It is unfortunate that the lobbying process is too often portrayed as a highly sophisticated and expensive activity, undertaken by shady backroom characters acting for nameless corporate interests which run counter to the public good. There is absolutely no doubt that goes on, but what clearly is in doubt is whether those types of government relations campaigns are any more effective than grassroots, constituent-based efforts that follow a few simple guidelines.
The first thing to keep in mind is that governments, both politically and bureaucratically, tend to be very good at dealing with issues where there is a solid consensus about what is right and what is wrong. This goes to prove the old adage: “Safety in Numbers”. Although the tendency is to view your issues as falling into that category, the very fact that you find yourself at odds with a government decision is an indication that the disputed policy is attempting to balance competing interests, and political decision-making is all about being on the proper side of these competing interests. If an elected official acts in a way that is consistently supported by the majority of the people, they should get to keep their job, the majority of the time. Just as much time and money can be wasted trying to position an issue that the decision-maker sees as gray, as one that is black and white!
So it is critical that you know what game you are playing … someone who is good at checkers is going to look pretty silly at a chess tournament. One of the real strengths of the CREA Political Action Committee (PAC) structure is that very knowledgeable folks develop communications strategies that position your “asks” in a way that align with the interests of the decision-maker. As a PAC Rep, your role is to meet with your elected representatives and augment the communications materials with local relevancy. Politicians use a triage system to get through the daily avalanche of noise. I can guarantee you that identifying yourself as an actual constituent gets you to the front of the line.
In terms of process, the template for a good MP meeting should include:
- A brief introduction that tells the MP who you are, who you represent, and where you live in the riding.
- Assuming you have a couple of “asks”, make your case as to why you feel there is an issue that needs to be examined. Good briefing materials are invaluable in support of this element.
- Next, move on to what you think should be done about the issue, highlight the features and benefits of your proposed solution (ex. jobs and economic activity), reference any costs involved and identify the actual mechanism to facilitate the change.
Effective lobbying is not about stuffing money into paper bags, it is about stuffing your lunch into a paper bag, rolling up your sleeves and getting out there and meeting with your representatives!
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