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Event Recap

Workshop Highlights: Getting Political Decision-makers to Support Your Work.

An objective of Community Climate Action (CCA) is to reduce the impact of climate change on high-rise communities like St. James Town (SJT). The November 9, 2021 workshop aimed to help people on the ground to discuss, frame and communicate their issues with policymakers and others, to bring systemic change.

Our speakers were government officials and outside professionals who work with them. They talked about what it is like work for decision-makers, and how government relations experts reach elected leaders from across the political spectrum at all levels.

Speakers

  • Robin Buxton-Potts, Chief of Staff for Toronto Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam
  • Ed Birnbaum, Director of Legislative Affairs for Toronto Mayor John Tory
  • Kim Wright, Principal at Wright Strategies, and one of Ontario’s leading municipal affairs experts
  • Amir Remtulla, Principal at Amir Remtulla and Associates, a former Chief of Staff for the Mayor of Toronto Rob Ford who represents clients across Ontario

Setting the Stage

This workshop took the form of a discussion. Michael Seaman began with opening remarks that included explaining the role of his organization Trinity Life and the New Common. Michael then introduced Aiden Grove-White, StrategyCorp Inc.

Aiden reviewed the differences between lobbying, government relations and public relations, and the strategies he brought to the workshop held on August 12: be specific and avoid the “awareness trap”. Aiden has a long history of stakeholder management in community-based projects. He introduced Kim Wright and Amir Remtulla.

Kim and Amir’s top tips

  • Analyze where you are getting traction and expand.
  • Have a good story, a narrative with emotional impact that creates a lasting memory.
  • Know and be honest about where you want to be and work backwards.

Aidan raised an important point: there is often conflict between what needs to change and what feels good changing.

For example, changing legislation may feel good, but sometimes a small change in policy or an adjustment in a regulation can be just as effective and less time-consuming.

What Not to Do

  • Kim said, “Don’t cop an attitude.” Figure out how to build a relationship. Show mutual respect and find common ground to build the relationship.
  • Don’t be satisfied with being placated — don’t settle when you “felt heard” but no action is forthcoming.
  • Amir advised “Listen. Listen. Listen” — so you can align with the politician’s priorities.

Question and Answer Highlights

How to maintain the relationship?

  • A great way is through touchpoints and areas of common ground. Understand what matters to each councillor.
  • Be aware of your audience; do your research and align with aspects of government policy.
  • Be supportive (even if you don’t agree on everything). Send emails of appreciation, say “good job” when it’s appropriate.
  • Find ways to be helpful. For example, know how motions are structured and follow the procedure.

What stands out as a good presentation?

  • Do your research
  • Be specific
  • Understand what is the problem to be solved
  • Get to the meat: what is exciting and memorable about your idea or ask?
  • Keep it short — no 40-slide presentations

Ed Birnhaum has worked for five years in Mayor John Tory’s office and has a background in urban planning. He advised lobbying groups to have a clear, defined ASK and to be timely.

Aiden asked Ed what the top issues are that city wants to address — are they based on vision or local issues?

Robin Barton Potts pointed out that it is not the same for every councillor. Watch Council meetings for councillor interests. Ed advised us to talk to the right councillor as they all have different passions.

Overriding Advice: Be Clear In Your Ask

Ed advised that being part of a group will add much-needed credibility to your interactions. Come as a collective to make a clear ask. He said the mayo often receives requests for space; we should be aware that this type of request will take time.

Also important to know is the mayor is only one vote on the city council and you’ll need to get support across the council if you want to be successful.

Next Steps

  • Follow-up communications including a video of this discussion
  • Nov 30, 2021 Workshop – Resilient and Connected Communities – Looking Back. Moving Forward.
  • A digital playbook with everything worked on in Community Climate Action will be available next year.

Thank you to our guest speakers and the tireless team at Community Climate Action, St. James Town.

Watch for a video of this enlightening discussion.

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