October’s federal election brought a tremendous amount of change to Canadian politics. Obviously, there was a change in government, with the Liberals returning to power – with a majority government – after a decade in opposition. Additionally, the new government has committed to being more active than in the past, willing to spend and invest in programs and policies after the relatively hands-off Harper-era.
There was also substantial change in the composition in the House of Commons, with almost 200 new Members of Parliament (MP) elected. Importantly too, is tone: the Liberal government has committed to a more collaborative, open approach. This has already manifested itself in cabinet ministers being more available to media for interviews and a “freeing” of public servants to speak with the press, and there’s every reason the approach will also extend to work with associations and other stakeholders. It is important to keep in mind, however, that as a result of this, and of a new government in power with different priorities, there will be a clamour from advocacy groups competing for attention.
So what should associations be considering as they approach the new government and the next four years? We see three big themes.
First, and most importantly, the amount of turnover is an important opportunity and challenge for associations. Two thirds of the House of Commons will be fresh to your issues, making it important to educate them about what you and your members do, including how they affect Canadians and how you can be part of the government’s agenda. Associations should be looking to build long-lasting partnerships, not just “wins” on short term asks. Look for champions who you can work with in the long term. New MPs in particular will be looking for issues that they can become personal advocates for as they try to define their parliamentary careers.
Secondly, think about how you can align your issues with the objectives of the new government. You should think in both the short and the long term. The new government will be interested in implementing as many of its campaign commitments as it can in the first few years of its mandate. As with most campaign documents, many of these commitments are very general. Associations should look for ways in which they can work with the government on filling in the details and providing third-party support.
Associations should also think in the longer term. Even as the government fulfills campaign commitments, it will eventually need to move beyond for late-term and next campaign pledges. To be part of the future agenda, you should be laying the groundwork now.
Finally, though there is a new government, it is important to maintain a multi-partisan approach. The government’s commitment to collaboration is supposed to include the House of Commons, meaning that there may be more opportunity for opposition amendments and input than in the past. Even if not, building relationships with opposition MPs can lead to them championing your cause, pressuring the government to take action. And, whenever there is a change in government next, you’ll have an already-established relationship.
Remember: associations are an important interlocutor in the public policy process, and this government seems to acknowledge this. Your organizations and members are the ones with the on-the-ground experience that is essential to ensuring sensible policy development. Effective advocacy will ensure that you are part of that conversation.
Huw Williams is President of Impact Public Affairs, an Ottawa-based public relations and government relations firm specializing in finding innovative strategic communications and advocacy solutions for associations. Over the years, Impact has been recognized nationally and internationally for the effective and creative public affairs campaigns that it has created for its clients.