What does it take to influence policy makers in the province? How do you differentiate the forestry cause from the welter of information politicians and bureaucrats deal with every day? It may be as simple as showing up on their doostep and telling them about yourself and your business.
Adopt an MLA, It Can’t Hurt
By John Betts WSCA Executive Director
For the past eight years as the WSCA executive director I have been in the business of trying to influence government. And after all that time I have to admit candidly that I am little the wiser as to what it takes to turn the wheels of policy. This is not to say my tenure has not been without some success in this arena. But that only adds to the mystery. There is little proof that the WSCA has been a direct agent of history or even a catalyst in the unfolding of events, particularly those that have run in our favour. In some cases it looks more like being a benificiary of circumstance; some idea’s time had come and it just happened to be one of ours.
I am not alone in this discomfiture. Speaking to a major American forestry conference in 2003 a well known U.S. senator characterized Capitol Hill as “a 17 square mile logic-free zone.” I have heard the same closer to home. Years ago when the Honourable Tom Waterland was the Socred Minister of Forests we asked him why it was so difficult for government to appreciate the value of investing public dollars in reforestation. At the time his government was considering funding a dubious, high profile mega gas project, that would have kept the forest industry in trees for some time. He replied frankly, “Government doesn’t work in a way that you would think is logical. From the inside [of governent] things look different.”
Since that conversation I have had little reason to differ with the minister. And in a way that has only increased my fascination with how the levers of power are worked. It seems even those we elect, those who we imagine are the direct instruments of the public will, are just as baffled by the process as the rest of us.
Recently I spoke with a well known former NDP cabinet minister who gave one of the most insightful accounts of how those inside government see things. “Everyone is buried in a blizzard of information; most of which, including the good stuff, is half bullshit,” he said. Still the elected recipients know that there is something to the information and it concerns them. But how do they tell the difference? “Eventually it boils down to this. If the information comes from someone you trust then the information has credence and it registers. If there is a face you can trust attached to the information, then you go with it.”
But there is a contradiction built into this, of course. If the faces attached to the information are part of “a machine”; in other words a rote exercise in lobbying including a routine repetition of the information delivered in person, but automatically, then the attempt fades into the background noise of information. For it to work the face delivering the information has to have some authenticity. The person has to be themselves and not the information.
I think the silvicultural contracting community is well suited to this approach. Forestry is honest work. And most contractors are honest brokers for the policy issues we face and that goverhment needs to act on. We have never suffered from being over-rehearsed when it comes to lobbying so there is little chance of appearing as a machine out to manipulate government. Plus contractors need not do much more than be themselves when they meet an MLA. By describing their own businesses and their attachment to the community they can establish the trust. After that the information can take root.
This year the WSCA will begin its adopt an MLA program which will put our faces in front of the information and we hope effect some action on forestry issues. It can’t hurt. And I think the MLAs would appreciate the help as they sort out all the issues coming there way.