POLITICAL ACUMEN TOOLKIT:
PROVINCIAL & FEDERAL RELATIONS
Provincial/territorial and federal governments are both important touch points for any municipality. Provincial and territorial governments fund and administer municipalities, and therefore it is critical for CAOs and their Councils to build strong relationships with their local representatives and the Ministers/Deputy Ministers overseeing the departments that govern, impact, and benefit their community. While the federal government has less oversight as municipalities are not their jurisdiction, it too creates policy that directly impacts municipalities and provides grant funding for municipal initiatives.
In this section of the Toolkit, we look at the connections between municipal, provincial and federal and how to effectively work with representatives at higher levels of government. Topics include:
Matters of Jurisdiction: Knowing Who to Work with
Politics are nebulous no matter what level you are working at: municipal, provincial or federal. Political acumen is demonstrated by learning and understanding matters of jurisdiction and knowing when and when not to step on the toes of another government body. However, this is not always as easy as it seems.
As described in an article from the March 2017 edition of McMillan LLP’s Municipal Law Bulletin, “Federal Jurisdiction in Municipal Matters,” there are areas of governance where the boundaries are not always clear. An excellent example, and one described in the article, is the environment. Indeed, it can be argued that environmental oversight is the responsibility of all levels of government. However, without clear rules of engagement, it can often lead to different tiers of government unwittingly overstepping their granted authority.
It is important to remember that municipalities do not have any power provided to them by the Constitution. Instead, they only receive power through their province or territory’s legislation. Because of this, they are bound to and a product of this legislation. Taking the time to understand the division of power between different governance levels helps to ensure you are taking the right issues to the right people in power to achieve benefit for your municipality.
- Flynn-Guglietti, M., Forristal, A. & Sutton, K. (2017, March). Federal jurisdiction in municipal matters: What happens when the provinces or municipalities step on federal toes?
Building Relationships Provincially & Federally
As the saying goes, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know and who knows you.” Developing a working relationship between your Council, Ministers and your local Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) or Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) is essential to gaining support for municipal initiatives requiring provincial/territorial approval or funding. Federally, it is important for Council to have a connection with your local Member of Parliament (MP) to encourage discussions on municipal matters at the pan-Canadian level. Likewise, CAOs should also build relationships with Deputy and Assistant Deputy Ministers provincially and federally that enhance engagement administratively.
Best Practice: When working with provincial and federal representatives it should always be elected to elected and administrative to administrative.
When working with other levels of government, elected officials should always be meeting with elected officials and administration with administration. That is, your Mayor, Reeve or Warden, and in some cases, other members of Council should be the ones addressing MLAs, MPPs, MPs and Ministers. While administrators will play a role in facilitating the connection between elected officials at various levels and may participate in the meeting, political protocol and best practice favour elected officials taking the lead in this scenario.
Finding opportunities for the Head of Council to meet regularly with key elected officials at the provincial and, to a lesser extent, the federal level is important for advancing your municipality’s strategic priorities. Even if no specific request is being made, sitting down to discuss local matters of importance on a regular basis helps to build that connection. Another way to facilitate relationship-building between your Council and MLAs, MPPs or MPs is to have the head of your Council write a congratulatory letter to that individual when they are successful with an initiative. Copying this letter to their Party Leader can also help ensure your municipality’s name is seen in a positive light. If your local representative is appointed as a Minister, building this connection becomes even more critical as the individual has an even greater influence over policymaking.
Remember that there is nothing an elected official likes more than a good news story. Invite your local MLA/MPP or MP to grand openings, ribbon cutting ceremonies, or events that the provincial or federal government has funded. Even if there is no event attached to the initiative, keep them informed on its progress and consider providing them with a copy of the final deliverable, when relevant. This creates positive media coverage for both of you and provides them with material to add to their list of accomplishments while in office. Furthermore, when you highlight the positive outcomes of the funding provided, you become a reliable choice for future grant allocations.
CAOs should also take the time to foster rapport with the Deputy Minister and other administrative staff of the government department that oversees municipalities. Likewise, you should consider if there is value in developing contacts with other departments influencing key municipal services such as transportation, health, etc. Having strong relationships at the administrative level will help ensure you are given the information you need in a timely manner and will streamline your efforts in building connections between elected officials.
Meeting with Ministers
If your municipality requires an audience with a Minister, it is always best to coordinate that meeting through your local MLA, MPP or MP. Your local representative will know the proper procedures for scheduling a meeting and including them demonstrates respect for their office and builds trust.
Keep in mind that elected representatives at the provincial and federal levels have full calendars, multiple initiatives, and many stakeholders to address. For this reason, it is important to keep your meetings with them brief, to-the-point, and positive. Especially when you are requesting support or grant funding, you need to be very prepared. It cannot be emphasized enough how crucial it is to do your homework and anticipate all the questions that might be asked about the request you are making.
Government vs. Opposition
Navigating the waters of working with those in government versus those in opposition can be problematic. If your MLA, MPP or MP happens to belong to the party in opposition, it can be much more challenging to achieve your municipality’s goals at the provincial and federal levels. Representatives that belong to the party in power and are in government control the provincial or federal agenda. If your representative is not in power, it can be much harder to influence the government to create change or drive progress on important issues.
Often the party in power will assign a shadow MLA, MPP or MP for constituencies that are represented by an opposing party. This may not be an “official” appointment, but this individual still represents someone who can help you achieve your municipality’s goals. A CAO and the Head of Council should work to find out who this shadow representative is and get to know them in addition to the elected official. Having support from both the elected MLA, MPP or MP, in addition to a delegate from the party in government can help progress your municipal agenda more efficiently and translate your efforts into favourable results for your community.
Advocating & Influencing
An important part of supporting your municipality involves letting governments at other levels know the issues and concerns affecting your community. Advocating for your municipality’s needs and seeking to influence key issues at the provincial/territorial or federal level requires a high degree of political acumen. Often referred to as “lobbying,” an official term which should only be used when someone is legally registered as a lobbyist, the art of political persuasion necessitates a keen awareness of the political environment to know when and how this type of activity should be undertaken.
Whenever you are attempting to influence policy, it is important to remember that things may not go as planned and there could be unintended consequences resulting in the exact opposite of what you were hoping to achieve. However, the strategic value of advocacy at provincial/territorial and federal levels can also have a very positive outcome that benefits your municipality. Therefore, as a CAO or other senior administrator within a municipality, you need to give careful consideration to the potential results when deciding whether or not to play this card.
Some strategies for effective advocacy include:
• Ensure it is necessary: Advocacy should only be undertaken when needed and when the subject matter is critical to your municipality. It takes a long time to build rapport at other levels of government and no time at all to destroy it. Therefore, it is important only to use these relationships when needed.
• Go in with a single ask: When approaching federal, provincial or territorial politicians or appointed officials, you are much more likely to have success with a single ask over multiple. Focus in on what is most important to your community and Council, and concentrate your efforts there. If you have more than one request, it may be better to delay additional items for another time. Whatever request you are making, also make sure you can provide all of the necessary backup information to support your position.
• Do your homework: Research the current goals, interests, policies, programs, and mandates of the government in power and the ministry you are meeting with. By aligning your request with what the government hopes to accomplish during their time in power, you are more likely to be successful than if you inquire about something that is not on the government’s radar or list of priority items. Alternatively, astute CAOs and Councils may also decide to make some adjustments to their municipal priorities to align with government goals and benefit from the financial assistance made available. Showing that meeting your municipality’s interests will also meets theirs is a win-win for both parties.
• Offer to help: Politicians and bureaucrats at other levels have large agendas and many individuals hoping to meet with them to make their own asks. Take the time to inquire how you can assist the individual(s) you are meeting with to pursue your request. Demonstrating that you are available to help builds rapport and shows goodwill on the part of your municipality.
• Set meetings with the right individuals: Always remember politician-to-politician and bureaucrat-to-bureaucrat when seeking to influence.
Changes in Government
We have all seen unexpected changes in our provincial and federal governments at some point, if not more than once. With government turnover comes new MLAs, MPPs and MPs, all with varying levels of experience in the constituency they serve and the portfolios they are assigned to manage. Furthermore, a new government usually also signifies new policymaking endeavours and a departure from the previous administration’s priorities.
When change happens at the provincial or federal level, the best strategy is to embrace it. While it can be frustrating and delay municipal initiatives, it is wise to accept it and get to know the new government’s priorities. Doing this allows you to establish new strategies for achieving your municipality’s objectives. While politicians can wear their platforms on their sleeves, CAOs should remain neutral and demonstrate the ability to work with whoever forms the government, whether this is at the municipal, provincial/territorial or federal level.
- Administration & Council
- Residents & Ratepayers
- Provincial & Federal