenry interested in the updates to join via the link below.

Gregor T. Hollyhock - spokesmodel
City of Vancouver - a division of Joel Solomon Inc.

I was very surprised when Vision did their telephone Town Hall meeting last irritated me that Vision used my email address from correspondence I had sent to City Hall.

The funny part was they never answered my questions that had inspired me to email in the first place... I felt at the time they were mining, and I believe I actually posted about it...

There are certain privacy issues, and I feel that this is crossing the line from a political party.. using the city resources on my dime...

Sorry meant to say as well, that my phone number was taken from members list..after I sent an email

Let me get this straight. You are upset and worried that the Mayor is offering a OPT-IN email list?

Are you kidding me? Really? Did you read what you wrote? It's OPT-IN. Again, OPT-IN. You have to decide to OPT-IN.

If you don't want to be on the list, don't OPT-IN. If you are worried about who controls the list (why you would be worried is beyond me but anyways) don't OPT-IN. The City controls the list. Read the privacy policy.

This is a joke. It must me. Or you are a joke. One of the two.

Talk about grasping at straws.


If you don't want it, don't sign up. Simple stuff. I have no idea why you would want to sign up anyway seeing as you have no faith in anything they say anyway.


Yeah, politicians talk out of both sides of their mouth. We get it. How and/or what would you do differently?

The 'City' owns the list.

Please tell me if Suzanne Anton or David Cadman can use the list to contact potential voters.

It is an opt in - fine. Is it also a Bait and Switch?

George's comment is actually what I seet the issue is here.

Someone sent an e-mail asking about a particular concern, did not get an answer BUT was invited to join an e-mail list.

By the way, I did send an e-mail to Gordon Campbell and received a 'thank you for you interest in this topic' reply.

Didn't answer my question though.

"Please tell me if Suzanne Anton or David Cadman can use the list to contact potential voters."

Sure, what the hell do I care. If I don't like it or don't want it, I'll delete it. Not a big deal.

"It is an opt in - fine. Is it also a Bait and Switch?"

I don't know what you're getting at. What kind of nefarious scheme do you think they are concocting?

Boo, if I criticize something here you can be sure that I'll conduct myself according to the principles I lay out. Emails sent for the purposes of public inquiries to Mayor and Council would not be allowed to be used for marketing purposes if it was me making the decision at City Hall.


You say they used both your phone number and e-mail addy to contact you

Were you given a choice to opt-in - or did they just take the info without your permission?

Bait and Switch ala Julia:

I, as a civic minded individual think the idea of regular emails from the city about issues I might be interested in is a great idea. Being a little tech savvy, I use a gmail account so I can control the privacy of my home email.

All of a sudden, I start getting email from the NDP or the Liberal party about signing up for the party or encouraging me to vote for them in the next election. Or perhaps I get invitations to ThinkCity events or NPA/Vision fundraisers.

That, in my mind is a bait and switch.

I would want to know how those people got my email. If i opt-in, am I giving the city permission to let my email address leave city hall and go across the street to a civic campaign office?

Who is going to monitor the list?

I long ago gave up the idea that my e-mail address was very secure.
It seems we are all going to be victims of some kind of telemarketing.
Whether it is by phone, e-mail or door to door.

Hey, I even had someone try and market a company to me because I was a Block Watch member.

You must be interested in security systems!!

Just in case someone thinks that Blockwatch gave out e-mail addresses.
They didn't!!!

A neighbour (who was connected to an alarm company) tried to solicit business.



I guess my point is it doesn't matter. Your email is just an email address. It's like getting junk mail on your doorstep. It might be annoying, it might be helpful, but in the end you can choose to read it or just throw it away (delete it).

You don't need to give your home address or phone number or favorite colour or anything--just an email--and only if you want to!

I don't know what the big deal is.


I look forward to you following through on your beliefs--but I would like to hear some positive, proactive ideas, not just 'not vision'.

Boohoo, let's agree to disagree on this one. An email address is not my doorstep. It is as personal as my unlisted phone number.

All I want to know is whether the email list collected by the Mayor's office is subject to the following:

RE: Disclosure of Confidential Personal Information

I have attached electronic files listing XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The files contain confidential personal information that is provided to you exclusively for the purpose of XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX The personal information is not to be disclosed to third parties, must be stored securely, and must be destroyed when it is no longer needed. The foregoing conditions apply to all confidential personal information supplied previously or in future, either in electronic, print, or other media.

If you have any questions about the permissible uses of this personal information, please call Shobha Rae, FOI Administrator, at 873-7275.

should add - that critically confidential information does not include an email or phone number - just a name and an address that I can send a letter to.

Boohoo & Ryan

I just had a visit from an 'independent energy provider. No one has to sign up to these (I didn't, of course) but it's entirely voluntary, an 'Opt-in'. Does that make the scam any more acceptable or the victims any less ripped off? I don't think so.

OK, this isn't the burning of the Reichstag but it seems to me that a little paranoia when it comes to privacy, data and long established principles of government is no bad thing.

Now I wonder, what is stopping the 'city' from collecting and databasing your info regardless of if you say 'yes' or not.

Some people may contact them via a company e-mail aside from personal. This type of info can be used in various ways.

Oddly enough, tonight while I was out, a number came through on my hone phone from a number listed as 'out of area'. When I did a call back - it is a company called 'Campaign Research'.

My number is unlisted and few people aside from friends and family have it....and the city for property taxes.

I get very little, almost zero spam phone calls.

a question without an answer:

given the voter turnout at a civic election in about 30% - wonder how many vote out of those that contact the city for one reason or another.

My guess-those that contact the city are more likely to vote than those that don't. Therefore, the opportunity to influence those that are more likely to vote must be enormous.

On another note:

My little auntie in Prince George called and said she heard Lorne Mayencourt was running for Mayor???

I told her I had not heard anything.

Max - now that would be totally interesting. wow. google'd everywhere - found nothing.

Paranoia of what though?

We can all clearly use the internet, just create an account for junk. I have my personal gmail account, and I have another for all the stupid things I sign up for. Problem solved.

Boohoo, it is clear that you do not get it.


"Mayor Robertson has been working hard to provide you with new ways to hear about the issues as they happen, and how to get involved and be heard. We’d like to invite you to join our bi-weekly newsletter so that we can keep you informed about the topics you care about and upcoming public engagement initiatives."

The above is blatantly a political statement. It also highlights the obvious insincerity of this Vision Council. If Robertson was "working hard to hear about issues as they happen" and he, in fact cared, he might start his "hearing" at the endless public hearing charades, which insult the citizens who do try to have their voices heard.

This is classic 'double speak' where the Mayor is misusing his office to convince people he is listening, when, clearly by his voting record, he is not. Then he offers to send you a 'thought control' device prepared by his political, public paid staff. Vision has used the old methodology that if we say it is true often enough it will become true.

Mike is right, this might not be the 'big' issue which gets a lot of people worked up, but it is indeed important. The integrity of our democratic institutions must be maintained. This Vision Council is not respecting them, and in fact has on numerous occasions seriously abused them.

No Julia, I don't. You don't like it, don't sign up.


A bland statement about a generic newsletter is different than public hearings. You guys are all just so choked and jaded there is absolutely nothing he can do that doesn't piss you off. Like when I posted the fact that they are now putting their expenses online. 'Too late' you scream. 'Can't trust them' you decry.

We get it. You are also running for office aren't you? How about something positive, ANYTHING that's not just 'not vision'.

I admit there probably isn't much that Robertson could do beyond saving a kitten in a tree that wouldn't piss me off.

As to positive ideas, Bill seems to me to have suggested several with regard to housing lately. Maybe you were so choked and jaded you missed them!

I saved a kitten once. Then I ate him.

And how much do you know about that little Reichstag thing, anyway?

Thanks Mike

So assuming you and the NPA are elected, what would your policy be on this? More generally, what concrete steps would you take to make City Hall more transparent? I persoannly would like to see a government willing to experiment with complete transparency - every e-mail, document, etc. into and out of City Hall would be publicly available and searchable. I know this raises many privacy issues, but I am willing to trade privacy for transparency when it comes to government.


we are not going to know true intentions until we actually see the newsletters and see how the email list gets used and by whom. By then, it is too late to not sign up.

Why isn't there something like Google Alerts that will send a notice to your inbox when keywords show up on the city website. The highlight page of the city website could send email alerts when new info is posted. Why does the Mayor need a newsletter?

At least that would insure that the stories are not being massaged for best political effect.

I am assuming this new communication feature comes with a price tag. Any ideas how much and who is in charge?

I just signed up with my junk mail account. No privacy agreement anywhere.

Nothing is ever a big deal. Everyone overreacts to everything. If only we could delete your comments in the same way...

Mike Klassen,

Why don't tell us what YOU stand for, rather than always finding faults with the politicians from the opposing party. Every post I have read by you, involves trashing Vision, what Gregor has done wrong, etc etc. Time for YOU to come up with something you stand up for. Tell us what YOUR values are. Tell us what YOU will do if you were elected.


Let's put it this way, Vision and Robertson make it easy for us to trash them.

Let's be clear about something - I don't give a rats a%% who is mayor, my questions and concerns would be the same.

Check out!

Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement