Here, from her Blog (with permission) is Jan Andrews’ October 28th 2011 report on what it was like to be part of the Arts Coalition Day on the Hill. Visit her Blog at http://www.2wp.ca/jans-blog/
I have to admit becoming a political lobbyist wasn’t one of my life’s expectations. Still there I was on Tuesday, October 25 —Arts Coalition Day — storming Parliament Hill in the company of 100 other Canadian artists, pleading our cause for continued funding for the arts.
There were over 120 meetings organized with MPs from all parties. My team (consisting of Boomer Stacey from the theatre organization PACT and Francine Schutzman from the Canadian Organization of Symphony Musicians) simply had to take on two. Still it was a daunting prospect although both Boomer and Francine had participated last year. Coming into the day I was worried. I need not have been. The Canadian Arts Coalition (http://www.canadianartscoalition.com/) made sure we were extremely well-prepared.
In advance, we were told what we should actually be lobbying for. This involved three crucial points the Coalition had made in its presentation to the Finance Committee during the pre-budget exercises. At the day-opening breakfast a team from a professional group called Ensight Canada coached us in the presentation of our “asks.” We were given leave-behind packages; we were provided with information on those we would meet. This information included a description of the riding and of the MP’s interests and affiliations. There was also a list of Canada Council grants which had been awarded in the riding in the last twelve months.
All this proved crucial in postioning ourselves. I was also helped by the fact that Jennifer Ferris, SC-CC’s Vice-President, and I had spent the previous day at a meeting of National Arts Service Organizations hosted by the Canada Council. (SC-CCstands for Storytellers of Canada-Conteurs du Canada for those who don’t know!) The highlight of the day had been the opening speech by CEO Robert Simard. He had talked with incredible clarity in an all-out effort to help us understand the government’s position (the big thing being that balancing the budget by 2014 is non-negotiable) and gain insight into a language by which submissions might be made.
The biggest part of the message was that the Conservatives have in fact put more into the arts than any other government and that (whether we agreed with their methods or not) we needed to start in recognition and acclamation of this. It was also stressed that positive approaches would be more useful than adversarial ones. This was not what I had expected but, in this spirit and maintaining our awareness of the bottom-line, unshakeable requirement for fiscal restraint, we went forth.
Both our meetings were with Conservative MPs and both went well. I cannot tell where it will all lead but I do know that a collegial atmosphere was established and I did have a feeling that this has the potential to serve us well.
At the end of the day, there was a reception hosted by the Deputy-Speaker, Denise Savoie. The mood was celebratory. The Honorable James Moore, Minister for Canadian Heritage, made his enthusiasm obvious. He spoke of his recognition of the arts as being essential both to the economy and to quality of life. He did it with heart.
Part of me still wants to be somewhat sceptical (not being a card-carrying Conservative and all!). Nevertheless, I am extremely glad to have been a participant. I also think I learned a lot. I suppose I had imagined we would be called upon to rush to the barricades. I was pleased to experience this other method of seeking to achieve our aims. It’s a method I’ve always used but always in other places. I think I believed “the Hill” would be different. I saw it didn’t have to be. That meant a lot. Indeed, I have plans to approach my local MP — whose name was not on the meetings list — to see what might be managed. I’ll let you know how that turns out.