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Construction should try to meet government halfway, says expert

Warren Frey
Construction should try to meet government halfway, says expert

Government relations can mean a radical attitude shift for construction firms, according to one expert. Temple Scott Associates Inc. senior vice-president Don Moors explained to attendees of the Open Shop Leaders Forum, held recently in Whistler, B.C., that to be heard by government, it’s necessary to understand what the government wants and how to demonstrate you can help achieve those goals.

"One of the big mistakes organizations make is to say ‘I need this to happen because it’s good for my business’," Moors said.

Instead, he said, companies should try to align their goals with what ministers and others in government really want, which is to be re-elected.

It can sometimes be difficult to determine what those priorities are and government goals can change with a cabinet shuffle. But by studying mandate letters, budgets, throne and ministerial speeches as well as monitoring parliamentary proceedings, Moors said, it’s possible to calibrate one’s position.

"By understanding the decision-making process, you can identify opportunities to push for policy priorities," he said.

Questions to ask, he said, include identifying if an issue is on the government’s radar and who is responsible for the final decision. It’s also important to keep the timeline for the decision in mind, he said, as well as who can influence the decision, both in government and in opposition.

"Pick and choose your spots," Moors said. "The level of lobbying should match the priority of the issue. Policy development is often a game of give and take.

"Persistence pays off, follow up is crucial, and government’s slow pace has to be matched by an organization’s advocacy efforts," he added.

It’s also possible to conduct opposition research of other companies lobbying the government through regular interfacing with decision-makers, along with Access to Information requests and the Lobbyist Registry.

"Keep your friends close but your enemies closer," Moors said.

With that said, collaboration can also work to get traction on an issue, he added.

"There’s also strength in numbers. Politicians generally like consensus and public servants like to develop policy that helps a sector, not one or two organizations," Moors said.

He stressed that preparation is also key.

"Don’t spend your government relations time explaining who you are. If you haven’t put in the groundwork already, you’ve already lost," Moors said.

The current dynamic in Ottawa, Moors said, in terms of the government’s priorities stems back to the previous election. Trudeau managed to take the left of centre vote from the NDP and took a bold gamble stating the Liberals would run deficits. His gamble appears to have paid off.

But while the deficit estimate has ballooned since the election, "The Liberals believe if they can keep people employed and the economy growing, people won’t care about the deficit," Moors said.

The new Trump administration has also caused a "fundamental shift" in Ottawa, he added, but Trudeau has retooled his cabinet to reflect the changed dynamic between the U.S. and Canada and has launched an aggressive lobbying campaign.

To understand the Trudeau government, Moors said, study recent Ontario administrations.

"Look at the McGuinty/Wynne ‘brain trust’. Many of those influencers transitioned to the federal government and are enacting the same activist policies," he said.

In Ontario, Premier Kathleen Wynne has a tired brand after a decade of the provincial Liberals in power,

"Though the federal government is following a similar formula," Moors said. "It is also more new and has a more charismatic leader."

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