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2022 Trends Report: Public affairs and stakeholder relations

There's no doubt that 2021 has been a busy political year with the federal election in September, multiple provincial and territorial elections, ongoing changes related to health restrictions and COP 26.

In this period of significant change as we enter the new year, Canadian governments and organizations will need to reinvent themselves to ensure they are meeting the needs of Canadians who are concerned about labour shortages, climate change and many other important issues.

Here are the trends our public affairs and stakeholder relations experts see for 2022:

Increasingly toxic politics could alienate voters

Many factors explain the growing divide among people today. The speed with which information can be shared and accessed and the ability for politicians to reach the masses instantaneously may have brought us to a point where one’s ability to “amplify” overshadows any real commitment to representing the interests of the population.

Loudness at extreme ends of the political spectrum is having an adverse effect, creating more distrust throughout society— in how people view the business world, media, science, and maybe even one another.

The last few years have seen an increasingly entrenched polarization in western democracies. It’s become particularly stark in the U.S., but its trickling into Canada too. People aren’t just questioning the “other side,” they’re questioning the system itself.

As the left and right ideologues battle each other, what happens in the middle of the political spectrum? Are politicians overlooking what most voters want to hear? A shift to reclaim the middle and embracing compromise might be the key for the next Canadian majority government.

Yash Dogra, manager, Corporate and Public Affairs – NATIONAL Toronto and Kevin Macintosh, senior vice-president – NATIONAL Ottawa

Governments will influence the hybrid model’s future

As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to subside, new trends are emerging as to how we physically gather, and what public participation looks like.

No longer are we limited to meeting virtually. We can now meet face-to-face, as we did pre-pandemic.

And this is not just a workplace issue. It is one of public participation at all levels of government, and for organizations of all sizes, including associations, unions, and chambers of commerce.

But there is no common vision.

Some governments have adopted new telework models with various degrees of flexibility, up to and including full freedom of choice for employees. These initiatives will influence new models in the private sector, impact communities, and even the future of our downtowns.

Each model has advantages, but it is important we develop a “functional hybridity” that allows us to promote the values we hold dear, such as shared learning, democratic principles, a healthy society, vibrant communities, support for mental health, and an enviable quality of life.

Pierre Guillot-Hurtubise, senior vice-president, Public Affairs and Social Acceptability – NATIONAL Montreal and Jane Taber, senior counsel – NATIONAL Atlantic

Values will continue to be a major factor in development

Not so long ago, governments assessed the value of a project based on jobs created and projected benefits. That era is over, and this trend is likely to accelerate in the coming years.

In the current context of labour shortage, the government is no longer interested in the quantity of jobs created, but in their quality. Amid reconciliation with First Nations and the rise of environmental awareness, decision-makers will expect promoters to have engaged in a dialogue with these stakeholders.

To gain support, obtain government approval, secure funding, position themselves as an employer of choice or raise their profile, organizations are putting their corporate responsibility at the forefront by using an increasingly common acronym: ESG (Environment, Society and Governance).

A company no longer tries to convince decision makers of a project’s merits; it signs a contract with society. Suddenly, it becomes much more than a company. It becomes the trusted partner governments want to work with.

Alexandre Boucher, vice-president, Public Affairs – NATIONAL Quebec City and Tiéoulé Traoré, director, Government Relations – NATIONAL Ottawa

Increased public health authorities’ presence will have permanent effects

Prior to early 2020, public health authorities were neither household names, nor media personalities. COVID-19 changed that, and public health officers, such as Theresa Tam, Bonnie Henry, Horacio Arruda, Robert Strang and Eileen de Villa, became trusted voices overnight.

As their profiles increased, so did the influence of public health on government decision-making.

Through the course of the pandemic, Canadians quickly learned about the importance of public health and how these officials are responsible for guiding health policy to ensure our safety and security. They provide the scientific rationale for politicians who are making difficult decisions, and imposing measures restricting Canadians’ freedom of movement.

Despite these tough measures, most Canadians embraced vaccinations, and followed pandemic protocols. Was this the influence of public health officials rather than politicians? Arguably, so.

We saw their influence, too, in the recent federal election, and provincial elections, where, for the most part, pandemic incumbents were re-elected.

As we navigate 2022, expect public health authorities to be much more “inner circle advisors” to politicians, than the anonymous public servants they once were.

Kevin Macintosh, senior vice-president – NATIONAL Ottawa and Jane Taber, senior counsel – NATIONAL Atlantic

Workforce shortage difficulties are not going away

The workforce shortage has been prevailing for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only aggravated the situation. While some industries are hit harder than others, few are safe from hiring difficulties and we expect these constraints to persist.

Part of the problem is Canada’s aging population. This demographic shift has increased our dependence on immigration to fill skilled-labour shortages, but the pandemic-imposed slowdown in immigration has left a gap in the supply of workers. Left unchecked, these shortfalls could put further strain on the supply chain and hinder economic growth coming out of the pandemic.

During the pandemic, governments were focused on short-term solutions to prevent our economy from falling apart. But as we approach the end of this global crisis, we need long-term solutions to the workforce shortage. More than ever, the private sector will have to work with public stakeholders to solve the problem.

Claire De Muns, coordinator, Government Relations, and Siera Draper, coordinator, Government Relations – NATIONAL Ottawa

A renewed commitment to climate change in Ottawa

Failure to secure a majority mandate for the second time in a row has triggered a significant power rebalancing within the Federal Cabinet and pushed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to embrace a highly ambitious environmental and reconciliation agenda.

This is reflected in the appointment of Steven Guilbeault to Environment and Climate Change Canada and Jonathan Wilkinson to Natural Resources Canada. The Prime Minister resisted pressure to appoint Mr. Guilbeault as Environment Minister after the 2019 elections, but felt emboldened to do so in 2021, moving Mr. Wilkinson—another environmental leader—to Natural Resources, traditionally viewed as the champion of resource development within government.

Announcements at COP 26 show the federal government is keen to accelerate the green transition, seeking global leadership opportunities in the process.

For organizations, the power dynamic in Ottawa—which will manifest itself beyond things like permitting and regulatory approvals to include Crown corporation governance and financing—represents risk but also enormous potential.

Simon Beauchemin, director, Trade & Investment – NATIONAL Ottawa

More from our 2022 Trends Report

——— Developed by: Leads: Gordon Taylor Lee (NATIONAL Ottawa), Alexandre Boucher (NATIONAL Quebec City) Collaborators: Jane Taber (NATIONAL Atlantic), Pierre Guillot-Hurtubise (NATIONAL Montreal), Claire De Muns, Kevin Macintosh, Siera Draper, Simon Beauchemin, Tiéoulé Traoré (NATIONAL Ottawa), Stephen Adler, Yash Dogra (NATIONAL Toronto)