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Don’t overlook opposition parties

The calm that has settled in Ottawa over the past few weeks will soon give way to a frenzy, as parliamentary business picks up yet again next week. As Members of Parliament make their way back to our country’s capital, they will be met by a bevy of stakeholders competing for their attention while trying to advance their respective interest.

In many ways, visiting Parliament Hill precincts still constitute the best way for representatives of key industries or not-for-profit groups to offer their expertise and opinions on the various issues inherent to our society. Obviously, stakeholders experience different fortunes when it comes to influencing key decision makers. Key intangibles can indeed make the difference between a failed campaign or a successful push. And these ingredients become even more important in a minority government setting.

Engaging with the government—whether Cabinet ministers, ministerial staffers, the Prime Minister’s Office or government MPs—will always be paramount. They are in the driver’s seat. They dictate the agenda, list the priorities, and ultimately make all the decisions that reverberate throughout our country. Budget requests, regulatory proposals, and other legislative amendments must be presented their way.

In the same vein, public officials are also very high on the list. Void of political stripes, and bound by a pledge of neutrality, these technocrats are experts in their fields and can navigate through the finer details of our nation’s regulatory frameworks. Their voice matters greatly as they have the ear of the government.

There should, however, be one major difference in stakeholders’ approaches this January, stemming from the enhanced role of the opposition.

  • While it has always benefited from the reverence and respect befitting its standing as a pillar of our democracy, the opposition’s ability to truly impact parliamentary proceedings increases when it holds a plurality of seats, which is now the case. Indeed, the Conservative Party, the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the Green Party can now verily disrupt the government’s agenda, forcing it to negotiate legislation piece by piece.
  • Furthermore, they now control the oh-so-important Parliamentary Committees. They can block legislation that doesn’t favour their interest, or insert amendments that could yield political wins.

As such, stakeholder groups should pay more than courtesy visits to oppositions MPs. Building bridges and nurturing relationships with them becomes an important part of a successful advocacy push. Shadow ministers have more reach and committee members have more pull. They can therefore be easily mobilized, provided that the message lines up with their core beliefs.

Finally, we would be remiss not to mention that the “new normal” in Ottawa also comes with an increased delegation of Bloc Québécois MPs. With it comes a more vigorous call for the promotion of Quebec’s distinct characteristics, chief among them being the promotion of the French language.

It may sound obvious to many observers and stakeholders, but it is nonetheless worth repeating: government relations strategies, messaging and outreach must be crafted and executed in both official languages to maximize their chances of success. One should not expect a political party whose core values include the defense and the promotion of the French language to conduct meetings and work with documents in English.

Minority government status can open up numerous opportunities for stakeholders with the right strategy, one that successfully leverages all the current dynamics and turns them into a multi-dimensional advocacy push.

NATIONAL’s pan-Canadian network of seasoned, bilingual, government relations experts can help transform stakeholders’ political wants into tangible gains. Contact us for more information on our services.