Who To Engage
Of course, it’s important to know the powers, or jurisdiction, that apply to different elected officials. Here is a brief overview, as well as information on how to find out who holds these positions for the area you live:
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(Municipal) City Councilor. This is the person elected to represent your council ward at city hall. Municipal governments are responsible for local matters in a particular city or town – such as parks, community water systems, and construction – but are becoming much more active in areas of environmental regulation and conservation. Cities and towns can also comment on new energy projects in their jurisdiction. Therefore, it’s important to know who your councilor is and on what committees they serve on. You can find this information on your city’s website
(Provincial) Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA)/ Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP Ontario)/ Member of the National Assembly (MNA Quebec). This is the person elected to represent you in your provincial parliament or legislative assembly. Provincial authority over energy is extensive, and includes the exploration and taxation of oil and natural gas resources, as well as any related infrastructure. Provinces are also responsible for funding health care and education, and often rely on income from the energy industry to pay for these services. In addition to their role as a legislator, some MLAs/ MPPs/ MNAs from the governing party will also be Ministers, meaning they have additional influence over the formulation of government policy and regulations. To find your MPP/MLA, visit your provincial legislature’s website, which can be found here.
(Federal) Member of Parliament (MP). This is the person elected to represent you in Ottawa based on the federal riding you live. Your MP will vote on federal legislation in the House of Commons. When it comes to Canada’s energy industry, the federal government regulates interprovincial and international pipelines, and environmental matters that affect the whole country. All of this makes knowing your MP and how to engage him/her, even more important. Find out who your MP is here. As with provincial politicians, some MPs from the governing party will also serve in the cabinet as Ministers.
How To Communicate With Legislators
There are several ways to engage elected officials in municipal, provincial and federal governments. Social media, emails, letters, phone calls, community events and in-person meetings are all common channels for reaching legislators.
The channel you choose will depend on the nature of the discussion you wish to have. For example, if you wish to comment on a policy or ask a question to an MP in a public forum without a formal agenda, you can engage the MP via social media or at a community event. On the other side of the spectrum, if you wish to have a formal discussion where your objective is to discuss a specific issue, you are better off writing a letter or scheduling an in-person meeting.
Regardless of the type of engagement, there are some best practices for communicating with legislators that will help you have a constructive conversation:
- Do your research ahead of time. Before you open the dialogue, take the time to really understand the issue/policy you plan to discuss. Your research will help you narrow down the key influencers within government who are worth engaging. Once you have a list of people, dig a little deeper to find out where these individuals stand on the issue/policy.
- Keep it simple. Elected officials want messages to be as concise as possible. That goes for all forms of communication, including letters and in-person meetings. If you have more detailed materials to reinforce your case, offer to provide them as further reading.
- Don’t go straight to the top. It’s important to respect the bureaucracy of government when engaging legislators. In fact, it’s often more effective to communicate through political staff or public servants. These people serve as information gatekeepers, so nurturing relationships with them and respecting their role as the first point of contact within an elected official’s office will increase the likelihood that your message reaches the official.
- Stay patient and be professional. Keep in mind that elected officials and their underlying staff are bombarded with requests and messages each day. That makes engaging with them a slow process. Trying to force the issue for a response or advocating too aggressively is likely to just result in you being ignored. Be patient, courteous and professional.
Just remember that the above suggestions apply only if you are an individual or small group contacting the government as volunteers on your own time. If you are being paid to contact the government, you are considered a lobbyist and therefore subject to registration and other regulation.
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How To Meet With Legislators
Arranging a meeting – To schedule a meeting with an elected official at the municipal, provincial or federal level, call his or her office and ask to speak with the official’s scheduler, or send an email to the official’s office that includes:
- Your name and contact information (including your postal code).
- A description of the matter you are concerned with.
- A description of what you would like to discuss in your meeting with the official.
- The timeline you are working within (if there is one).
Keep your message as polite, concise and professional as possible. If you haven’t heard back from the official’s office within three days, send a follow-up note containing the same information.
Preparing for your meeting – Before your meeting, prepare a briefing package for the official containing the following materials:
- A one page summary of the issue(s) you are concerned about.
- Evidence (documents, photos, and statistical data) to support any claims you will make during your meeting.
- A business card with your contact information on it, so that the official can follow-up with you after the meeting.
Send this package at least one day in advance of the meeting to give the official a chance to review it. Bring copies to the meeting in order to guide the discussion and add structure to your meeting. This will make the meeting more efficient and will help you get key points across.
Attending the meeting – Approach your meeting with a high degree of professionalism. Arrive on time and dress appropriately. The dress code in constituency offices for provincial or federal officials is business casual. If you are attending a meeting at city hall, or at a provincial legislature or on Parliament Hill, the dress code is more formal.
Upon meeting the official, you should address them with the appropriate salutation. In conversation, Cabinet ministers, provincial or federal, should be addressed “Minister (last name)”; MPs and MLAs/MPPs should be addressed “Mr/Mrs./Miss (last name)”; city aldermen or councillors should be addressed “Alderman/Councilor (last name)”.
State your objectives at the beginning of the meeting, then provide context and rationale in a solution-oriented manner. Be sure to tell the official how government can benefit from engaging in the issue, and highlight the benefits that your goal(s) would deliver. Before concluding your meeting, be sure to reiterate what aspects you would like to see the official engage in, and tell him or her that you will follow up with them.
Following up – Within 48 hours, follow up to thank the official for taking the time to meet with you and attach any materials you may have referenced during your meeting. You may also wish to send a hand-written thank-you note that also reiterates that he or she should consider engaging in the topic of your concern.
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