Thursday, May 14, 2009

A look at who's lobbying PM Harper

Here’s a dumb question: When will Harper “level the playing field” in terms of lobbying, as between CEOs and average Canadians? When do the capital providers ever get to have their views heard by government other than perhaps the government pension plans? Why is it always CEOs with an axe to grind or an idea to sharpen, but never their shareholders, especially in light of the global financial meltdown?

The Hill Times, May 11, 2009
A look at who's lobbying PM Harper

Lobbyist meetings with Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

March 18: Thomas d’Aquino, Canadian Council of Chief Executive Employment and training, industry, small business
Feb. 13: Pierre Beaudoin, Bombardier Inc. Financial institutions, Defence, industry
Jan. 20: Thomas d’Aquino, Canadian Council of Chief Executives Science and technology, industry,
Jan 13: Randall Eresman, Encana Corporation Energy policy, taxation and finance
Jan 13: Richard George, Suncor Energy Inc. Taxation and finance, industry
Nov. 6: Dominic D’Alessandro, Manulife Financial Corporation Financial institutions

The Hill Times, May 11, 2009
A look at who's lobbying PM Harper
Lobbyists say it can be a 'great plus' to get a one-on-one with the most powerful person in government, but the real grunt work happens elsewhere.
By Bea Vongdouangchanh

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has personally met with lobbyists 27 times since last July and while some insiders say this "can be a great plus" for pushing a public policy issue forward and can "impress the hell out of your client," others say "the real grunt" work of moving a file through are "much further down the food chain."

Lobby Monitor editor John Chenier told The Hill Times last week that meeting the Prime Minister could be positive or negative, depending on the issue. "Obviously in this government, as in recent governments, the PM is the ultimate decision-maker, so getting to put your case to him directly can be a great plus, or the ultimate minus if he is not swayed towards your position."

According to the Office of the Lobbying Commissioner's website, monthly communications filings which came into effect in July 2008, Mr. Harper met with a variety of officials from Encana, CanWest, Manulife Financial, the CAW, the Cement Association of Canada, Magna International and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, among others.

For some lobbyists, moving a file should not hinge on a meeting with the Prime Minister, but rather part of an entire approach.

Summa Strategies vice-president Tim Powers said that while Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) and PMO officials are "always open to meeting people," they are also busy people.

"Arguably, the PM is the chief decider of government so people go to him hoping for a decision, but anyone worth their salt in government relations knows that this Prime Minister and this government expect that you have your spade work done before you come to them," Mr. Powers said. "You better be damn sure you have a well-thought-out case before you go see him. A Hail Mary pass via the PM meeting should not be the only play in the playbook."

Another well-connected consultant lobbyist, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that many meetings with the Prime Minister are "an optic," mostly because they are extremely brief and because they are also often photo opportunities.

"It's highly unlikely that the Prime Minister, who essentially is the chief executive officer of the largest organization of Canada, is going to, as a result of a meeting, interfere with things," the lobbyist said, noting that there is significant work to be done through the bureaucracy as well as other political support before going to the Prime Minister.

"On balance, if it's a tie, going to see the Prime Minister might help, but a lot of those meetings are courtesy meetings because the organization is in town anyway."

On March 25, Prime Minister Harper met with Stephen Lecce, president of the University Students' Council of the University of Western Ontario to discuss education.

Jacqueline Cole, vice-president of university affairs of Western's student association who did not attend the meeting but was in Ottawa during a week-long lobby effort by the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations of which Western is a member, said securing a meeting with Mr. Harper was "absolutely worthwhile" as it gave the association another chance to express their views.

"I think what we wanted to accomplish by meeting with the party leaders, and particularly Stephen Harper was that we wanted to get our issues on the Conservative government's agenda, particularly during this economic time. We have a very strong belief that investments in post-secondary education, investments in people are part of the silver bullet for a lot of the issues our economy is facing. While it's very effective to meet with Members of Parliament from the Conservative Party, it's great to have that direction and that buy in coming from the leader," Ms. Cole said in a phone interview with The Hill Times.

"It's great for our Prime Minister to set an example nationally that education is a priority and so any opportunity we have to communicate our vision for a successful post-secondary system in Canada as well as the research we've done to demonstrate the value of investing in that education is something we want to be able to say to him so that he can pass that message along to his party and his government."

Ms. Cole said that although it was a brief meeting, Mr. Lecce discussed priorities such as changes to the Canada Student Grant program, enhancing student loan repayment assistance plans and copyright of academic materials.

"We met with him to look for his leadership on some of our priorities. He was very interested in the solutions we had to offer so I think we're going to be able to see results from that," she said, noting that Mr. Lecce went in with well-researched and well-thought-out solutions to some of the problems facing post-secondary education in Canada. She also said the association met with all party leaders, as well as several MPs and civil servants during its lobby week.

The consultant lobbyist who did not want to be identified said that while it is extremely difficult to get a meeting with the Prime Minister, there are also several reasons why the Prime Minister would accept one.

He said several of the people Mr. Harper met with are from associations that don't represent a "private interest" and therefore he can't be seen as "picking winners and losers."

If the association gets their picture taken with him and puts it in their newsletter, the lobbyist said, it goes out to thousands of members and benefits both the association and Mr. Harper who can be seen as being supportive of those issues. Mr. Harper would also meet with stakeholders of a certain hot-button issue, the lobbyist said, as a form of "third party validation."

The lobbyist said if the person is a major employer or if it's a significant file, the Prime Minister could possibly meet them as "an opportunity to talk about aligning interests."

For example, after Parliament was prorogued in November and lobbying on the 2009 budget came into full swing during the economic downturn which hit the energy, auto, and broadcasting industries, Mr. Harper met with some of the heavy-hitters from each sector.

Mr. Chenier pointed out, however, that nine of the meetings Mr. Harper had with lobbyists involved other ministers as well.

This could mean that some of the ministers wanted Mr. Harper's advice on a certain file to bring to the Cabinet table.

"The key questions, it seems to me, are not how many times but with whom did he meet and who arranged the meetings," Mr. Chenier said. "Who was able to arrange the meetings either within the corporation or among consultant lobbyists. Not all would happen at the behest of lobbyists. In some cases, it may have been one of the ministers who wanted the PM to settle an issue where two or more ministers or departments disagreed who was able to get the PM to intervene. In others, it may have been advisers warning the PM that this issue was causing friction within Cabinet and his government and he needed to intercede directly."

While having the Prime Minister onside with a particular issue that's being lobbied is significant, lobbyists say many times it's only advertising. "Many people try to put their clients in front of the PM to demonstrate their apparent own worth as opposed to that of a client's proposal," Mr. Powers said.

Similarly, the anonymous lobbyist said when it comes to moving a file, meetings with the Prime Minister are overrated. "They can impress the hell out of your client, make a client think you're connected, but the lion's share of the real grunt work of moving a file and the decisions that would have to be made are much further down the food chain than the Prime Minister," the lobbyist said.

The Hill Times


Randy Meyer said...

I guess I need to be a CEO instead of just one of his constituents.

I have tried several times to discuss the income trust issue with him as my MP. All I get is silence.

I suppose if you're unlucky enough to have the PM as your MP, you also get no representation. Why is that? Why am I as a voter in his riding denied access to my MP (one whom I’m now sad to say I voted for)? Shouldn’t his constituents have representation or is that reserved for lobbyists and CEOs?

The obvious answer is that he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the people he’s supposed to be representing.

Dr Mike said...


You lucky dog you---the Big Giant Cheese Head himself yet.

Sure glad it`s you & not me.

Dr mike