Temple Scott Associates Inc. senior vice president Don Moors was the presenter at the government relations session at the Open Shop Leaders Forum on May 9 in Whistler, B.C. Merit Canada president Terrance Oakey also acted as a panelist.
The current dynamic in Ottawa, Moors said, in terms of the current government's priorities stems back to the previous election. When Harper dropped the writ on July 17, 2015, the NDP was in the lead for the first time in history. The Liberals were clearly in third place, and the Conservative advertising targeting Justin Trudeau seemed to be working. The Conservatives were also seen as needing to broaden their base.
Trudeau made a fundamental decision In mid-August and decided to break with the political orthodoxy of balanced budgets and said he would run "modest deficits." Moors said combined with his stance on marijuana, immigration and other policies, he was in effect consolidating opposition to the Conservatives and sidelining the NDP. Mulcair helped this happen when he doubled down on deficit reduction. By September 4, 2015, the Liberals are in second place and very close to the NDP, which is starting to decline.
By Election Day 2015, the NDP has plunged to 19.7 per cent support, the Conservatives at 31.9 per cent and the Liberals win with 39.5 per cent. The Conservatives failed to grow their base, and the popular vote went to the Liberals in every province except Alberta and Saskatchewan. This was a big switch from 2011, when the Conservatives took the popular vote in a majority of provinces.
Trudeau owned the left of center vote and succeeded in making the election a two horse race.
Currently, the Liberals are holding steady, the Conservatives are within their election numbers and the NDP are still reduced. The Bloc is marginalized.
"The numbers may tighten over time as the Conservatives and NDP elect their new leaders," Moors said.
The most number of seats in the Senate are Conservative and since the Trudeau government is not appointing new Liberal senators, there are 35 independent senators. As a result, the Senate is opposing a number of government bills, "in a way the Senate never has," Moors said.
Key Liberal government themes are helping the middle class, making sure the rich pay their fair share, growing small businesses into larger ones, open boarders, equality, and having a role in the life of Canadians, including with the economy (which essentially means government intervention in the economy).
"Not only the Harper government but the Chrétien and Martin governments were allergic to tax cuts. This is not your father's Liberal party," Moors said.
The emphasis on equality is "bigger than any government I've seen my adult life," Moors added.
TO understand where the federal Liberals are going, look at the McGinty/Wynne "brain trust" he said, as many of those influencers transitioned to the federal government and are enacting the same activist policies.
Other key priorities include infrastructure, the environment and carbon taxes, indigenous affairs and marijuana legalization.
The fiscal outlook project deficits until 2021/22 and their promise of $10 billion in deficits (eliminated by the next election) is already null and void. The Liberals believe, Moors said, if they can keep people employed and the economy growing, people won't care about the deficit.
The impact of the Trump administration is that the threat of protectionism with our largest trading partner has caused a fundamental shift in Ottawa. Trudeau retooled his cabinet to reflect the changing dynamic with the United States and they launched an aggressive lobbying campaign.
The consensus regarding the Conservative opposition is that they have done well with Rona Ambrose as interim leader, but the focus is on the candidates vying for leadership of the party. The new leader, even if elected, could still be influential in pushing back and blocking movement by the government.
Bernier is the perceived front runner at the moment " but with the preferential ballot, anything can happen," Moors said.
Moors also pointed out that Bernier is a libertarian candidate, and the key question is if he will moderate his views should he become leader.
Also, Moors asked, how does a party unite after a race with 13 candidates? For the Liberals, the results of the Conservative race are probably less important than the choice of NDP leader. They would prefer to keep the NDP marginalized and be running against the Conservatives, Moors said.
The New Democrats, Moors said, continues to struggle to define itself and stake out ground not already seized by the Liberals.
The common expectation is a cabinet shuffle by summer, with a prorogation. By that time, Moors said, there will likely be a new Conservative and NDP leader in place and that will signal the start of the 2019 re-election campaign.
In British Columbia, common wisdom pre May 9 is that the Liberals will once again win, and that Clark was able to shift arguments towards the softwood lumber debate. In Ontario, Kathleen Wynne has a tired brand after a decade in power, and though the federal government is following a similar formula, it is also more new and has a more charismatic leader.
The real challenge for the Ontario Liberals is Kathleen Wynne's approval ratings, which are much lower than for the party itself. "There's speculation she won't be the leader for the next election, but the window for that is closing," Moors said.
In terms of effective lobbying, one should understand the decision making process, build and maintain profile and awareness of your organization, align your issues with the government's priorities and remain persistent.
By understanding the decision making environment, Moors aid, you can identify opportunities to push for policy priorities.
For instance, is the issue on the government's radar? If so, identify who is responsible for the final decision, and identify who else will influence the decision, both in government and opposition. It's also important, he said, to keep the timeline for the decision in mind.
Don't spend your government relations time explaining who you are, Moors said. If you haven't put in the groundwork already, you've already lost.
One of the big mistakes organizations make, Moors added, is to say "I need this to happen because it's good for my business." Rather, one should align with what ministers and MPs want, which is to be reelected, but you can also tell their priorities from mandate letters, budgets, throne speeches, Ministerial speeches and by monitoring Parliamentary proceedings.
"Pick and choose your spots," Moore said. The level of lobbying should match the priority of the issue, and policy development is often a game of give and take.
Persistence, he said, pays off. Follow up is crucial, and government's slow pace has to be matched by an organization's advocacy efforts.
There is also strength in numbers, he added. Politicians generally like consensus, and public servants like to develop policy that helps a sector, not one or two organizations.
"Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer," Moors said. Understand the pressures a government is facing, and monitor opposition by regularly interfacing with decision makers, using the Lobbyist Registry, and use Access to Information requests.