The Lobby Monitor

THE LOBBY MONITOR – May lobbying: ‘No one’s going to get emotional about a protein’

Three medical organizations held successful lobby days in Ottawa last month, reporting multiple meetings with public office holders, with each one playing to its strengths to tell its story.

Research Canada, an organization advocating for health research whose alliance includes universities, hospitals and industry associations, uses an all-party special interest caucus to inform elected officials of its work. The non-profit formed the health research caucus—chaired by Conservative Senator Kelvin Ogilvie—in 2009 and hosts kiosk events on the Hill where researchers set up booths showcasing their research for parliamentarians to explore.

President and CEO Deborah Gordon-El-Bihbety said the researchers who participate in the events present their research in plain language, avoiding technical terms, making the information easily digestible to parliamentarians without scientific backgrounds and short on time.

We tell stories. Stories appeal to hearts first, minds later. That’s my golden rule with my researchers,” she said in an interview. Some researchers are great speakers, so the organization does its best to bring them whenever possible. For the more media-shy, Research Canada offers teleconferences and workshops offering instruction on how to present their work, she said. They’re encouraged to tell stories connecting their work to patients it’s helped, or if the research is in more nascent stages, how it might help in the future.

“Why are you hooked on this protein? It’s a protein. No one’s going to get emotional about a protein, but tell them the story around it,” she said. Even the story of funding, which is among the organization’s primary asks, is complex, she said. Health research is funded through a number of sources—public, private, academic, foreign investment and charity among them—and Gordon-El-Bihbety said explaining that web is also a priority when meeting with MPs and senators.

The health research caucus has somewhere between 20 and 30 regulars who attend every event, and Research Canada typically draws around 40, she said. Twenty-nine attended the May 6 event, which featured cardiac research, bringing the total number of public office holders it met last month to 36. The organization used consultants from Impact Public Affairs to help organize and run the event.

As parliamentarians migrate back to their ridings for the summer recess, Research Canada has plans to continue its lobbying in a more targeted, personal way by inviting MPs to visit research clinics and institutes in their constituencies. The Hill events are a great introduction, Gordon-El-Bihbety said, but the visits to institutes are “profound.”

“That’s when they have their epiphanies because they go into the lab and they see how that research is being translated into the clinic,” she said. “And they’ll meet kids in a Leukemia ward, or they’ll go to a neonatal ward and see babies that would have died without that research and those discoveries that are keeping them alive in the neonatal ward. That’s when they go, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t know that that’s what’s happening in Canada.’ That’s when the emotions start.”

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Roll up your sleeves

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) topped all organizations in reported communications in May with 99, when the in-house reports are added to those filed by the 21 board members who must report as consultants. The Lobby Monitor’s analysis of the reports filed in the federal lobbyist registry shows that all but one of the board member meetings also involved the in-house officials, so the number of original communications was 49, involving 53 public office holders.

The CMA is registered to lobby on dozens of health-related policies and bills. Until Tuesday, Ensight Canada’s Jacquie LaRocque and Michelle Mackenzie were also registered to lobby on its behalf on “the need for a strong Federal government role in funding Canada’s national Medicare program and a need to re-negotiate the 2004 Health Accords,” and a national strategy for a patient charter, the registry shows. The CMA could not arrange an interview by deadline Wednesday.

The CMA pitched its May 23 lobby day as a “house call” to parliamentarians. In addition to a breakfast talk from president Anna Reid and meetings with decision makers, physicians hosted a clinic where MPs and Senators could receive cardiovascular and diabetes risk assessments.

The Canadian Dental Association (CDA) refrained from conducting oral exams when a dozen dentists came to the Hill to meet parliamentarians May 8-9. “I don’t think it would work quite as well for us. There’s a real distinction between putting a blood-pressure strap around someone’s arm and getting them to open wide,” CDA public affairs director Kevin Desjardins said in an interview.

The lobby days, which featured meetings with 30 parliamentarians—including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Opposition leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau—gave the association the chance to thank the government for policies contained in the 2013 budget and to discuss its preliminary work on a national oral health strategy, Desjardins said.

The association has been doing “foundational research” to determine the most pertinent issues for the strategy, including the reasons why 16 per cent of Canadians don’t have access to dental care, he said. There will be a federal role in the strategy, especially for aboriginal programs, Desjardins said, but the association is spearheading its development.

“We’re actually initiating the work ourselves and going out to find what needs to be done, what can be done,” he said. “I think in that way what we’re kind of signalling to [the government] is we’re not looking for them to necessarily solve the problems or sweep in and be the answer to the problems.”

The CDA paired dentists with local MPs as much as possible and targeted parliamentarians with a background, committee role or critic portfolio relevant to its work. Desjardins, who moved to the CDA from the Tourism Association of Canada in April, said the Hill days would become less central to its advocacy strategy going forward and that it would look to have more departmental and MP meetings throughout the year. Temple Scott Associates consultants Don Moors, Clarke Cross and Aaron Wudrick are registered to lobby for the CDA and also reported meetings during the lobby day.

May’s 1,192 reported communications were up slightly over the same period last year, and up from last month’s 1,002 reports. MPs accounted for 36 per cent of the meetings (434), with Industry Canada (94), senators (75), Finance Canada (72), Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (62) and the PMO (45) the other most-lobbied institutions. Health, industry, international trade, energy and environment were the subjects most frequently listed in communication reports.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was the most-lobbied minister in May with nine meetings, including communications with the Canadian Cattlemens’ Association, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird were the other most-lobbied cabinet members with six communications each. In addition to the Canadian Dental Association, Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.

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Below is a list of the top 10 busiest lobby organizations and firms in May, according to reports filed in the federal lobbyist registry:

Firm or organization Number of office holders contacted (number of meetings)
Canadian Medical Association 53 (49)
Research Canada 36 (8)
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers 36 (11)
Canadian Dental Association 30 (29)
Fédération des Caisses Desjardins du Québec 28 (3)
Credit Union Central of Canada 25 (4)
Federation of Canadian Municipalities 23 (17)
National Marine Manufacturers Association 21 (21)
Telus Corp. 20 (14)
Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) 19 (12)
Canadian Cattlemens’ Association 19 (3)

With reporting by Mark Burgess at mburgess@lobbymonitor.ca