How to influence government, make sausage, and not lose friends – Michael Clarke

by Michael Clarke, Co-Chair, CCGHR Policy and Advocacy Committee

The remaining vestiges of democratic process in our federal government can be exploited to ensure that public opinion is heard.  The challenge remains to get that opinion reflected in policy and practice.

That challenge is most easily met by presenting government with informed, evidence-based opinion.  But we should not be surprised to learn that government will incorporate that evidence along with a great many other considerations, which often outweigh evidence, as it formulates policy.  It is said that policy-making is similar to sausage making – no one should have to see how it is actually done.

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Among the other considerations that government will entertain is the degree to which public opinion (often not based on evidence) agrees or disagrees with the proposed policy.  The current government has brought many positive changes to the law and policy making process and opened up many opportunities for civil society to provide input for their consideration and having public opinion onside is a very persuasive argument for them to listen carefully.  Other aspects include the raw materials of sausage making such as political opportunism (making the other political parties look bad), fund raising (pay-to-play) and what has evolved to become the eternal, ongoing 4-year campaign for re-election.

Although the new government has indeed opened doors for public input, those who know how to make sausage will have greater influence.   Indeed, there are professional sausage-makers on the Hill – known as lobbyists (see below).

This may sound like a cynical perspective on how our system works but it does suggest that if we learn a bit about sausage-making, without necessarily getting our hands dirty, we may succeed in helping government do the right thing.

So this is not a recipe book for sausages, rather it is a quick guide to seize the opportunities to provide helpful, informed, evidence-based input to government.  Keeping an eye on these opportunities as they arise across all sectors is a full-time occupation so here the focus will be on health, international development and research with special attention to where these three areas overlap.

The three most important considerations in attempting to influence government are – timing, timing and timing.  Government operates on the basis of opening doors for a defined period of time and it is essential to know which doors are open when and, once through the door, knowing what to do once inside the room.

So, starting with the last step – knowing what to do – the fundamental step is knowing what government has publicly declared its priorities to be (priorities are not policy – today, they are mostly based on election promises that function as “commitments” and they will do whatever they can to show that they are being kept and met).  These “commitments” can be found in the mandate letters delivered to the four ministers we’re interested in, by the PM late last year.

The mandate letters for the four Ministers we are interested in (Int’l Co-operation, Foreign Affairs, Health and Science) have been edited to remove the preamble and postamble common to all the mandate letters.

-       Minister of International Co-operation (Marie-Claude Bibeau)

-       Minister of Foreign Affairs (Stephan Dion)

-       Minister of Health (Jane Philpott)

-       Minister of Science (Kirsty Duncan)

A careful read of these mandates should reveal issue “buttons” that you, individually or collectively, can push to get the attention of the Minister.  But here is the most important aspect of getting the Minister’s attention – this being a complete departure from the strategy that was effective for the previous government. Today, with the Trudeau government, the strategy is to be absolutely clear that you can help them achieve the goals set out for them in their mandate letters – specifying exactly which goals and having a strong, evidence-based plan on how to do just that.

In addition to the mandate letters, each department has a public “Plans and Priorities” statement that goes to great lengths on setting out the “what” and a bit of the “how” over the next year (2016-17):

These reports are updated annually.

The members of the current Cabinet are arguably among the most qualified individuals to ever hold their posts in Canadian history.  It is unlikely they will be persuaded by purely political reasoning (unlike the previous government) so they will understand and hopefully appreciate a solid offer of support, advice and help when they see it.

Nevertheless, it must be understood that evidence as we understand it is only one of the many ingredients in the policy sausage-making recipe.  There will always be the political drivers either pandering to or seeking to reveal public opinion (right or wrong) and we have to be aware of the influence of vested interest that will never see the light of day.

Timing, timing, timing

Getting the attention of decision and policy makers is one thing – do so at the opportune moment is another – and if the right approach is done at the wrong time, it will likely fall on deaf ears.

The current government is undertaking a vast number of public consultations as part of its information gathering exercise.  They have been roundly criticized for doing so accusi

ng them of indecision and holding gab fests as a poor substitute for action.  Almost every federal department is holding or has held consultations and those wishing to influence government should take full advantage of the windows while they are open.

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Public consultations are one of two ways to know what business is on the government’s agenda at any particular time, i.e. today, tomorrow or next week.  Government business is conducted in committees, both House and Senate, and their meeting schedules and agendas are published.

Consultations

The federal government has set up a central site for listing of all current and past consultations: http://bit.ly/2buFIgC

It’s worth keeping an eye on this space for opportunities that would be of interest and relevance to CCGHR.

Some individual departments have set up their own consultation process:

-       Employment and Social Development which does deal with issues relevant to health:  http://bit.ly/2buGudA

-       Environment and Climate Change Canada: http://www.ec.gc.ca/consultation/

-       Canadian Food Inspection Agency: http://bit.ly/2buHbDI

-       A broad range of consultations on health-related topics: http://bit.ly/2buHH4C

-       And an important consultation that all CCGHR members should feed into on “Plain Standardized Packaging” for Tobacco products: http://bit.ly/2buHTB0

-       The public consultation review of Canada’s international assistance, in which CCGHR (Charles Larson) participated, is now closed: http://bit.ly/2buGWZd

In addition to the public consultation process, ongoing government business conducted in both House and Senate committees have set agendas and study topics.  These provide further opportunities for the Coalition to provide advice and information prior to the formulation of official policy.

The House resumed sitting on September 19 and it may be of interest to follow the orders of the day for the next sitting.

Here is the link to the list of House committees and helpful information on how to participate in or contribute to committee business: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Committees/en/Home

The Senate also carries out its business in committee as well as commissioned studies that have defined topics and opportunities for public participation: http://bit.ly/2buJ4QZ

For example, the Senate Standing  Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (in which Marc Lalonde tabled his historical report in 1974) published a recent Senate report on Obesity in Canada: http://bit.ly/2buILFD

Coalition members may wish to follow the itineraries of visiting delegations to Canada from abroad.  Official diplomatic visits are managed through the International and Interparliamentary Affairs branch of the federal government: http://bit.ly/2buM3sn

Finally, the federal government allows the public to voice their views on petitions, both official (to be presented to the House) and unofficial (as matters of collecting public opinion) as well as the change to create a petition.  It’s not clear how effective this channel is in impacting on government business but it’s there and might be useful: http://bit.ly/2bY3kZ4

Lobbying Government

An interface to the federal government that may or may not be appropriate for the Coalition is through the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada.  Lobbying is a formal designation of an activity that allows individuals and representatives access to government through a transparent process enabling them to promote either themselves or the institution they represent for government consideration.

Lobbyists, who must be formally registered with the Office, are ordinarily representatives of commercial interests that are seeking to do business with the government in one way or another.  Transparency is an absolute prerequisite for all encounters between lobbyists and government officials to ensure full disclosure of vested interests.

Such encounters do not normally include interactions between government officials and non-governmental (or non-profit) organizations but it should be noted that Dr. Peter Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada is a registered lobbyist (and has been very active in this role) along with other GCC officials, as is Julia Sanchez, President of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation; Conrad Sauvé, Secretary-General and CEO Red Cross Canada; and Rosamond Luke, ED of the All Women’s Empowerment and Development Association.

So, registering as an official lobbyist may be an option for CCGHR that, if interested, should seek wide input from its membership.

The Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada: lobbycanada.gc.ca

Conclusion

29175285393_740e8ae4c0_zHopefully this guide will be helpful to CCGHR as it advances the cause of global health research in Canada.  As a global entity, the Coalition has much to offer the federal government as it develops its own brand of international development assistance and as it seeks to fulfill its reporting obligations under the Sustainable Development Goals.  Beyond what is presented here, there are many other ways that Coalition members can influence government including applying for positions on the governing boards of agencies relevant to CCGHR – all Governor-in-Council appointments are advertised here:  http://bit.ly/2bhW3VK)

The clear statement from Ottawa that the government will strive to build policy on the basis of evidence suggests that the resources of the Coalition will be much appreciated.

Mandate Letters

 1. Marie-Claude Bibeau

“…In particular, I will expect you to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory, and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities: Refocus Canada’s development assistance on helping the poorest and most vulnerable, and supporting fragile states. This would include:

consulting with Canadian stakeholders and international aid organizations to create a new policy and funding framework to guide Canada’s aid decisions, empower people, and support broad-based, sustainable growth in the developing world; supporting the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a global set of development goals adopted by the United Nations in September 2015; working with the Minister of Foreign Affairs to champion the values of inclusive and accountable governance, peaceful pluralism, respect for diversity, and human rights including the rights of women and refugees;

ensuring that Canada’s valuable development focus on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health is driven by evidence and outcomes, not ideology, including by closing existing gaps in reproductive rights and health care for women;

making Canada a leader in development innovation and effectiveness, including by strengthening aid transparency and supporting better data collection and analysis, and by examining current and new aid delivery mechanisms and partnerships; and in collaboration with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Minister of Finance, providing assistance to countries that are vulnerable to the destabilizing effects of climate change, including through climate finance.

Work with the Minister of Finance on development financing issues.

Work with the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship on international migration issues, and on our commitment to resettle 25,000 refugees from Syria.

Work with me, and the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, to integrate international opportunities into the Youth Service Program.

Ensure Canada’s strong and sustained engagement in the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie.

 2.  Stephane Dion

“…In particular, I will expect you to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory, and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities:

Improve relations with the United States, our closest ally and most important economic and security partner, and strengthen trilateral North American cooperation with the United States and Mexico. This would include working with the relevant Ministers to:

work with the United States to make substantial progress on reducing impediments to trade and commerce between our countries, including by improving border infrastructure and security, streamlining cargo inspection, and facilitating the movement of people. This should include increased engagement with provinces on border and regulatory issues;

work with relevant ministers, including the Ministers of International Trade and Environment and Climate Change, to prepare for the North American Leaders Summit in Canada;

develop a North American clean energy and environment agreement; and

support the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship in lifting the Mexican visa requirement.

Ensure a close link between defence policy, foreign policy and national security. Revitalize Canada’s public diplomacy, stakeholder engagement, and cooperation with partners in Canada and abroad.

Reenergize Canadian diplomacy and leadership on key international issues and in multilateral institutions. This would include:

in collaboration with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, making Canada a leader of international efforts to combat climate change;

working with the Minister of National Defence, to increase Canada’s support for United Nations peace operations and its mediation, conflict-prevention, and post- conflict reconstruction efforts;

working with the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, to champion the values of inclusive and accountable governance, peaceful pluralism and respect for diversity, and human rights including the rights of women and refugees; and

acceding to the Arms Trade Treaty.

Increase Canada’s educational and cultural interaction with the world. This would include:

supporting the Minister of Canadian Heritage to restore the Promart and Trade Routes International cultural promotion programs, update their design, and increase related funding.

 3. Jane Philpott

“…In particular, I will expect you to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory, and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities:

Engage provinces and territories in the development of a new multi-year Health Accord. This accord should include a long term funding agreement. It should also:

support the delivery of more and better home care services. This includes more access to high quality in-home caregivers, financial supports for family care, and, when necessary, palliative care;

advance pan-Canadian collaboration on health innovation to encourage the adoption of new digital health technology to improve access, increase efficiency and improve outcomes for patients;

improve access to necessary prescription medications. This will include joining with provincial and territorial governments to buy drugs in bulk, reducing the cost Canadian governments pay for these drugs, making them more affordable for Canadians, and exploring the need for a national formulary; and

make high quality mental health services more available to Canadians who need

them.

Promote public health by: increasing vaccination rates; introducing new restrictions on the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, similar to those now in place in Quebec; bringing in tougher regulations to eliminate trans fats and to reduce salt in processed foods, similar to those in the United States; and improving food labels to give more information on added sugars and artificial dyes in processed foods.

Work with the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities in increasing funding to the Public Health Agency of Canada to support a national strategy to raise awareness for parents, coaches, and athletes on concussion treatment.

Introduce plain packaging requirements for tobacco products, similar to those in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Support the Ministers of Justice and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness on efforts that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana.

Work with the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to update and expand the Nutrition North program, in consultation with Northern communities.

4. Kirsty Duncan

“…In particular, I will expect you to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory, and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities:

Create a Chief Science Officer mandated to ensure that government science is fully available to the public, that scientists are able to speak freely about their work, and that scientific analyses are considered when the government makes decisions.

Support your colleagues in the review and reform of Canada’s environmental assessment processes to ensure that environmental assessment decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence.

Support the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour in efforts to help employers create more co-op placements for students in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and business programs.

Support your Ministerial colleagues as they re-insert scientific considerations into the heart of our decision-making and investment choices.

Lead the establishment of new Canada Research Chairs in sustainable technologies, working with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

Work in collaboration with the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to examine the implications of climate change on Arctic marine ecosystems.

Examine options to strengthen the recognition of, and support for, fundamental research to support new discoveries.

 

If you’d like to learn more about what the Policy and Advocacy Committee is doing to promote global health research in Canada, visit our page on the CCGHR website!
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