Meetings with Policy-Makers
As a future physician, you are a respected and trusted member of your community, which well positions you to influence health and health policy. By fostering relationships with your local politicians, you can affect the political process both now and in the future. Approach interacting with politicians as a mutually beneficial process. There will be times that politicians will have initiatives that students, physicians and their organizations may support 2. Other times, you will need to call upon the politician to support your initiative or issue. By building long-term relationships with politicians, you are building a political action network that can be helpful for you in your future endeavors! 2,4
This guide is targeted to the federal or national level of political influence. However, the approach is transferrable and we encourage you to take the lessons learned in this guide and apply it to collaborations with other levels of government and policy makers. Where appropriate, a multi-pronged approach with a variety of collaborators may amplify your message!
Meeting With Policy-Makers
- Identify the most appropriate Policy Maker
- Members of Parliament (MP) are most likely to respond to constituents in their ridings 1,3,8. As they are your political representatives they are responsible for understanding your positions and being responsive to them 3. If you want to contact a MP that is not your representative, collaborate with a colleague in that particular riding and have him or her correspond with the politician’s staff 8.
- However, there may be occasions when it is appropriate to contact another policy-maker. For example, if you are contacting a Minister or the Chair of a Parliamentary Committee looking for expert or broad public opinion3.
- To locate contact information for Members of Parliament:
- Blue pages of your telephone book (CPA)
- Call Information Services at 1-866-599-4999 for any information about Parliament
- Look up your local MP by postal code: https://www.ourcommons.ca/Members/en/search?textCriteria=HOC&searchtext=HOC
- For a list of Ministers view online at https://www.ourcommons.ca/Members/en/ministries
- Setting up a meeting 3,5
- When contacting the MP's appointment secretary, identify who you are, your affiliations, and the topic that you would like to discuss. A reasonable time frame for the meeting is 15-20 minutes. Notify the appointment secretary of the number of individuals that will be in attendance.
- At times the MP may not be able to meet with you. However, if you are able to meet with the aid/assistant in charge your area of interest, take the opportunity! Be flexible; politicians have demanding schedules and aids/assistants are typically experts in their areas who are relied upon to research issues and survey constituent opinions. Aids/assistants are in the unique position to inform you of the politicians position on the topic, what further information/action might be required from you and what the politician may be able to do in relation to your issue.
- Confirm the meeting a few days prior.
- Addressing Policy Makers
- Address Ministers using their title and last name, e.g. Minister Smith
- Address MP/MPP by conventional title/honorific, e.g. Mr., Ms., Mrs., Dr. Smith
- If you are introducing the Policy Maker to a third party:
- Minister: The Honourable Ms. Smith, Minister of ______
- MP/MPP: Member of (Provincial) Parliament Ms. Smith
- Prepare for Your Meeting:
- Research the MP and his or her riding.
- Read biographies, personal websites and social media contributions5,8.
- Research affiliations, previous work, voting history in the House, and personal matters of importance.
- Use your research to frame your message in a manner that both highlights MP interests and align with your present agenda 2,4,5,8. This will help bolster support for your issue because it is relevant and meaningful to the policymaker.
- Know Your Issue:
- Research your issue and the position of your associations (e.g. CFMS, CMA, provincial body).
- Gather any local examples that may add a personal touch to your discussion 2,4. This also illustrates how the issue directly impacts your community and the politician’s constituency 3. Politicians, like many people, often respond to moving stories and anecdotes.
- Research any media coverage of the topic and bring examples if it is favourable 3.
- Part of knowing the issue is understanding the opposition’s arguments and being prepared by formulating responses to them 3. This ensures you are not caught off-guard!
- Your message: Ensure that your argument is organized, concise and easily understood 3.
- Identify what you would like the politician to do with the information you provided. This may take the form of voting for or against a particular policy or it may be a request for support. Support may entail raising and advocating for the issue at caucus, with other ministers, the Prime Minister or a particular committee 2,5.
- Prepare and bring written materials. This may be in the form of a brief provided by your association (e.g. CFMS, CMA). You may also choose to prepare some documents including a one-page summary of key points and your contact information. Ensure you bring enough copies for every member or your group, the MP and their aids/assistants 2.
- If multiple people are attending the meeting, identify:
- A note taker. He or she will record what was said, what remains to be followed up on, and what the politician has agreed to do 2.
- A leader for the discussion. At the beginning the leader should confirm the timeframe and ensure that the meeting ends in a timely manner 8.
- Research the MP and his or her riding.
- Day of Your Meeting
- Dress appropriately.
- Arrive early. The Policy Maker may be available earlier. If not, this may be an opportunity to discuss the issue with the policy maker’s aid/assistants who are knowledgeable on many topics and are relied upon heavily by policy makers in the decision-making process 2.
- Parliament Buildings require moving through a security check much like at the airport. Be sure to budget time for this if you are meeting in Ottawa.
- Ensure to introduce yourself to all the staff you meet, as they may be helpful in the future.
- Spend a few minutes with small talk. Ask the policy maker about themselves, their interests, present work, etc. You may discuss with them where you live and your involvement in the community 2.
- Describe the issue you would like to discuss. Use local examples from your experience/practice2.
- Come prepared with solutions that are feasible and practical 2.
- If you are getting the impression that the policy maker is in opposition to your position, stick to the key points / messages. Do not become discouraged or flustered; simply request that he or she give some thought to your position 2.
- Tone of the meeting: Be passionate, but not too emotional. Ensure that you remain respectful and do not become angry or belligerent 3.
- At times you will be faced with a question from the policy maker where you don’t feel confident you know the answer. Don’t worry! While you should be educated about the issue, you are not required to know all the answers. Simply state you are unsure and that you will follow up with them at a later time 2,3.
- Don’t be afraid to know what you want from the politician and make the request 3. Confirm commitment8.
- Conclude the meeting by reiterating what the MP has agreed to do, ask if the MP has any further questions and thank the MP and assistants for their time 2, 8. Tell the MP and staff that you will follow up in 3-4 weeks if appropriate 8.
- After the Meeting
- Follow up with a personalized thank-you letter. This gives you an opportunity to summarize key points and highlight agreed outcomes 3, 5.
- Ensure that you have followed up on any outstanding issues that arose from the meeting in a prompt manner.
Meeting With Parliamentary Committees
Cabinet establishes legislative agenda for government, and committees are established to oversee their areas of jurisdiction 2. The committees study proposed legislation, expenditures and conduct studies in their jurisdictions 6,7. The committees are responsible for completing a report with its findings 6,7. During their studies, committees are able to explore an issue in depth, and one of the strategies utilized is questioning individuals and/or groups on their views 6,7. There are two types of committees. The first is a standing committees that lasts for the length of a parliamentary session 9. The second is special/select committees that are created to explore a particular bill or issue 9. Presenting to a committee as a witness provides an additional opportunity to influence the political process. Please find below some guidelines outlined on the Parliament of Canada website regarding submitting evidence to a committee 6,7.
- Committees invite witnesses from a variety of backgrounds. Members of the public, experts, organizations, Ministers, public servants all may be called to provide evidence relating to the topic under study. Individuals who present at a committee typically submit a brief, which is followed up by questioning by members of the committee.
- You must contact the committee clerk if you would like to request to be a witness. Factors that influence witness selection are the time available to the committee and the type of study being conducted as well as the expertise and interest of the witness. An individual chosen as a witness will be contacted by the clerk
- To obtain committee and clerk contact information follow the links below:
- For a list of Committees in the House of Commons and their clerks: https://www.ourcommons.ca/Committees/en/ContactUs
- For a list of Senate committees: https://sencanada.ca/en/committees/41-2 to obtain the clerk’s information, go to the committee of interest and click on contact.
- Clerks will organize a date, time and place for the meeting. They will require a confirmation from you and a confirmation of the individuals that will be coming as witnesses before the committee. Note that the clerk is non-partisan and holds an administrative and procedural role.
- If called as a witness:
- You will begin by making an opening statement. Upon request you can have equipment arranged for the presentation (e.g. PowerPoint). Requests can be made to the clerk, but ensure you give them sufficient notice that equipment is needed.
- It is recommended that you submit a written brief that may include opinions, observations and recommendations.
- You must submit all notes, even handwritten speaking notes, to the clerk. They will require 5 copies to be submitted.
- As a witness you will have approximately 5-10 minutes to make an opening statement that is often used to elaborate on brief. The opening statement will be followed by questions from the committee members. Note that when you address the committee, do so through the chair. For example, “Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to respond to the committee’s question relating to….”. The Chair is responsible for the order and process of the committee.
- Speak using a pace conducive to translation and transcription.
- You may be sworn in.
- Be aware that the meetings are recorded and some are televised.
Given the constraints of the committee, you may not have the opportunity to act as a witness 6,7. However, anyone is able to submit a brief 6,7. Below are some guidelines from the Parliament of Canada website guiding the submission 6,7. Please note however, that each committee may outline what they consider an acceptable brief 6,7. Thus, contact the committee clerk for special recommendations 6,7.
Brief submission 6,7:
- Can be in English or in French. Generally the document is not circulated until it has been translated. Thus, information needs to be submitted to the clerk at least 1 week prior to the committee presentation. All written material is made available to the public.
- Author's name and organization provided on the cover page. Include the names, addresses and contact information of persons or organizations submitting the brief in a separate letter accompanying the brief. A brief description of organizations should be included at the end of the brief as well.
- When writing a brief, be concise and support arguments with factual evidence. The submission should generally not exceed 10 pages.
- Make recommendations as concrete and specific as possible - particularly when outlining bill or legislation changes.
- Summarize key points, including the recommendations at the end of the brief.
- All documents/photos should be printed in black and white.
- Include all references.
1. Bascaramurty, D. (2010, January 31). Four Ways to Get a Politician to Pay Attention. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved online at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/four-ways-to-get-a-politician-to-pay-attention/article4303978/
2. Canadian Medical Association. Guide to Political Skills. Retrieved from http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/MD_MP/MD-MP-SkillsGuidebook_en.pdf
3. Canadian Psychological Association. How to Communicate Effectively with Members of Parliament. Retrieved from: http://www.cpa.ca/documents/advocacy_p5.htm
4. OMA. Asked and answered. https://www.oma.org/Member/Resources/Documents/PAN_faq2013.pdf
5. Oxfam. Meet with your MP about International Development. Retrieved from http://www.oxfam.ca/get-involved/volunteer/meet-with-your-mp
6. Parliament of Canada. Guide for Witnesses Appearing Before House of Commons Committees. Retrieved from https://www.ourcommons.ca/About/Guides/Witness-e.html
7. Parliament of Canada. Senate Committees. For Witnesses. Retrieved from https://sencanada.ca/en/Committees/ForWitnesses/
8. Results Canada Webpage: http://www.results-resultats.ca/Tools/HowTos/MeetingWithMP_eng.asp Advocacy How Tos: Making Friends and Influencing Policymakers: Tips for Meeting with your MP.
9. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Committee