Your Pre-Election Check List: How Should Businesses Engage Before the Next Election?

The current federal Liberal minority government is just shy of its one-year anniversary in power. It was one year ago, on October 21, 2019, that Canadians sent Justin Trudeau back to Parliament, albeit in a minority situation. And what a year it has turned out to be. Despite early rumours of an imminent election, it looks like Canadians will not be headed to the polls this fall. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has supported this government’s most recent Speech from the Throne and has left the door open to supporting this government even longer, provided they continue to ‘help Canadians’. On the other side of the coin is the historic evidence that suggests that minority governments only last 18 months in this country. That window comes up in March/April, conveniently around a projected March 2021 federal budget, which begs the question: Will there be a spring election?

Elections lead to uncertainty for many Canadian businesses. Once an election is called, government work shuts down for an extended period while the public service enters caretaker mode and it takes time as election results come in and the new cabinet is formed. Companies also can’t advocate for regulatory change or seek funding during a writ period, which slows the pace of business. For some companies who have aligned their priorities with the government of the day, they run the risk of a new government doing a 180-degree turn. So, as we mark the one-year anniversary of this government and hold to the conventional wisdom that the next election could be in as little as six months, what should businesses in Canada be doing right now?

First, businesses should make sure they review the language in the Speech to look for areas of alignment between federal priorities and business objectives. The Speech from the Throne sets the direction for the federal government you will see over the next 6 months. This is both the government’s blueprint of what they want to accomplish and their road map to re-election. If you like what you see, then you’re in luck, but if your core businesses issues aren’t represented, then you will be facing an uphill battle to introduce anything new into the equation.

Second, say goodbye to long-term policy wins. Governments want to be re-elected and this government will be looking for quick wins in the next six months to show as proof points on the campaign trail that they can get things done. This current session has only just begun, but already two new bills – one to establish a National Truth and Reconciliation Day and the other to ban conversion therapy – have been introduced. Both are symbolic but important bills to pass and have the added benefit of broad public support, making them relatively easy to pass into law and giving the government the checkmark they want to show the electorate on the campaign trail. This is not to say that your organization can’t continue to work with government on long-term issues, but recognize that the government is thinking in the short term and anything you can deliver that gives them a win – and more importantly, votes – in the next election will be looked at more favourably.

Third, businesses should assess their relationships with the opposition parties. While the outcome of the election is impossible to forecast at this point, it’s simply prudent to examine all of your options and be ready for any eventuality. Often, businesses are afraid of being seen as partisan or picking sides, but you don’t have to take that approach. The key is education and building relationships. Any business should take the posture of believing it’s best to invest in all relationships across the aisle. Today’s backbencher can be tomorrow’s cabinet Minister and opposition parties like being thought about before they gain power and will remember long-lasting friendships.

Finally, although the list could go on much longer, take stock of your relationships with the public service. They will largely remain in their positions regardless of the outcomes of the next election. Invest in these relationships for the long term. The political party may be the head of government, but the public servants are the neck. If it has been a while since you’ve connected with them, set up a meeting to review your priorities and refresh their memories on the issues you care about.

Predicting elections are always a fool’s errand, but these principles are ones that can help make sure your organization is ready to weather any election result.

 

Matt Triemstra is the Vice-President & General Manager of Ensight Canada. He has over 15 years of experience consulting and working for Conservative Members of Parliament and the Conservative Resource Group on Parliament Hill.