Lobby groups are sending delegates to the Council of the Federation meeting in Halifax this week in an effort to talk directly to Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders, with some groups paying thousands of dollars to sponsor the conference for access to social events.
The Council of the Federation—the official name for Canada's collective provincial and territorial leaders—is meeting Wednesday through Friday in Nova Scotia's capital.
The Canadian Electricity Association, which represents electricity generators, transmitters and distributors across the country, is a gold sponsor of the premiers' meeting. Jim Burpee, the group’s president, said in an interview that the opportunity to make contact with leaders at the conference is “quite critical.”
He said being a sponsor of the meeting provides better access, and the association will use the opportunity to present a new report directly to provincial and territorial leaders that advocates a national strategy for the renewal of electricity infrastructure. Sponsors can also attend social events attended by the leaders, Burpee said.
“The ability to provide information that they can take away and look at, as well as to interact with them in a reception setting, is very important,” he said. “Because we’re sponsoring, what we get access to is the opening reception [on Wednesday night] and then we’re tied up with a couple of tickets for the dinner [Thursday] night—the big lobster dinner.”
Loretta O’Connor, executive director of the Council of the Federation secretariat, said conference sponsorship is $50,000 to be a platinum sponsor, $25,000 for gold, or $10,000 for silver. She said the sponsorship money primarily funds evening social events.
The Insurance Brokers Association of Canada, which did not respond to a request for an interview, is the only platinum sponsor listed on the Council of the Federation website.
Irving Shipbuilding Inc., Atlantic Lottery, Emera Inc., and the Canadian Electricity Association are the four gold-level sponsors, according to the website.
The meeting has nine silver sponsors, according to the website, which include Canada's National Brewers, Borealis Infrastructure, Tervita Corp., Johnson & Johnson, Alexander Keith's, Amgen and Encana Corp.
Jeff Morrison, director of government relations and public affairs with the Canadian Pharmacists Association, said the $10,000 his group paid for silver sponsorship is “a fair amount” but it's “the cost of doing business.”
Morrison also said the association's sponsorship means it will be present at the conference's two evening events.
“Those two occasions should provide some chances to make face-to-face contact [with leaders],” he said in a phone interview.
Russell Williams, president of Canada’s Research Based Pharmaceutical Companies, which is also a silver sponsor of the conference, said the group wants to “basically support what [the leaders] are doing.”
“That’s what we’ve been doing all the way along. There’s been sponsorships for these events for a number of years, and this is us trying to work hand-in-hand with the governments and support their work,” he said when asked whether sponsorship brings with it better access at the meeting.
Lobbyists can send delegates but access to leaders is not guaranteed. O’Connor said lobbyists are not allowed at the official meeting sites taking place at the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront Hotel.
John Bennett, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, whose organization does not have a representative at the meeting, said the receptions and dinners will be invitation-only.
“We don’t get the kind of access we used to get for these kinds of things,” Bennett said in a phone interview.
Bennett said past leaders' summits, which often included the prime minister, would afford lobbyists and journalists a similar level of on-site accommodation and access.
“You could stand in the hallway outside the meeting and sit with [journalists] and wait for announcements,” Bennett said.
He said he would not sponsor a premiers' meeting as a way for access.
“It’s blatant buying of political influence, and the premiers should be ashamed. We don’t sponsor meetings. We don’t pay to meet with politicians,” he said.
Williams said that, aside from the two evening social events, there are opportunities to meet during the day with leaders’ support staff at locations away from the main meetings.
“Outside of those [leaders’] meetings, there are opportunities in which we talk with some of the various teams of people that are supporting the ministers,” he said.
The Canadian Pharmacists Association will be there this week to talk to leaders about the role pharmacists can play in a restructured health care system, Morrison said.
“The message from last December was essentially that, when it comes to health-care delivery, the federal government is taking a step back,” he said.
The Conservative government said late last year it will continue to increase transfers to the province by six per cent per year through 2016-2017, but following that, increases will be tied to economic growth including inflation, which is now about three to four per cent. The increases will be guaranteed not to drop to less than three per cent.
The decision has encouraged health care lobby groups to shift their advocacy more in the direction of the provinces.
Burpee said provincial governments and their respective agencies are responsible for key decisions on electricity infrastructure renewal.
“It’s not an impediment to us that [the federal government is] not there at all,” he said of this week's Council of the Federation meeting. “Right now, quite frankly, some of the big issues are for the provinces. The provinces have to adjust their thinking to make [a national electricity strategy] work more so than the federal government.”
Provincial and territorial leaders meeting together presents a different opportunity than lobbying any one leader individually, he said.
“The fact is that they are all together, and on some of the issues, maybe you need a conversation with two different provinces,” Burpee said.
“When people are together, you can have a lot of conversations together, and they’re focused on issues of common concern,” he said.
Morrison said the Council of the Federation meeting is also a chance for the pharmacists to consult with other health groups.
“It’s actually not just the premiers. It’s the other health-care groups that we’re there to meet and dialogue with,” Morrison said, citing the Canadian Medical Association and Canadian Nurses Association as examples.