It would be very easy to assume that all government officials have been enlisted to assist on Canada’s efforts to tackle the pandemic. That COVID-19 is their sole focus, that any other items on their respective agenda have been tossed aside for the greater good.
This is largely true—public servants have unquestionably been mobilized like never before. They had to craft programs within days, develop new structures to speed up processes which would normally take months (if not years) to roll out, and are working around-the-clock to ensure that Canada gets ahead of a pandemic characterized by its unpredictability. They deserve to be commended.
However, as COVID-19 puts our lives on hold, many stakeholders with tangible political asks have wrongly assumed that advocacy at the federal level also needed to be halted. The fear of appearing self-serving as our nation is embarked on its biggest fight yet is one reason. The other is more practical: would anyone actually pick up the phone?
The reality is that, while COVID-19 is top-of-mind for our civil service, most public servants are still as accessible as they were before the pandemic. They will return your calls and respond to your emails. They will even join you on teleconferences and e-meetings. In essence, it has pretty much been “business as usual”—except for not being in the same room. Public servants are still a critical part of your federal advocacy strategy. In fact, their role might be heightened if your priorities have shifted in the wake of the pandemic. While downtown Ottawa is certainly less crowded than usual, the dynamics inherent to its “bubble” have never stopped.
Engaging with the government is perhaps more important than ever. COVID-19 has burdened our health system and severely hurt our economy. Many industries have been severely hit. While it may take years for our country to get back on its feet, the road to recovery starts now. Soon, a bevy of stakeholders will be rubbing shoulders, competing for the attention of the government. For any entity with pressing demands, the time is now to reconnect with the technical experts who are so integral to the crafting and steering of policies.
The relationship between public servants and your organization goes both ways. While they hold tremendous sway in the eventual realization of your immediate goals, they also understand that your industry or sector plays a crucial role in our economy and might be on the frontline of our recovery efforts. They need to be kept in tune with what you are going through, what you need and what you hope to see implemented. Your interests are still deserving of their attention—and could play a much more important role than you think.
So pick up the phone, send your emails and maintain all lines of communication open. Continue to rely on your government relations expert for finding opportunities to best position your interest. Now is the time to accelerate your efforts and remain part of the conversation. And should you need help, NATIONAL’s pan-Canadian network of seasoned public affairs experts is always a call away.
——— Tiéoulé Traoré is a former Director, Government Relations at NATIONAL Public Relations