Len, what is lobbying?
LEONARD DOMINO: Many people confuse lobbying with partisan politics. Partisan politics resembles the description provided by Thomas Hobbes of life in man's state of nature: nasty, brutish, and short; it's the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals-each team fights viciously and the winner takes all.
Lobbying, on the other hand, is a negotiation-a process of cultivating a long-term relationship with the government. Confusing lobbying with partisan politics is a dangerous game, because politicians will treat you the same way they treat the opposition.
Is there ever a time for public confrontation with the government?
DOMINO: I call that the "burn their cars" strategy-the term comes from my days in Prairie politics. It's a very high-risk approach that can sometimes force the government into a negotiated settlement or a complete policy reversal. It involves exploiting inner cabinet rivalries, planting questions with the Opposition, appealing to the public through the media, advocacy groups, mobilizing grassroots support
How effective is this strategy?
DOMINO: Governments don't like to be bullied, so its effectiveness is minimal in a post-election period. In a pre-election period, it can be effective to convince a government that negotiation is necessary.
What's the first thing someone who wants to lobby the government should do?
DOMINO: Know who you're dealing with. Power in a negotiation comes from information and knowledge and by offering a positive alternative. Find out as much as you can about the government's values, stated positions, deeper interests and needs.
What do you do then?
DOMINO: Attempt to find a solution that pleases everyone. There are three different negotiation approaches. There's a win-lose scenario, in which the losing side feels resentment, and will do everything in its power to break the deal. There's compromise-neither side gets what it wants, so we can think of it as "lose-lose." Finally, there are win-win solutions which involve collaborative negotiation between both sides.
How do you find win-win solutions?
DOMINO: Well, it's important to understand that not every problem can be resolved in a win-win fashion. Still, many issues can be resolved through collaborative negotiation, and this involves attacking problems, not other people, and looking for ways in which both sides can benefit.
You mentioned the need to research a government's values; what's the best way of doing this?
DOMINO: Start by reading the campaign literature. If you want to get a good understanding of the Harris government in Ontario, you need to read the Common Sense Revolution and Blueprint (the Ontario PC 1999 election manifesto). Values are extremely important. They change very slowly over time and they determine needs and positions in a negotiation. Values are non-negotiable, so if you attack the government's values, you'll be resisted and won't get very far.
If you had to give a few pieces of good advice to someone attempting to lobby the government, what would you say?
DOMINO: First and foremost, accept the values of the government. Then focus on the needs of the government, and not its stated positions. If you can attack the problem, rather than other people, and ask "why" and "why not," you're likely to develop a collaborative, win-win solution. All of this is done, of course, in the context of building relationships with the people you're dealing with. Politicians and public servants are "risk averse" by nature, so before they'll tell you anything sensitive about their needs, you have to develop a relationship of trust.
We help our clients research the needs and values of political decision-makers, and develop relations between those two groups. As a former elected official, policy advisor to the Miller and Davis governments in Ontario, and as someone who has worked at Queen's Park for the past 15 years, I know how politicians and civil servants think.