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The Secret to Impacting Government Policy Decisions


Colin Craig

Business owners often ask our organization what they can do about rising taxes and expensive regulatory decisions.

Sadly, calls and emails along those lines have been mounting over the past couple years in Alberta. Too many businesses are struggling to stay afloat, while many government officials continue to think of businesses as ATMs with endless amounts of money.

As an advocacy organization that has been around for nearly 30 years, and one that has successfully convinced governments to make a number of positive policy changes, one piece of advice stands out above all the others.

You need to speak out.

Intuitively our advice may seem unlikely – how could one person’s phone call or email to a politician make a difference?

In most cases a single call or email on an issue will not sway a politician’s opinion. However, it takes a surprisingly low number of calls or emails to get their attention.

A former assistant to a member of Parliament previously told the Canadian Taxpayers Federation that it would merely take five calls or emails on an issue in order for them to know the public was upset about something. From there fear grows in the office about how the issue could cost their boss votes.

Think about that example for a second. A typical member of Parliament serves around 100,000 people and yet it would take just five calls or emails to get their attention.

A couple city councillors previously told us a similar figure – they both estimated it would only take a dozen or so calls or emails for them to know they had an issue on their hands.

These astonishingly low numbers are likely due to the fact that apathy is quite high in Canada. Consider that over the last five Alberta elections between 43 and 59 per cent of eligible voters didn’t even vote. We can probably assume many of those same people aren’t calling or emailing their elected officials either.

The takeaway from these anecdotes is that when you take five minutes out of your day to call your local politician, it actually has a sizable impact. If a few others also make a quick call, you can see how easy it is to start impacting a politician’s decision.

When our organization convinced federal members of Parliament to scale back their golden pensions in 2012, we achieved an important victory – one that pundits said would never happen – by convincing Canadians to speak out.

We sent emails to our supporters across the country urging them to call or email their MPs and demand a reduction to the golden pensions. We released reports, put up billboards and did dozens of media interviews coast to coast to keep the story in the news and put pressure on Ottawa.

Ultimately, federal politicians scaled back their own pensions not because they wanted to, but because they received lots of phone calls and emails from the public. They knew that if they didn’t take action, they might lose votes.

So as governments continue to pile on costs for your business, know that the best thing you can do is take a few minutes out of your day and call your local politician. Tell them your story about how an issue impacts you – even if it’s just a 100-word email or a five-minute conversation.

Even better – take a couple more minutes and encourage your friends and business contacts to also speak out.

Colin Craig is the interim Alberta director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.