Straight Talk: May 2010
By Tim Beckett
In February, I discussed the disciplined art of lobbying. This type of lobbying is a continuing learning process for me and my colleagues on the board of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs.
By Tim Beckett
In February, I discussed the disciplined art of lobbying. This type of lobbying is a continuing learning process for me and my colleagues on the board of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs. I have stressed and will continue to stress the concept of showing up and making friends, and then showing up and making more friends. Why is this important? It lends credibility to you and your organization and people involved in the issue get to know who you are and what you are about. More importantly, it allows you to establish critical relationships and key contacts.
When you show up at events – political fundraisers, media conferences, association banquets – you are working. It’s great to sit back and enjoy the ambiance but remember to stay focused on the task. You are working to get your issue known, to establish contacts and relationships and to ensure that your organization is noticed. It is vitally important to work the room and make contacts with the staffers and politicians.
Messaging at events needs to be kept short. You are likely going to have 30 to 45 seconds to introduce yourself and establish a connection before someone else moves in. Be prepared; know what your message is. You will need to keep it brief and to the point. This initial meeting is just a starter. You want to be able to set the stage for a next meeting to further discuss your issue in detail. Make sure you give a business card and get a business card. This is your contact information for the next step.
If the function you are attending is large, go in numbers. This will allow you to work the room and ensure that you have a chance to establish contacts and not miss anyone. Plan ahead and know who you want to speak with. Ensure that everyone in your party is up to speed about who to meet and the key message to deliver.
We often struggle to determine who we want to connect with – specific ministers or key elected officials in the government, opposition members of the legislature or Parliament, policy advisors and staffers to certain areas of government, or other stakeholders with like concerns or wants. Is your matter a staff issue or is it something to take to the political leader or minister? Does it affect one minister or several or the government as a whole?
As fire chiefs continue to push for mandatory residential sprinklers, we must break down the issues. For example, in Ontario, the issue of sprinklers in homes has importance across ministries – the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, under which the fire departments fall, and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for the building code issues. A new interest has emerged in the Ministry of Labour as we continue to educate politicians on the impacts of sprinklers on improving firefighter safety, especially as we continue to build homes using lightweight construction. Lastly, we have ensured that the premier’s office staff are engaged because residential sprinklers is a public safety issue that affects people province wide.
We worked to find a champion in government, an MPP with a passion and an interest in the issue of residential sprinklers. This champion allowed us to get our issue heard from the inside. This involved educating the MPP and continuous briefings. We soon began to see private members’ bills being presented. Fire chiefs and other fire service members filled the visitor’s galleries in support of the bills; MPPs voted in favour of moving the bills through first and second readings only to have them fall off the agenda when the Ontario legislature was prorogued on March 4. Even though we continue to push, we still find ourselves without the necessary legislation. This is not the time to give up. We continue to be strong with consistent messaging: Sprinklers save lives. The government knows our issues, it knows our organization and it knows that we have not wavered in our objective to see residential sprinklers put into new homes.
We will continue to lobby for sprinklers. We have witnessed small wins with the changes to the Building Code requiring sprinklers in buildings higher than three storeys. We also have some traction on the retrofitting of sprinklers in elderly care and residential buildings for seniors. We have seen the devastation of not having these types of buildings sprinklered and this is unacceptable. Our continuing lobby efforts have helped to move these issues forward.
A simple reminder: show up often and make friends; be prepared and know your stuff; use your resources in government, staff and media to get your issue(s) heard. It works.
Tim Beckett is fire chief with City of Kitchener and is first vice-president of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs. He has 24 years in the fire service and a degree in public administration from Ryerson University in Toronto. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org