Choosing the right tool
An advocacy starter kit
The tools you choose to help you advocate will help you get the attention of your targeted politician or policy maker. They can include:
- Letter or e-mail to legislator, policy-maker
- Phone call to legislator, policy-maker
- Brief presentation
- The briefing note
- Meeting with an MP, MPP, MLA, Senator, city councilor, health minister, etc.
These guidelines offer tips and suggestions for good advocacy. No matter which tool you use, be sure to personalize your work with vivid and succinct examples from your own practice.
Letters are an important way to influence legislation and policy. They also clearly articulate your position on an issue because you can say specifically what you think is most important.
A few guidelines:
- Do not use a form. Make your letter original.
- Introduce yourself (as a constituent and physician, for example).
- If you are part of a group or coalition, say so, along with how many people that group represents.
- Keep it to one page. Short letters have the greatest impact.
- Make your position clear and say exactly what you think should happen.
- Describe how the action will affect children and youth in your care.
- Give concrete, vivid examples from your practice.
- If you are writing about a particular piece of legislation or policy, try to cite it by name.
- When possible, cite other groups also supporting your viewpoint.
- Ask for the legislator or policy-maker’s viewpoint.
- Say that you are willing to meet to discuss the issue in detail.
- Include your name, address and phone number.
Sending your letter: The CPS has gathered links to provincial/territorial and federal government contact information.
Calling a politician or policy maker can sometimes be an effective way of getting your voice heard. The challenge is reaching this person in his/her office. Legislators are often away from the office, in committee meetings, or on the floor of the provincial/territorial legislature or House of Commons, so you may have to talk with a staff person instead. If this happens, you can expect that staff will pass along your message.
Tips for calling a legislator or policy maker:
- Identify yourself by name and address.
- If you are calling about a particular piece of legislation, identify the bill or issue by name (if possible).
- Briefly state your position and how you’d like your legislator to act.
- Avoid jargon, acronyms or insider language.
- Ask for your legislator’s views on the issue.
- After listening, ask for a commitment.
- Don’t argue if the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t agree or hasn’t yet decided.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so, and then get back to them with the correct information.
- Offer to be a source of information on the topic or issue.
- Follow-up with a note or e-mail restating your position, and thanking them for their time.
You may get the opportunity to make a brief presentation about your issue. This can be to a legislative committee or to a group of politicians from a single party. Once you’ve secured a meeting, it’s helpful to think carefully about your key messages so that you can communicate them as succinctly as possible. In other cases, you may be invited to make a short presentation at a local school board or city council meeting. Your presentation may be one of several, so it’s important to get to the point quickly, and make your message memorable.
Elements to include in your presentation:
- Who you are, and any group or coalition you belong to.
- The topic you came to talk about.
- What you want the person or group to do.
- Focus on no more than three key messages to keep your presentation clear and succinct.
- A few examples from your practice to illustrate your point.
- Refer the group or person to the briefing note you’ve brought along. This briefing note is critical because it underscores the points you’ve made in your presentation, and will enable the listener to follow-up with questions.
- Refer to national or provincial/territorial standards if appropriate. This information is often available from the CPS.
The briefing note introduces an issue in a format useful to busy people. In many cases, the information you will need is readily available on the CPS website, or related websites.
A good briefing note:
- Clearly identifies the facts, including key statistics, figures or comparisons.
- Provides answers to the common questions about the issue. You can use a Q&A format.
- Informs, persuades or educates.
- Makes an argument for a particular course of action.
- Can include graphs, charts or pictures.
Tips to help you prepare a briefing note:
- Keep it to one page.
- Don’t use long sentences or wordy paragraphs.
- Avoid jargon, acronyms or insider language.
- Include only the most compelling, useful statistics.
- Make sure they are easy to read, with sub-headings and bullet points.
- Use stories or examples to illustrate your point(s).
- Suggest a specific and concrete action.
- Make sure your information is up to date and factual.
- Include the name, address, phone number, and email address for you and/or your group.
You may discover that there is an MP (or Senator, or other politician) who is already keen on your issue. If not, you may decide that the best starting point for advocacy is cultivating a relationship with your local MP. Meeting with an MP can be an effective way to boost their support for your position. It allows you a face-to-face opportunity to explain your views, to hear theirs, and to encourage them to take action.
Suggestions to help you build a relationship with an MP:
- Unless you are located in Ottawa, you will likely meet the MP when they are home in their riding. Even when the house is in session, most MPs are in their riding office one day a week. Check the House Calendar to find out when the House is in session and when it will be “rising” (out of session).
- Many people and organizations want time with your MP. But all MPs must hear the concerns of their constituents. It can be helpful to position your request for a meeting as an opportunity to discuss key issues of concern to a local organization and/or constituents. If you are not meeting a local MP, link your concerns to their party platform or a position they hold.
- Initial contact with your MP should be made with the legislative assistant. Indicate that you are a constituent, and would like to meet with the MP in the riding office for no more than a half hour. Be flexible about the timing of the meeting, and accept a shorter meeting if necessary. If the MP is interested, the meeting may go longer. Confirm the meeting by letter or e-mail.
- If you want a meeting with a cabinet minister, it may take two to three months to get an appointment and can be subject to last minute changes. Don’t get discouraged, ask the legislative assistant for a new date and time, and follow up again by letter. You could also meet with the minister’s policy advisor or assistant. These individuals can convey your position directly to the minister.
Remember that your MP wants to:
- Be well informed.
- Understand the local angle on your issue.
- Know about people or organizations in his/her constituency who are working on the issue.
- Know about the advantages to his/her community/Canada of supporting and being involved in the issue.
- Be acknowledged for positive political action.
- Understand your objectives/goals.
- Make maximum use of his/her time.
Some tips for getting the most of your meetings with an MP (or other politician):
- Advise the MP’s assistant of the names of the people who will be with you at the meeting (no more than three, including yourself). Ask who else will be attending, and bring sufficient copies of your presentation and background materials.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare! Know your MP. Research their background, and know any current positions they hold in Parliament. The politician’s personal website will be a valuable source of information.
- Know the party position. Remember all MPs are committed to their party’s policies. Check out the party website. The party will not necessarily have a position on your issue, but you can learn a lot from their general statements on health and children.
- Check the media coverage on the issue, and make sure you know what public statements your MP might have made on the issue in local/national newspapers.
- Plan a 5-10 minute presentation/briefing you will make to the MP ahead of time. Focus on your main message, with some supporting examples. Your presentation should include what you would like the MP to do.
- Leave a brief one page handout that summarizes your issue and the action you are looking for.
- Arrive early. Start cultivating a relationship with the assistant to the MP. They are usually very knowledgeable about the MP’s work and interests.
- When introducing yourself, be sure to hand him/her your business card.
- Be brief and accurate in outlining the issues. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say you will get the information for them, and then make sure you do. This makes you a reliable source of information.
- After the meeting, write a thank you letter to the MP, recapping the discussion, and follow up with any additional information he/she requested. Also take this time to remind him/her about any commitment made during the meeting.
Much of the important work in Ottawa happens in the weekly caucus meetings of the political parties. Once you’ve established a good relationship with an MP, you might encourage him/her to bring up your issue during a caucus meeting. You’ll find this strategy will optimize the exposure your issue gets with other MPs, and increases the chances that you’ll get the support you are seeking.