Twas the Night Before… a New Cabinet
Campaign teams across Ontario are hitting the streets in an anxious final push right now… making those last important pitches to voters, fine tuning their GOTV (Get Out the Vote) strategy for election day (Thursday June 2), and generally trying to keep their candidates focused. It’s Christmas Eve for poli-nerds.
For those of us in government relations, our Christmas Eve comes when we get word (most likely later this summer) that a new cabinet is about to be sworn in. We’ve made our list and checked it twice. We are definitely following who’s been naughty or nice enough to warrant a prime spot on the front benches. It’s a spot I know well, having served in two cabinets in Alberta.
How important is getting the call to serve in cabinet? Well, let me put it this way: the jobs of private member (backbencher) and cabinet minister are incredibly different. And I’ve never met anyone who turned down a cabinet post.
From the minute you get the call from your “boss”, aka the Premier, you are referred to as “Minister”. Your words are golden, and eager political staffers are jostling to get your attention and your green light for a coveted job in the storied offices of power. You also get binders. Lots of them. Binders of all sizes and contents, mostly large. Each of them contains briefing notes, arguments for and against a range of actions pertaining to your portfolio, and decisions to be made. Each of those decisions needed an answer yesterday. You get the idea. In the Government Relations world, the days immediately after an election are especially important. We have much to consider, but it breaks down like this.
Dealing with a new minister
As Government Relations experts, we have studied the cast of characters. We know the bench strength of the veterans already, and our research on the “newbies” has likely yielded a good sense of who might be strong performers. Having an innate understanding of the pressures of a new minister allows a GR team to focus efforts on where a client needs it most. Now you need to introduce yourself to a whole new team. A new minister usually means fresh faces on the ministerial crew. They can sometimes trickle in over a longer period than we would like, and they will be constantly juggling — so keeping in regular contact is the key to staying top of mind with them.
Dealing with the same minister
The good news is that you likely already have a relationship with the department. But are the key political staffers still there? Is the person that you had a good relationship with still holding your file? If they’ve moved on, then they can probably connect you with their successor if you ask. Can you get new traction where you previously got a tepid response if your minister remains the same? Absolutely, and yes, the squeaky wheel really does get the grease! Can’t figure out what those policy advisors do? Actually, they do a lot of heavy lifting in a minister’s office, and rest assured they are most definitely on our call sheet.
Navigating the bureaucracy
Let us not forget the bureaucrats. Remember those binders? They are churned out by the hundreds each month, page after page of options and information from the people who know your issue almost better than you do. If your GR team isn’t noting where they are hanging their hats, they need a refresher course in “who gets stuff done”. An inexperienced minister can rely heavily on those public servants, and you should know who they are. An experienced minister, though, may take a different approach with officials. Either way, understanding the government’s bench strength is key to getting the results you need.
So, as Christmas for poli-nerds closes in, at Proof we prepare for our own big day. Instead of wrapping presents, we are studying polling numbers, narrowing down who might get what coveted cabinet role and fine tuning our advocacy ideas. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Sandra Jansen is a Vice President with Proof Strategies’ Government Relations team and is based in Toronto. She is a former Alberta cabinet minister, having served as Minister of Infrastructure and Associate Minister of Family and Community Safety, and a former CTV broadcast journalist.