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Lessons from 20 Years as a Government Relations Consultant

“The government should do something!”
We’ve all said that. One way or another, most people in Ontario are involved in government relations. It may be through the company you own or work for; through industry associations you belong to; through organizations from Parent-Teacher to Game and Fish.

Keeping an eye on government is important because government actions have such a huge impact. These lessons, gleaned from more than 20 years in the “lobbying” or government relations industry, can help you understand – and have a voice in – the government relations efforts that affect you, your family, your business, or your community.

 

Lesson 1: The trick is “no trick”.
There really is no trick to successful government relations.

People will tell you that you need “connections” for effective government relations and, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I didn’t think that was true when I started in government relations more than 20 years ago and I’m sure it’s not true today. I’ve always believed I help my clients build successful government relations by treating the people inside government exactly as I liked being treated when I was one of those people, a Member of the Manitoba Legislature. I believe in dealing with people in government respectfully, honestly and professionally, and by taking the time to understand exactly what they are striving to achieve.

Then, I tell my clients, we can help the government meet our goals while also meeting its own. That’s been my approach for the past 20 years because it works – at the national, provincial and local level. There’s no trick, but it demands a lot of thinking and hard work.

 

Lesson 2: Government relations and partisan politics are two totally different things.

Competition between political parties has become a full-contact sport. Politicians want you to believe the other parties are less capable, less trustworthy and honest, less sensitive. Politicians say quite terrible things about one another, so they sometimes hold grudges, especially at election times.

The basic rule in partisan politics is “You’re either with me or against me”. The basic rule in government relations, however, is “You have to work with the government that’s there”.

Governments don’t get there by accident. They’re elected – and that gives them the right to make decisions and take actions, including those you disagree with. You may want to vote against them at the next election, and even campaign against them. But for now, they’re the government. Get used to it.

If you act like a partisan enemy, you’ll be treated like a partisan enemy.

 

Lesson 3: Always find out what the government thinks it is doing – and focus on the “why” and the “why not”.

Governments almost never set out deliberately to do harm. They are almost always receptive to realistic suggestions that can help make things better for citizens. But there are so many issues and concerns, you should never assume that the people in government understand a problem the same way you do. That’s true for governments as a whole, and it’s true for individual elected members, too.

 

Lesson 4: Starting a fight with the government should be your last option.

There are some amazingly arrogant groups who try to dictate policy to elected governments. They ignore the election results and question the government’s right togovern.

They often act like political partisans – staging protests and press events to impugn the motives and character of the people in government, claiming to speak for “the people” or “all pensioners” or “the working man” or “the farm community”.

Look back at Lesson Two: If you act like a partisan enemy, you’ll be treated like a partisan enemy

Sometimes you must put public pressure on the government, but be very, very careful. Events like rallies at Queen’s Park help focus public attention, but should be managed very carefully: no personal attacks on people in the government, lots of notice so Ministers and others can develop answers, and even a plan to leave the Queen’s Park ground spotless.

The message should be that we are not the enemy; we are the people the government would like to have for friends.

We had a phrase on the prairies to describe going into real battle with the government. We called it a decision to “burn the cars”. Once you’d burned the cars and crossed that line into full confrontation, no one was going to be driving home. There could be no retreat.

That should always be your last option.

 

Lesson 5: Government relations are too important to be left to the government relations consultants.

The perceptions of the people inside government whose decisions affect you reflect the perceptions of the community at large. That’s why you must never treat government relations as a private activity between professionals and government functionaries – you must consider government and community relations as overlapping strategies.

Work actively to make sure your organizations are communicating the basic message right, and then take personal responsibility for sharing that message widely in the community. Talk to your local MPP. Talk to other elected officials, from Mayors to School Trustees. Talk to the members of service clubs, the chamber of commerce, and even members of your parish church.

The more people who understand your position, the easier it will be for government to take the actions you’d like them to take.

 

Lesson 6: None of this will work unless what you’re asking government to do really is in the public interest.

The people in government take a solemn oath to serve the public interest. Unless what you’re asking them to do passes that test, your government relations efforts will probably fail – and they’ll deserve to.

That’s why I believe modern government relations is a positive activity: You have to move beyond your own sense of entitlement and say “I know this is good for me, but how is it good for the community as a whole?” That’s the question the people in government will ask. It’s what you should ask – and answer honestly – as a key step in your government relations strategies.

 

Lesson 7: A commitment to respectful government relations, serving the public interest, doesn’t mean you can’t be very tough indeed.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Being polite, respectful, honest and non-confrontational will help you to develop the trust and the standing you’ll need if it ever becomes time to be a little, or a lot, tougher.

A thoughtful approach to introducing yourself to the new Ontario Government.

A thoughtful approach to introducing yourself to the new Ontario Government.

It’s a cliché – only one chance to make a first impression. But like many clichés, it’s also true. That’s why we recommend a very thoughtful approach to your first contacts with the new government.

 

TIP 1: You’ll be trying to introduce yourself to some very busy people

  • New Ministers, new MPPs and new Political Staff are often almost overwhelmed by events
    • New roles, new offices, new colleagues, new things to learn
    • Excitement and a sense of being very important, combined with anxiety about all the new pressures
    • Family, friends and people hoping to use their connections with the newly important will all want to be in touch – urgently.
  • The last thing they need is an urgent demand to spend time meeting new organizations when they don’t yet have a real grasp on their new reality.

 

It’s crazy time for new Ministers and their staff – and for new MPPs.

Put yourself in their position… and ask yourself… how much would you appreciate it if the Executive Director of any organization started calling and demanding an urgent meeting…

Not a great way to get started on a new friendship.

 

  • There’s so much noise around the newly important it’s hard to make yourself heard.
  • Plus – it’s important to avoid appearing to be pressuring these newly important individuals
    • In this context, pressure will arouse resentment.
    • It’s also a little rude.
  • That doesn’t mean you do nothing.
    • It just means you do nothing that seems pushy or demanding.

 

You probably won’t be heard in all the hubbub that surrounds a new government and

– if you insist on being heard – you’ll probably awaken a negative – and a lastingly negative – response.

But there are still things you can… and should do… as you prepare to meet the new government.

 

TIP 2: Introducing yourself to the new government is a gradual process.

  • There are some very sensible things you can do leading up the introduction
    • A courtesy – a brief note of congratulations on the new appointment, saying “I know you’re very busy now but I’ll take the liberty of calling your office next month to talk about ways we can work together to meet the government’s goals”.
    • Some research: Do we have mutual acquaintances? Does this individual have a track record on your issues? Do we think they are knowledgeable about our issues?
    • A political scan: Are their issues upcoming in the near or medium future where the newly important will want our help or advice (or we theirs)?

 

You don’t just sit and wait until the new Ministers and political staff are less busy – a little hint here, that day never comes. But you work to get your ducks in a row while you’re waiting for an opportune time to approach them.

Being polite is always in fashion – and a congratulatory note is just good manners. It’s flattering, and it’s a chance to leave a positive message.

Looking for mutual acquaintances is very important. It’s so much better to say “John Jones suggested I call” than it is to make a truly cold call.

And checking your radar for urgent issues is a good idea. If you have something coming up where the government is likely to affect your interests, you may have to adopt a more urgent approach. That’s tougher, but we can help you with it if it comes to that.

 

TIP 3: The “permanent government” – Ontario’s Public Service – will be part of your introduction to the new government.

  • Your public service contacts will be an invaluable source of information and advice about the new Ministers and political staff
  • They will also be an invaluable source of information and advice to the new Ministers and political – about you!
    • Keep this professional. The Public Service works for the government, not you.
    • The challenge is to assure them they can best serve the government by working with you.
  • Your objective is to have the public service tell Ministers and their staffs that “we can work with these people”.

And while you’re waiting for the smoke to clear around the newly important people in the Minister’s office, it’s a good idea to focus on your public service contacts – the ones that last longer than individual governments.

 

TIP 4: Is it likely that the new government may have some negative pre-conceptions about you?

  • Do you or your organization have a history with these individuals?
    • Thinking back on the election campaign, did you or your organization attack the character of these individuals or their parties?
    • During the campaign, did the other parties position you and your organization as part of the broader opposition to the new government?
    • It is not necessary to apologize for opposing the government, but avoid becoming an active part of the permanent opposition or questioning the government’s legitimacy.

And while you’re at it… give a thought to any pre-conceptions the new government might have about you and your organization. It could arise from long ago events, or from things you or your people said or did during the election campaign. Or it could be something as simple as having another political party feature you in their advertising against the government.

Any way… you’ll have to address these things going forward. We can help you figure out how to do that.

 

TIP 5: When you do contact the new government, have a clear reason to talk, and an assurance of good will in your dealings with the government.

  • “The new Ford Government will be around for the next four years at least, and we’re looking for creative ways to help the government succeed”.
    • That should be a true statement – regardless. It doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself in opposition to the government. It means you’re open to opportunities to work together.
  • “We’d like to talk to you because… “

Two things here. The first is that it’s critical to be seen as someone who acknowledges the government’s legitimacy. You don’t have to have liked the Ford PCs, but once they’re the Ford Government, you have to be realistic and have them know you’re realistic: you have to work with the government you have.

The second thing – and this should be obvious but often isn’t – you need a reason to talk.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had government people ask “What where they asking for?” when groups talk to the government. You need a clear ask – a clear reason to meet, and clear reasons why resolving the issues is good for everyone involved.

 

TIP 6: There are 3 reasons to ask to meet the new government.

Reason One:  to ask for advice.

  • It is always flattering to be asked for advice and it makes good sense: “In our situation, how would you suggest we approach the government?”
  • Identifying areas for co-operation… “I think we can work together on…”

Reason Two: to offer help or support.

  • If the government is considering doing something you agree with – or something less awful than you had feared – will you be their partner?

Reason Three:  to advocate for your issues.

  • If you have followed the suggestions here… that can be a useful meeting.

And here… we’re back to Leonard Domino 101: the reasons to talk to government. It goes back to what we were just talking about… making sure we have a reason to approach government and ask for their time. Ask yourselves… when do any of these three reasons for talking to government seem appropriate for your organization? Which will motivate your next contact with the government?

 

TIP 7:  What approaches will you follow as you plan your introduction to the new government?

  • That’s the assignment…
    • Preparation with the public service
    • Research on the individuals
    • Crafting your messages to fit the new government’s values
    • Seeking advice (it never hurts to ask)

The fact that you’ll be facing a new government in a little under a month makes all this seem a little urgent… but once again… this stuff looks easy, and it’s often not easy at all. These people are busy. They are important people, and some of them feel more important than others which can make it interesting to deal with them. And you need your ducks in a row before you begin asking for any of their precious time. Again, this is what we do for a living, and we can help you with it, but for today – take a few minutes to discuss how you’ll approach making that first impression with Ontario’s new government.

 

Leonard Domino & Associates Government Relations seminar. The morning of May 11 2018 for our seminar

Leonard Domino & Associates Government Relations seminar.  The morning of May 11 2018 for our seminar,                                                         “You Only Get One Chance.”

*****SOLD OUT ******

This is a very practical workshop – focusing on methods and tactics that can help government relations practitioners make tangible progress towards their goals.

DATE:              Friday, May 11, 2018

TIME:              8:00 a.m. registration

PLACE:             The University Club of Toronto
380 University Avenue,Toronto, Ontario M5G 1R6
West side between Queen St and Dundas Street. St. Patrick’s is the
nearest subway station.

WIND-UP:       The conference will end at around 11:45

LUNCH:            Complimentary lunch and informal “debriefing.”

AGENDA

9:00 –10:00 a.m. Session 1: “Values and how they will affect government decisions after the election”  

– Led by Leonard Domino.

10:00 – 11:00  Session 2:  “Making a good first impression”  

– This will address how best to introduce your organization to a new government.  

– Led by Sarah Domino. 

Structured discussions will involve table talk, expert panel comments and advice from Leonard and Sarah.

[Break at 11:00] 

11:15 – 11:45  Session 3: “New restrictions”

–  Leonard will explain the new restrictions on in-house lobbyists during elections.

Letter from the Integrity Commissioner

Expert Panel

 Brian Brophey – Registrar & Director, Member Relations, at Ontario Professional Planners Institute
• Darren Praznik – President & CEO at Cosmetics Alliance Team
• Greg Toffner – President & CEO at OAMRS – Ontario Association of Medical Radiation Sciences
• Loretta Ryan –Executive Director at Association of Local Public Health Agencies (alPHa)
• Searle Schonewille – Director, Policy Development and Government Relations
• Ted Ball – Transformation Coach at Quantum Transformation Technologies

Letter from the Integrity Commissioner

Response from Ontario Lobbyists Registry

We’re holding a Leonard Domino government relations workshop on May 11th because the old saying is true: you only get one chance to make a first impression.

No matter which party wins Ontario’s provincial election on June 7th, we’re going to have a new government in this province. The PCs are currently ahead in the polls. The NDP are always an alternative for many Ontario voters. If the Wynne Liberals are successful with their new budget, it will still be a new government. It’s important for your organization to get off on the right foot with the new regime.

Your plan for a successful introduction to the new government should start with some careful thought around the real values and priorities of the Doug Ford PCs. We’ll be covering that in depth at the May 11th workshop.

The Ford PCs have made it very clear that they aim to control government spending. That can be bad news for organization counting on big increases in government support. But it will also mean that they may be open to new ideas for doing things more effectively.Looking for opportunities to suggest meaningful reforms should be an important part of your planning for a successful introduction to the new government. We’ll help you do that at the May 11 th workshop. And that kind of thinking is good preparation – no matter which party forms the next Ontario Government.

Like it or not, your behavior and your organization’s public statements during the election will be part of your introduction to the new government. On May 11 th , we’ll talk about how that works, too.

Political parties – including the Doug Ford PCs – understand that organizations and individuals will disagree with them from time to time. So, speaking out on the issues that concern you is not a problem.
But politicians – like anyone else – do have a problem with people who question their honesty or their character. Keeping your election focus on the issues will make it less likely the new government and its staffers will view you as “the enemy” before you even start to build relationships with them.

There are no magic tricks to achieving good working relationships with governments, but there are some common sense, win-win strategies that can get your new relationships with the new government off on the right foot.

We’ll be talking about those strategies on May 11th.

If there are any other specific issues you’d like to see discussed at the workshop, please let us know by including them in the email when you enroll for the workshop.

Our seminar will be limited to 20 people, so there will be ample opportunity for questions, comments and suggestions.  Past seminars have been very enjoyable, involving lots of interactions.  We expect the same the morning of May 11th.

We look forward to sharing ideas, and we hope to see you there.

Cost: $179 plus tax.   ****SOLD OUT ***

Please note, we offer complimentary seat/s at our seminars to associations with gross revenues less than a million dollars. To take advantage of this offer please email Len@leonardomino.com

Questions? please e-mail Hunter Domino at Hunter@leonarddomino.com

 

Douglas Tindal Former Chief of Staff to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Announced as speaker at September 23rd Seminar

We are pleased to announce Douglas Tindal Former Chief of Staff to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Announced as the speaker at our upcoming “SYNCHING YOUR STRATEGIES WITH THE GOVERNMENT’S LIFE CYCLE” seminar on September 23rd.           

AGENDA

8:00 am           Continental Breakfast

8:45                   Leonard Domino:  The Government’s Life Cycle

9:00                   Group Discussion:

1:  How will the government (and the general political climate) have changed by this fall as the government enters the second half of it life cycle?

2:  What are the right government relations priorities at this stage in the government’s life cycle?

9:40                    Panel Discussion:

Panelists:

Michael Decaire MA, C.Psych., R.Psych., R.P. FLEX Psychology, CEO Clinical Director and President of the Ontario Association of Psychological Associates. 

Greg Toffner MHS, BSc and CEO of the Ontario Association of Medical Radiation Sciences

Sarah Domino Consultant, Leonard Domino and Associates

All three panelists are accomplished practitioners who have recently been successful in influencing government decisions. Each will describe a success story and answer questions.

10:15                  Refreshment break

10:30                  Speaker:

Douglas Tindal, Former Chief of Staff to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing

Topic: Three things to remember when communicating with a Minister’s Office

11:15                   Group discussion:

1:  How best to build lasting relationships (i.e., that will survive the next election) with ministers and government members, oppositions members, and, above all, with the public servants who will be advising the ministers’ offices.

2:  What have you heard this morning that has stood out for you?

11:30                   Leonard Domino:

Two actions that all associations should undertake immediately

11:45                    Seminar ends

*If you would like to join Sarah and Leonard for lunch, please let Sarah know, and we will reserve a seat for you at our table.

For more information on this great seminar please click here.

Reviews from the April 2016 Seminar

After our “Successful Government Relations” Seminar in April 2016 we once again surveyed our participants. The results were phenomenal;

We polled participants from our April 2016 “Successful Government Relations” Seminar, and the feedback was so positive we thought we would share it with you.

Once again our facilitator brought an great value to the gathering, earning a 4.25 of a possible 5 star review. With 87.5% of respondents rating him “Very Good” or “Excellent”.

Participants really enjoyed the real life examples and the seminar was called; “engaging”, “interesting”, “informative”, “energized”, “encouraging”, “practical”, and perhaps most importantly, “helpful.”
 
Thank you to everyone who participated in our exit poll, we look forward to seeing everyone at our next seminar, “Synching your Strategies with the Government’s ‘Life-Cycle'” Government Relations Seminar on September 23rd 2016.

The Feedback Is In!

We polled participants from our October 2015 “Refresh your Government Relations” Seminar, and the feedback was so positive we thought we would share it with you.

Each of the speakers – three panellist and the key note, scored at least a 4 star rating, and the facilitator was rated 4.5 stars out of five.

Participants really enjoyed the real life examples and the seminar was called; “insightful”, “interesting”, “credible”, “thoughtful”, “encouraging”, “informative” and perhaps most importantly, “comfortable.”

Thank you to everyone who participated in our exit poll, we look forward to seeing everyone at our next seminar, Successful Government Relations on April 8th 2016.