Government Relations Report Issue 67

Summer CSANews Issue 67  |  Posted date : Jul 22, 2008.Back to list

As you have no doubt already read in the President’s Report, CSA president Don Gardiner and research and communications officer Michael MacKenzie were recently in Ottawa meeting with federal cabinet ministers and U.S. ambassador to Canada, the Honourable David Wilkins.

On May 20, I met with my local federal MP for Leeds-Grenville, Mr. Gord Brown. As Gord is a member of the government, I thanked him for his assistance with respect to doubling the lifespan of the Canadian passport from five to 10 years. The announcement was made in the 2008 federal budget and will take effect in 2011.

That is going to save Canadians time and money and has been an issue on which we have lobbied the federal government for some time now, so it is a big win for the CSA. I also updated Gord on the latest developments with respect to the property tax situation in Florida.

On May 30, I met with my local provincial MPP for Leeds-Grenville, Mr. Bob Runciman. Bob is currently the leader of the official Opposition in the Ontario legislature, as party leader John Tory has yet to run for a provincial seat. The primary focus of our discussion was the Ontario government’s continued non-compliance with the portability section of the Canada Health Act with which, by now, I am sure that you are all well familiar. As I write this article, there are rumours of an imminent cabinet shuffle at Queen’s Park. Just as soon as we see how that shakes out, we will be scheduling meetings with members of the Ontario cabinet in the hopes of beginning a fresh dialogue on this most important issue.

You may have noticed that throughout the years, the association has spent almost as much time lobbying opposition politicians as we have spent lobbying members of various governments. That is no accident. Here at the association, we are big believers that the opposition politicians of today may well be the government politicians of tomorrow.

We believe strongly in educating ALL of our elected representatives about the issues that concern our members.

Politicians tend to move in and out of government over the course of their careers and it is very helpful if they already have a working knowledge of the concerns of our members, when the time comes to sit on the government side of our provincial and territorial legislatures and in the House of Commons. Building relationships with elected officials in opposition, or as early in the government’s mandate as possible, will only help us in the long run.

It is also important to keep in mind that most of our elected representatives and government officials have only a limited working knowledge of the sector for which they develop policy. There are literally thousands of advocacy groups – just like the CSA – competing for limited government time and resources. Advocacy groups must continue to be proactive to gain government attention or they (we) risk being marginalized.

The association believes in keeping the lines of communication open even when we have no specific agenda. The most successful associations see government relations as a long-term process of ongoing dialogue in which value is added throughout the relationship, not just when government assistance is needed.
Fortunately, the CSA is very well-positioned to be effective advocates as we have a broad, grassroots membership base. From the government's perspective it is more desirable to communicate with one association than with tens of thousands of individual members. The CSA is able to provide government with practical experience and advice and we can be extremely helpful in assisting government (and the opposition parties) in getting their message out to our membership and to the public at large.

Every now and again, someone will ask me why the association lobbies cabinet ministers who are responsible for portfolios that may not appear to have much to do with the concerns of our members. Although cabinet ministers are the ultimate (theoretically) decision-makers for the ministries which they oversee, they also play a vital role in shaping ALL major government initiatives. Far too many associations restrict their advocacy to just those ministers who have direct responsibility for their particular issues. This is a mistake and it is not one that the CSA is going to make.

Ministers sit together as a group and review ALL major policies at weekly cabinet meetings, so the ministers of foreign affairs, education and finance can have just as much say regarding the outcome of our requests as does the minister of health. Developing and maintaining good relationships with ministers is therefore crucial to the success of any association with a significant lobby agenda.
The most valuable resource which we have at the association is our members. The fact that you are on our team is already a tremendous help when we go to advocate on your behalf. When it comes to talking to politicians, there is definitely strength in numbers. If you want to do even more, you could make a donation to the Special Action Fund or simply write a letter to your local elected officials asking them to take action regarding some of our concerns.

If you need help, please visit our website (www.snowbirds.org) and you will find sample letters with respect to government reimbursement rates for out-of-country/province medical expenses. Please personalize these letters to reflect your own views and situations as you see fit. Then print your advocacy letters on your letterhead and mail, e-mail or fax them to your elected representative(s) constituency office(s).

Do not forget that personalized letters have the greatest impact! If you don’t know how to get in touch with your elected officials or you’re not even sure who they are, all you have to do is call the office and we will get you all of the information that you need.

Have a great and safe summer.

Pic 1: Bob Runciman and Bob Slack

Pic 2: CSA President Don Gardiner with Hon. John Baird, Federal Minister of the Environment.

Pic 3: Hon. Tony Clement, Federal Minister of Health meets with CSA President Don Gardiner.