Protestors gathering in B.C. this past weekend to rally against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline are just the latest example of how controversial infrastructure projects that face large opposition tend to make headlines across the country.
A new how-to guide developed for the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) aims to potentially counter that type of opposition by advising those supporting these controversial projects on how they can become vocal advocates.
Written by the Saskatchewan Construction Association (SCA) and the British Columbia Construction Association, the Support for Infrastructure Projects Guide was approximately two years in the making and was generated in response to several discussions that occurred during CCA board meetings, said Mark Cooper, president of the SCA.
“It was certainly, and is still, relevant to pipeline discussions but also all kinds of public and private infrastructure projects,” he explained during the Industry Advocacy and Regulatory Affairs Committee meeting at the CCA’s 100th annual conference in Banff, Alta.
“The guide is intended to just be a starting point to challenge and ask questions.”
Cooper stated in an interview, with the advent of social media opponents have many platforms to spread their message, but the construction industry has stayed largely silent.
“As an industry we were being quieter,” he said. “We’re all about evidence-based advocacy but we shouldn’t be silent.”
There are three main components to the guide: purpose-specific advocacy, building relationships to strengthen advocacy and selecting projects to defend.
According to the guide, which will be officially unveiled by June, Cooper said, projects requiring advocacy will have two features, concerted opposition from a group and a “real” possibility of approval despite the opposition.
While the guide points out building a case and developing alliances will be different for each project type, there are underlying steps that are similar across the board.
They include, identifying an issue; identifying supporters, opponents and key influencers; building partnerships; building a case for support; and framing and presenting the case.
“The key consideration in each step is whether association advocacy can help move a project forward,” the guide reads.
“Many local associations across the country don’t actively engage in advocacy,” Cooper explained. “We’re hoping that some of these basic points will be helpful to them in getting their first advocacy campaign going.”
Building relationships is the next component to strengthening advocacy, Cooper highlighted, as well as ensuring you’re asking questions around the regulatory regime that’s in place, that the project will be beneficial to the economy and if it’s a project the association or business can get behind.
According to the guide, there are several steps that can help build key relationships and move a message forward.
The first is to communicate clearly and simply, in real language, by making sure everyone understands who you are, what you do and what the goals are. The second is selecting your partners carefully – the partners you choose matter just as much as the issues you advocate for, it stated.
The last step suggests taking “thoughtful actions to build strong, durable relationships.”
The final component of the guide dives into how to select the right projects to defend.
“It’s having some sense of can we win?” Cooper said. “If you can sense early on by doing some of the scanning that we recommend, that the project is due to fail, then as an association you might make a very pragmatic decision not to engage.”
There are several basic questions to ask, the guide states:
- Does this project represent a win for the industry and the members the association represents?
- Does it provide jobs and build the skilled workforce?
- Is it good for the economy?
- Is there a sound environmental plan in place?
- Does the project review process meet a best-practices standard?
“We think it’s important to provide tools, to teach them (associations and businesses) how to make their voice heard, while also respecting that not all projects are to go ahead,” Cooper added.