Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), which advocates on behalf of Manitoba farmers, is asking interested members to join its new Grassroots Advocacy Team and play a direct role in lobbying too.
“We’re asking members who are willing to pick up the phone and make a call, who are willing to send a letter, let us know so we can reach out to you, especially when you’re in a riding where we are lobbying a minister specifically,” KAP general manager James Battershill told KAP’s advisory council here Nov. 2.
“If it’s something you are willing to do the time commitment is not onerous. Picking up the phone does not take a lot of time and we will make sure that you are prepped with lots of material and information when we encourage you to go out and make those calls and send those letters.”
The most effective way to lobby elected representatives is for concerned citizens to telephone or mail them letters. That’s the message KAP got when it met with the federal Conservative opposition in Ottawa last month to discuss Ottawa’s proposed tax changes for small-business corporations, Battershill said.
“They just can’t be emails because it’s easy for a front-desk person to put emails in a folder and just tell somebody ‘you got 13 emails on this topic,’” Battershill said. “Something physical and tangible in a minister’s office has impact.”
KAP has some “big-dollar” issues it will be lobbying the provincial government on, including ending education taxes on farmland and production buildings and reducing high municipal farmland taxes, he said.
It would help if a number of individual KAP members phone the responsible ministers’ offices on those topics before KAP president Dan Mazier meets with them, “so when we show up they’re primed and they already have in their minds that their constituents care about these things,” Battershill said.
“It’s especially helpful if you’re a party member, or if you volunteered on a campaign I will probably be asking you aggressively to do some work for us because we know that your voice will resonant more with decision makers,” he said. “If you’re not comfortable with sharing that information don’t feel as though you are obliged to. It’s just to supplement the things that we could use.”
Lobbying can work, he added. KAP, along with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, business groups, provincial governments and opposition parties, succeeded in convincing the federal government to modify controversial proposed tax changes expected to hurt incorporated farms, including a provision that would have made it less profitable to sell a farm to a child than a non-relative.
It was not straightforward or easy, Battershill stressed.
“It took a much more comprehensive, co-ordinated approach to achieving some success on this one,” he said. “I think a big part of the reason that we saw success on this file… was because everyone was speaking from the same perspective. Everyone was concerned in the same direction. There weren’t a lot of dissenting voices amongst the farm community about these changes. I think it’s important that we recognize that co-ordination really does pay off and the steps that we took really did achieve something this time.”
Connecting with elected politicians via Twitter, can also be effective, said Fisher Branch farmer Paul Gregory. He told KAP that’s the message he recently received from a senior civil servant.
Later in the meeting Gregory moved a resolution, which passed, calling on KAP to “compile and make available to members a list of ministerial Twitter accounts for provincial and federal ministers responsible for portfolios affecting farmers.”