What’s better than listening to your song on the radio? Hearing it live in concert. What’s better than reading about an exciting activity? Experiencing it first-hand. This is why activities are such a great opportunity to engage the government. It’s one thing to explain your issue or share documents on the topic, but it’s another to communicate it firsthand or let them experience it themselves.
That’s why the best opportunity to showcase what you are doing or what your issues are is to bring them to community events that already exist. The most obvious choice would be your signature event (often the fair or exhibition) as that is likely one of your longest-running and most successful events. It’s also probably one of the events that need the most support. However, consider inviting politicians (of all political stripes) to community BBQs, socials and other events that might work with their schedule. Politicians in particular recognize the value and opportunity for themselves at these events and probably already try to attend if they know about it. At the same time, be sure to invite their staff, or other bureaucrats who may have an influential role today or in the future on issues that may impact your organization. Everyone in the federal government can be a champion for your cause!
If you’re lucky, sometimes politicians will unexpectedly turn up to your event as well. Whether planned or unplanned, here are a few tips to capitalize on the opportunity:
Offer multiple opportunities to participate and varying levels of participation: speaking at opening ceremonies, presenting awards and so on. That being said, don’t be surprised if they can only stop in for a short while and the time may need to be flexible. If you can secure them for a particular activity – all the better!
In order to get more quality time with them, schedule a tour of the grounds after the opening ceremonies so they can see what you are talking about for themselves.
Make sure whoever is attending is well taken care of. Assign someone to greet them and escort them to their various activities. Have that person also run through the schedule that involves the government official to make sure they are ok with everything that will occur. Whoever is greeting and escorting them should also be a strong leader and know the key messages of your organization so they can thread these messages into the conversation.
When the government official is there, make sure the schedule is followed and try to offer an enriching experience. Again, if time allows, take them on a tour of your grounds and showcase your organization. Try to provide photo opportunities for both of your sakes: great for promotion and engagement on social media and possibly in the news.
Research: Wherever possible, make sure you are well prepared for the event and well-versed on topics that may come up throughout the day. Stay on top of current news and trends as those can sometimes steal the show if the timing is right. As well, you want to make sure your requests are reasonable and within the influence of the people invited to your event. For example, healthcare is a provincial issue and while the federal government can develop legislation, it will be up to the province to implement it so it’s important that you speak to the province rather than the federal government on this topic. Likely if it is outside of their scope, they will defer you to the right organization/individual and wipe their hands clean, which is a missed opportunity for your organization. This again, is why it is important that everyone in your organization understands the key messages and stays on track.
Finally, ensure they feel comfortable through the entire process by offering them food, drinks, a chance to rest and by sometimes acting as a mediator or timekeeper.
After the event, send a thank you note and follow up with a message on any key points that were discussed. Encourage them to post photos of the event and ask if they would like to set up a follow-up meeting to discuss your key points. Also, be sure to invite them to other events and activities throughout the year. The important thing is to keep the conversation going!
CAFE continually advocates for your interests at the federal level and is following several files right now. If you have the opportunity to speak to your Member of Parliament at your event, some key national messages we encourage you to share include:
We are volunteer-driven and non-profit. This is important because it’s our greatest strength. However, it also presents challenges because funding programs often are designed for businesses with staff. Also, applying to these programs can be cumbersome as a volunteer whose day job is completely unrelated to the skillset required to know how to apply for funding.
Fair and exhibition organizations are integral parts of their community, hosting more than "the fair" to help communities grow, innovate and thrive. Entire communities are emotionally and economically invested and connected to their fair organization. We are events, we are infrastructure and we are the perfect blend of tradition and innovation.
Our greatest asset is also our greatest weakness: we do not fit neatly into one federal department. This is an asset because it creates more opportunity for engagement, but is a struggle because often a department will forward us to another, and so there is a lot of runaround occurring. Potential departments include Tourism, Canadian Heritage, Agriculture and Agri-food, Rural Economic Development, Regional Development Agencies, Infrastructure Canada, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada.
Therefore, our overarching requests include:
To secure long-term, reliable project and program funding that supports the recovery, sustainability and ultimately prosperity of our sector
To be recognized as heritage events, and to have Canadian Heritage broaden their definition of “heritage” to include our sector
To have a federal department take ownership of our sector, so we know where to turn for support
Specific pieces of legislation and government programs we are paying close attention to include:
Changing regulations on livestock traceability that propose to put an increased burden on fairs, exhibitions and agricultural societies
Bill C-252, “Marketing of unhealthy food to children,” which may impact our displays, concession stands, etc. at community events
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s development of a new funding program to replace the Canadian Agricultural Partnership; advocating to ensure there is funding for our sector
If your Member of Parliament is interested in learning more after raising some of these issues, please connect them with CAFE’s Executive Director, Christina Franc, she will be happy to go into these issues in further detail and provide specific recommendations as required. We are also inviting all Members of Parliament to our second “Fair Day on the Hill” on November 16, 2022. Please encourage them to come to enjoy some fair food and get a taste of our sector’s impact.