|An Advocacy Guide for Psychologists||
PSYCHOLOGY AND PUBLIC POLICY
|How to Communicate Effectively with Members of Parliament
Identifying and Locating Your Member of ParliamentThe first step in effective communication with the House of Commons is determining the right person to contact. It is generally most effective to contact your own Member of Parliament - the woman or man who represents your electoral riding. As your elected official, this is the person who represents you and who must be sensitive to your views. Members of Parliament (MPs) maintain both an Ottawa office and a local office located back home. You can identify and locate your MP by looking in the blue pages of your telephone book.
There may be occasions, however, when it will be appropriate and helpful to contact other MPs. For example, when the Chair of a Parliamentary Committee wishes to monitor broad public opinion at a critical point in the legislative process, or when you have special expertise in a specific area in which a Parliamentary Committee is developing policy, your communication with them can be important. Contact CPA if you are interested in developing communications beyond your own MP.
Once you know whom to contact, you can obtain his or her Ottawa office telephone number, or be connected with the Ottawa office directly, by calling the Canadian Government Public Information Office at (613) 992-4793. The Ottawa offices can give you addresses and telephone numbers for local riding offices, government departments, Ministers of the Crown, etc. You also can find this information on the Internet at: http://www.canada.gc.ca.
Understanding the Role of House of Commons Staff
The bureaucracy carries on the business of government. Government officials remain as political parties are voted in and out of office. Bureaucrats are very influential in the development and implementation of laws and public policy. Effective relations with the civil service are very important.
Whether calling, writing, or visiting a House of Commons office, it is important to understand the role of your MPs staff members. Most MPs offices will have an assistant, handling your area of interest. Each Parliamentarian relies heavily on his or her staff to be knowledgeable and informed on the issues. Because the information and advice they provide is often critical in shaping the MPs opinion on an issue, any time spent discussing your views with them will be a good investment.
In addition to the staff members in the MPs personal office, the committees of Parliament also have professional staff members. These staff members are often more focused in their responsibilities. While a personal staff member usually has multiple subject areas of responsibility (e.g., covering science, defence, budget, environmental, and health issues), a committee staff member is often able to specialize in a small number of areas and to acquire expertise in them. These staff members work for the MP who chairs the committee or the vice-chair.
Staff members in MPs personal riding offices serve still a different function. These staff members take care of the lawmakers appointments and appearances in the riding. They also serve as caseworkers who help to resolve the problems of the ridings citizens as they relate to federal programs. For example, a riding office member can help determine why a Canadian Pension Plan recipients cheque is late. Usually members of the riding office staff are not involved in issues of public policy-making. They are, however, trusted sources of information and have frequent contact with the politician.
Write a LetterHouse of Commons offices in Ottawa receive hundreds of letters from constituents each day. These guidelines will improve the effectiveness of your letter (for models of letters, please refer to Appendix A).
When addressing correspondence, this is the proper style:
Remember, no postage is required to mail a letter to your MP in Canada. Furthermore, since a fax gets more attention, faster, send it also by fax.
Follow-up Your LetterMPs offices receive hundreds of pieces of mail every day, which means it can take a week or more to research properly the issue and to answer your letter. If you dont hear from them after three or four weeks, however, follow up with a phone call, or with another letter which references the first one.
The CPA Head Office may specifically request that you write follow-up letters to your representatives to let them know you are monitoring their positions.Write a Letter to the Editor of Your Local Newspaper The guidelines for writing an effective letter to the editor of a local newspaper are the same as those for effective letter writing to your MP. In fact, you can send the editor a copy of your letter to your MP. Ask for Help
Ask friends, colleagues and relevant organizations to contact the MP as well.
Make a Telephone Call
When time is short or an issue is very pressing, you may be asked or you may want to communicate with an elected official by telephone.
The guidelines for making an effective telephone call to an MPs office are similar to those for effective letter writing, with a few additions. Remember, you can reach your MPs Ottawa office by dialling the Canadian Government Public Information Office at (613) 992-4793, giving the name of your MP, and asking to be connected with her or his office.
When preparing for a telephone call, start at the beginning, just like you would in a letter, remembering that the person you talk to may have just gotten off the telephone with another constituent who had a very different concern. Be prepared with facts and information at your fingertips and a clear idea of what you want your telephone call to achieve.Before placing a call, make sure:
You can ask to speak to your MP, but dont be disappointed if he or she is not available. Next ask to speak with the assistant who handles the subject of your interest. Remember, this is often just as effective. If neither the MP nor the relevant staff members are available, you can ask for a return call or leave a brief message, such as, "My name is Dr. Jane Jones and I am a professor of psychology at the University of Hometown. I am calling to ask for the MPs support on...". Be prepared to give your address or telephone number in case the MP wants to respond.
Be persistent but courteous. You may have to call back several times before you get through to either the staff person or the MP. Dont be discouraged no one is trying to avoid you. Just remember MPs get many calls each day keep trying.Arrange One-on-One Meetings
The single most effective way to communicate your message to an elected official is through a face-to-face meeting, but it may be with an assistant, not the MP. Most assistants are experts in their areas, and MPs depend heavily on their expertise to help keep them informed. The assistant can give you an idea of where the MP stands on the issue, let you know what additional information might be needed and tell you what action the MP might be able to take.
The rule for one-on-one meetings with an assistant or the MP is to plan ahead: know your facts, know your MP, and know the arguments the opposition will be using against your position.
Scheduling a Meeting
During the Meeting
Know what you want in advance and ask for it.
Be respectful. Be tolerant of differing views and keep the dialogue open. State your points clearly and firmly, but dont argue. Never speak badly of other legislators or organizations. Always be polite but dont let politeness make you timid.
Be responsive. Try to answer questions. When you cant, offer to get back to your MP with the information. It is much more important for you to provide accurate information than to give an answer which may be incorrect. If you arent sure of the answer to a question, give the CPA Head Office a call when you get home. Ask us for help in getting the necessary information and dont forget to send it on to the MP.
Invite Your MP to Visit
Would it surprise you to know that your MP might be interested in visiting your research or practice site? Sometimes the most convincing case is the one seen first hand. If your research or programme is federally funded, then a visit from your MP is a natural. Such visits keep lawmakers in touch with the interests and needs of their constituents, inform them about less familiar subject areas, and provide you with an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with the MP. Especially attractive to an MP is the opportunity to meet a great number of concerned and involved constituents during a "Riding Work Period" when the House of Commons stands in recess. Of course, the initiative to arrange such a visit will have to come from you.
Appearances or site visits by public officials are exciting but they require planning. Here are a few tips:
Good politics depend on ongoing ties with both your MP and their staff.
One of the most effective ways to keep in touch is to get to know staff in your MPs personal riding office. Riding offices are always looking for activities for the MP while he or she is in the Riding - they generally welcome suggestions for events, especially if there is some press potential. For example, say psychologists in your province want to promote the pro-bono services psychologists are donating to disaster relief services. Contact the local office of your MP, tell them what you are doing, and invite the MP to be a part of the press conference you are holding to announce it. The riding director can then call the Ottawa office to suggest your press conference might be a good event for the MP to attend.
There are a wide variety of ways to interact with your
Coalitions are an integral part of successful grassroots campaigns. They help us extend our reach and broaden our message. Strong coalitions are made up of individuals or groups with similar interests. As a general rule, those groups with which psychologists regularly do business are the natural place to look for potential coalition partners. Health care groups, civic organizations, issue-oriented groups like associations of retired persons or alliances for the mentally ill, childrens groups, community mental health centres, community action groups, consumer interest groups, educators, business and industry organizations - all these are natural allies for many of psychologys issues.
If you have any contacts within these groups that you think would be open to coalition building, contact the CPA Head Office. You will receive some help to determine whether or not that organization is an appropriate partner given the CPA overall legislative agenda. Once that has been determined, you can work on building the relationship.
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