What Happens on Parliament Hill on Lobby Day?

In official (and unofficial) Ottawa circles, it’s one of the few remaining contexts in which engaging in a concerted effort to convince politicians to support — or oppose — a particular legislative or policy initiative doesn’t automatically trigger calls for a crackdown on the entire lobbying sector: the parliamentary lobby day buffet.

Generally (although not invariably) timed to coincide with the start of a new House sitting, it’s become a traditional — and, in many cases, annual — exercise for industry associations, labour unions, advocacy campaigns and similarly driven organizations from civil society and throughout the private and not-for-profit sectors, who descend on the Hill with one simple goal: Deliver their message to as many MPs, staffers and even media representatives as possible over the course of a one- (occasionally two-) day blitz of the precinct.

In some cases, that may mean lining up back-to-back appointments with every MP or senior adviser willing to block off a few minutes to chat with a representative from the organizing group, which will usually send a full contingent of stakeholders and members to the Hill so they can book as many meetings as possible within the limited time available.

Other groups forgo the one-on-ones with MPs, instead holding open-house-style receptions — usually within or near the precinct — during which representatives may be able to buttonhole legislators in a distinctly less formal environment, and many organizations do both.

From the perspective of the organizers, it’s not hard to see the advantages of the lobby day format.

It’s undeniably efficient to hold targeted outreach sessions over a short, set period of time, particularly when those lobby days are held in conjunction with an annual general meeting or similar members’ get-together. That way, there’s no need for the whole team to make a special trip to Ottawa just to make the rounds on the Hill.

bIt also allows the group to assemble a list of MPs and staffers who seem particularly interested in, or sympathetic to their cause, with whom they can follow up later to arrange a more in-depth meeting.

On the other side of the one-on-one encounters, lobby days can also expose MPs — and staffers — to issues and viewpoints that may well be new to them, and which could, at the very least, lead them to investigate further.

It’s worth noting that, in most cases, those directly involved in the outreach effort are usually more than happy to talk with any interested media outlets or reporters. The whole point of such an endeavour is, after all, to spark public interest in what are frequently niche issues, so it would be downright counterintuitive to try to hide such activities from the press.

In fact, many lobby days either start or end with press conferences, which allows the organizers to highlight their key concerns and messages, as well as outline what they hope to accomplish. Unless, that is, they’ve had the bad luck to schedule their lobby blitz for the very same day as a late-breaking, Hill-wide outbreak of unrelated news, which can, of course, happen at literally any time, with no notice, and nearly invariably means little to no coverage of anything else.

So, if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably figured out there’s a “but.” And you’re right, although it’s really more of a quiet caveat: remember back at the top, that bit about how it’s one of the few times the word “lobby” isn’t used as a pejorative slur?

It’s worth noting that now-retired ethics watchdog Mary Dawson repeatedly voiced concern over everything from lobbyist-hosted receptions to the complimentary swag bags that some groups hand out as parting gifts when making the rounds on the Hill; Dawson worried these could be seen as a quid pro quo, which, in turn, regularly prompted eye rolls from MPs at the notion that their support could be bought with a handful of travel-sized cosmetics or a glass of wine and a shrimp on a stick.

Canadians can, however, take comfort in the fact that, unlike some jurisdictions — particularly the one located just south of the border — there’s no direct overlap between the lobby day circuit and the political fundraising drive.

Thanks to prime ministers Chrétien and Harper, the organizations most likely to host lobby days — industry associations, private companies, labour unions, non-profit advocacy groups and the rest — are banned from donating to federal political parties, which can only legally accept contributions from individuals. This eliminates what would otherwise be a major risk in allowing small armies of paid — and in-house — lobbyists to roam the Hill in search of potential political allies.

See article at iPolitics here

Go to OBIN Lobby Day page here