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The Hill Times’ Top 100 Lobbyists: elite players know how to ‘align interests’ with government

By Derek Abma      

There are 5,500 lobbyists registered to lobby the federal government, but 100 are the tops.

The annual Politics and the Pen, held at the Chateau Laurier, attracts loads of lobbyists. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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There are thousands of lobbyists whose job it is to persuade federal government officials to take certain action, but it takes a special combination of experience, knowledge, and high-level connections to be considered among the very elite of this profession.

As usual, this year’s 10th annual edition of the Top 100 Lobbyists list includes an assortment of consultant lobbyists, as well as those working for corporations or not-for-profit organizations, representing various sizes of organizations.

Despite these differences, there are certain things most of these 100 lobbyists—out of about 5,500 who are registered to lobby the federal government—have in common.

Joe Jordan, senior associate of Bluesky Strategy Group, said one of them is having the ability to find common ground between issues you’re lobbying on and the government’s agenda.

Bluesky Strategy Group lobbyist Joe Jordan. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Effective lobbying is not “somehow convincing someone to do B when all the indications are they should do A,” said Mr. Jordan, who was a Liberal MP from 1997 to 2004. “The way to move a file forward is to position it so that everybody gets something.

“I could sum up probably 95 per cent of the messages I got when people came to see me as an MP, and they boil down to this: my idea, your money,” he said. “Good lobbyists understand that pitch isn’t going to get you anywhere.”

Mr. Jordan said governments, particularly this one under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) have full agendas, and a lobbyist is unlikely to convince the government to take on a whole new project or position out of the blue.

He added that with the mandate letters Prime Minister Trudeau has made public for each member of cabinet, it’s easier than in the past for lobbyists to see what the government wants to achieve and find common threads.

Tim Powers, vice-chair of Summa Strategies Canada, said: “Most lobbyists are good strategists. They have some level of knowledge and sophistication that allows them to see the big picture. … Good lobbyists have large lenses, good radars, and a good, broad sense of how to approach problems. They’re problem solvers, not problem creators.”

Mr. Powers added that governments “want to deal with people who have thought about their issue and thought about it from the perspective of the government in power. … Have you thought about coming to [the government] with evidence that helps [the government] make a political case about why your policy issue matters?”

Mr. Jordan cited Perrin Beatty, CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, as one of the lobbyists he most admires.

“He’s somebody that can present an issue or make an ask in a way that you don’t walk out of there thinking, ‘Well, he’s just trying to feather the nest of his members,’ ” Mr. Jordan said of Mr. Beatty, who was an Progressive Conservative MP from 1972 to 1993 and served in the cabinet of the Brian Mulroney government. “I really get a sense that he’s trying to have the tide lift all vessels.”

In an interview with The Hill Times, Mr. Beatty also emphasized the importance of lobbyists finding common ground with the government’s agenda.

“Most effective organizations are ones that are part of the solution as opposed to coming in with problems,” Mr. Beatty said. “To the extent to which an organization takes some of the stuff off the [government’s] table and helps to solve problems, they’re going to be far more welcome. … It’s where you can align your priorities.”

Some lobbyists might find themselves in positions where they are asked to lobby on a position that’s clearly against the government’s stated mission. What then?

“You could also say to people, if you’re an honest lobbyist, and most of the ones I know are, ‘Hey, don’t waste your time and money on this shit. [They government is] not going to go there now. You might want to come back in a year or two,’ or, ‘Here’s how you might want to get this on the agenda,’ ” Mr. Powers said.

Mr. Jordan said such occasions call for “a very frank discussion” with clients to ensure expectations are not set beyond what’s realistic. He said he won’t take on files in which there’s no reasonable hope of moving the client’s agenda forward.

Canadian Chamber of Commerce CEO Perrin Beatty. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

In other situations, he said, he’s looking for small wins for clients, even if their general wishes are contrary to where the government is going. An example, he said, could be working for an organization that’s opposed to legalized marijuana, but instead of trying to reverse a campaign promise and about a year’s worth of preliminary work, the lobbyist representing this group instead focuses on ensuring that provisions are in place to prevent driving while under the influence of marijuana.

Mr. Beatty also stressed the importance of knowing people in government and taking time to build relationships. He said he encourages businesses belonging to the chamber to keep in touch with their MPs, MPPs, mayors, and other elected officials on a regular basis, and not just when problems arise.

“You should be establishing relationships during the good times, when nothing’s needed, particularly when you have good news to announce that will be welcomed by government,” he said.

Mr. Beatty added that lobbyists should prioritize what they’re asking for.

“Ministers will often say to me, ‘What are the two or three things that we could be doing that would really make a difference to your membership?’ ” he said. “They don’t want a list of 406 items; they want to know a handful of items that would make a broad impact within the membership.”

Don Boudria, senior counsellor for Hill & Knowlton Strategies, said “knowledge” is the key asset for lobbyists, and this includes knowing the subjects you are lobbying about, knowing how government works, and knowing people within government who can make things happen. But different lobbyists have different strengths, he added, and it’s up to each to play to their strengths.

“In my case, it’s parliamentary procedure,” said Mr. Boudria, who was a Liberal MP from 1984 to 2006 and a cabinet minister in the government of Jean Chrétien. “In the case of Elizabeth Roscoe, it’s technology. In the case of Sarah Bain, it’s new and emerging issues [like medical marijuana and scientific research]. People develop expertise, and sometimes you get phone calls form public office holders and they say, ‘What’s your opinion on how this should work?’ ”

In terms of lobbyists needing to know their way around government, Mr. Boudria explained: “A client phones you and says, ‘I’ll be in Ottawa Friday. I think it would be a great idea to meet with a bunch of MPs. Can you start making phone calls?’ Your first answer is, ‘No, that’s not realistic. MPs go back to their ridings on Friday.’”

Mr. Boudria, a former government House leader, said a good lobbyist would also be aware of the likelihood of the House breaking earlier-than-scheduled for summer, among other things that “99 per cent of Canadians would not know.”

Mr. Powers said that while public relations can be part of a comprehensive issues campaign that also includes government relations, lobbyists should embark on such efforts in a constructive manner. He cautioned against “going after a government just because you think that will get a response.”

Many Ottawa lobbyists come with government experience as either politicians or staffers, meaning that at some point they’ve waved a partisan flag.

Mr. Boudria described the impact a lobbyist’s partisan background can have on their practice: “It’s measurable, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. The best proof I can use is myself—nine-and-a-half years of working at Hill & Knowlton, giving advice, when Stephen Harper was in power for the entire time.”

Mr. Jordan said his background as a MP, which includes time spent as a parliamentary secretary in the Chrétien government, helped him “understand how government operates” and “how governments make decisions.”

He said it’s less clear what impact his Liberal credentials have had on his ability to lobby.

“I don’t think I ever experienced any sort of negative treatment from the former Conservative government because I was a Liberal,” Mr. Jordan said. “Maybe it happened and I didn’t realize it, but I never picked up any sense of that.”

Mr. Powers, who’s advised the Conservatives in the past, said the value of a partisan background for a lobbyist is “understanding how politics work.” Yet, he said if a lobbyist is going to be successful, they make the client or organization they work for their first priority, not their political party.

He said recent governments have not appeared to treat lobbyists markedly different as a result of their political affiliations.

“I haven’t seen any examples yet from this government of lobbyists being in a penalty box because they wear a different political jersey,” he said, adding the previous Conservative government also seemed to treat most lobbyists even-handed regardless of the parties they had links to.

Mr. Powers said when the Harper Conservatives were in power, there were some consultant lobbyists who encouraged their clients to take a “full-on partisan approach,” or essentially “get in bed with the government and ride that horse as long as you can.” It still happens, but to a lesser degree, with the current Liberal government, he said.

Lobbyist Tim Powers, right, with Liberal Sen. Percy Downe, left, and Conservative Sen. Michael MacDonald at a CPAC party in the East Block’s courtyard. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

However, he said “aligning yourself solely with one government is never good in the long-term strategy. … I think governments respect organizations that are prepared to do transactions, but are honest in their transactions and can’t be bought off by some quick political support.”

Other aspects that need to be considered in determining who the top lobbyists are include the prominence of the company or organization they work for and the issues they are lobbying on.

Mr. Jordan said—notwithstanding some wins with pipeline approvals recently—advocates representing the oil-and-gas sector don’t have the same kind of pull they would have had with the previous Conservative government. Gaining some profile, he said, are environmental advocates. Groups with an interest in infrastructure, high technology, and supply-managed agriculture also have some additional sway with the Trudeau government, he said.

Among about a dozen prominent lobbyists consulted for the Top 100 list, many touted the importance Canada-U.S. relations will play as the Trudeau government embarks on a relationship with new U.S. President Donald Trump. As a result, some of this year’s new additions to the Top 100 include Sarah Goldfeder, a principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group and former staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, and Maryscott Greenwood, a principal at Dentons who works in Washington, D.C., and represents the Canadian-American Business Council. Ms. Greenwood also used to work at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.

There are some things that can be learned from the federal lobbyists registry, including the quantity of communication reports filed for various government-relations practitioners. It’s among the factors considered by The Hill Times in compiling the Top 100 list, along with who they are talking to. For example, despite all the good work they might do, a very small percentage of lobbyists manage to get personal meetings with the prime minister. With this in mind, it was impressive that Queen’s University, under the leadership of principal and vice-chancellor Daniel Woolf, had registered contact with Mr. Trudeau on two separate occasions within the last year. He’s a new entry to this year’s list, as is Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff, who’s recorded contact with Mr. Trudeau as well as people such as former Trade minister and new Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.), Environment Minister Catherine McKenna (Ottawa Centre, Ont.) on several occasions, and Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick.

Still, the registry doesn’t tell the whole story, but to make the Top 100 Lobbyists list, one at least needs to be registered as a federal lobbyist.

“It’s like all the analytics in hockey,” Mr. Jordan said of data on the lobbyists registry. “Figures can lie, and liars can figure. It may mean something and it may not.”

Mr. Jordan said there are lobbyists who have meetings for the sake of meetings, and this can get someone “a reputation as a time waster. … Meetings need to have a real purpose, and you don’t just do them to prove to your clients that you can book meetings.”

Mr. Boudria said much of a lobbyist’s work involves advising clients about issues and how they should deal with the government—stuff that’s not going to show up in the registry.

“That’s educating the client,” he said. “That’s not registrable. … If you’re advising clients on what a possible approach should be on medical marijuana, what’s that got to do with organizing meetings? Perhaps nothing. But you could be providing very valuable work, be very busy, and have fewer registrable things.”

Last but not least, Mr. Powers noted that good lobbyists get results. On this criteria, he cited Louis-Alexander Lanthier, who he works with at Summa, for successfully lobbying the government on certain tax-credit policies advocated by Fonds de Solidarité FTQ, and Tracey Hubley, who also works at Summa. Ms. Hubley has Boeing Co. for a client, a company that benefitted from the government’s decision last year to make an interim purchase of their Super Hornet fighter jets.


The Hill Times

The Hill Times’ Top 100 Lobbyists, 2017

(In alphabetical order by last name)

André Albinati, principal, Earnscliffe Strategy Group

Denise Amyot, president and CEO, College and Institutes Canada

Sarah Bain, vice-president, public affairs and group leader, Hill & Knowlton Strategies

Andrew Balfour, vice-president, Ensight Canada

Perrin Beatty, president and CEO, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Benjamin Bergen, executive director, Council of Canadian Innovators

Mirko Bibic, executive vice-president and chief legal and regulatory officer, Bell Canada

Heidi Bonnell, vice-president, federal government affairs, Rogers Communications

Brian Botting, principal, Earnscliffe Strategy Group

Don Boudria, senior counsellor, public affairs, Hill & Knowlton Strategies

Michael Bourque, president and CEO, Railway Association of Canada

Philip Cartwright, vice-president, transportation, infrastructure, and economic development, Global Public Affairs

Christyn Cianfarani, president, Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries

Alexandra Clark, director, policy and government affairs, Shopify

Gary Clement, senior manager, government relations, TD Bank

Paul Davidson, president, Universities Canada

Ronald Davidson, director international trade, government and media relations, Canadian Meat Council

Marc Desmarais, vice-president, government relations, National Public Relations

Jerry Diaz, national president, Unifor

Lindsay Doyle, consultant, Summa Strategies Canada

Mike Dungate, executive director, Chicken Farmers of Canada

Caroline Emond, executive director, Dairy Farmers of Canada

Alex Ferguson, vice-president, policy and performance, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

Sean Finn, executive vice-president, corporate services and chief legal officer, Canadian National Railway

Erin Flanagan, program director, federal policy, Pembina Institute

Shimon Fogel, CEO, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs

Robert Ghiz, president and CEO, Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association

Andy Gibbons, director, government relations, WestJet Airlines

Sarah Goldfeder, principal, Earnscliffe Strategy Group

Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of Mining Association of Canada

Tim Gray, executive director, Environmental Defence Canada

Maryscott Greenwood, principal, Dentons

Mark Hancock, national president, Canadian Union of Public Employees

Bruce Hartley, senior partner, Prospectus Associates

Tracey Hubley, president, Summa Strategies Canada

Caroline Hughes, vice-president, government relations, Ford Motor Co. of Canada

Goldy Hyder, president and CEO, Hill & Knowlton Strategies

Brian Innes, vice-president, government relations, Canola Council of Canada

James Irving, co-CEO, Irving Shipbuilding

Joe Jordan, senior associate, Bluesky Strategy Group

Dan Kelly, president and CEO, Canadian Federation of Independent Business

Patrick Kennedy, principal, Earnscliffe Strategy Group

Tim Kennedy, vice-president, federal government affairs, Spectra Energy

Jason Kerr, director, government relations, Canadian Automobile Association

Joanna Kerr, executive director, Greenpeace Canada

Tim Lambert, CEO, Egg Farmers of Canada

Louis-Alexandre Lanthier, senior adviser, Summa Strategies Canada

Jacquie LaRocque, principal, Compass Rose Group

Marc LePage, president and CEO, Genome Canada

Michel Liboiron, senior director, government relations public policy, CIBC

Karl Littler, vice-president, Retail Council of Canada

Fitti Lourenco, director, government affairs, Air Canada

Greg MacEachern, senior vice-president, government relations, Environics Communications

Rosemary MacLellan, senior director, strategy, Gay Lea Foods

Richard Mahoney, managing director, McMillan Vantage Policy Group

John Manley, president and CEO, Business Council of Canada

Sergio Marchi, president and CEO, Canadian Electricity Association

John Masswohl, director, government and international relations, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association

Joseph Mayer, vice-president, patient and public engagement, Canadian Medical Association

Stuart McCarthy, senior vice-president, Bluesky Strategy Group

Randall McCauley, vice-president, government and public relations, Canadian Real Estate Association

Velma McColl, principal, Earnscliffe Strategy Group

Colin McKay, head of public policy and government relations, Google

Brian Mersereau, chairman, public affairs, Hill & Knowlton Strategies

David Miller, president and CEO, World Wildlife Fund Canada

Gabriel Miller, director, public issues, Canadian Cancer Society

Rick Moorcroft, owner, Wellington Strategy Group

Don Moors, senior vice-president, Temple Scott Associates

Sheamus Murphy, vice-president, federal advocacy, Counsel Public Affairs

Mark Nantais, president, Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association

Don Newman, special adviser, Ensight Canada

David Paterson, vice-president of corporate and environmental affairs, General Motors of Canada

Jim Patrick, vice-president, government relations, Shaw Communications

Martin-Pierre Pelletier, senior partner, Prospectus Associates

Anthony Polci, vice-president, government relations, Canadian Bankers Association

Tim Powers, vice-chairman, Summa Strategies Canada

David Pratt, consultant, David Pratt & Associates

Pierre Pyun, vice-president, government affairs, Bombardier

Gordon Quaiattini, partner, Maple Leaf Strategies

Jim Quick, president and CEO, Aerospace Industries Association of Canada

Nobina Robinson, CEO, Polytechnics Canada

Elizabeth Roscoe, national practice leader, public affairs, Hill & Knowlton Strategies

Louis-Charles Roy, senior consultant, Environics Communications

Carole Saab, senior director, policy and government relations, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Lisa Samson, managing partner for Ottawa, StrategyCorp

Serge Sasseville, senior vice-president, corporate and institutional affairs, Quebecor Media

Robin Sears, principal, Earnscliffe Strategy Group

Dan Seekings, vice-president, natural resources and environment, Global Public Affairs

Johanne Senécal, senior vice-president, federal government and regulatory affairs, Telus

Christopher Smillie, manager, government relations, Building and Construction Trades

Susan Smith, principal, Bluesky Strategy Group

Will Stewart, principal, Ensight Canada

Carla Ventin, vice-president, federal government affairs, Food and Consumer Products of Canada

Phil von Finckenstein, partner, Maple Leaf Strategies

George Wamala, director, regulatory and government affairs, Royal Bank of Canada

Jan Westcott, president and CEO, Spirits Canada

Garth Whyte, president and CEO, Fertilizer Canada

Daniel Woolf, principal and vice-chancellor, Queen’s University

Alan Young, co-president, Tactix

Hassan Yussuff, president, Canadian Labour Congress

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