Reprinted from the Canadian Outdoor Heritage Alliances "Field News" Newsletter, March 2000 issue.
Editor's Note: Although the focus of this article relates to fishing, hunting and trapping, the tips explained are equally valid for advocacy letters on any topic of interest to you.
Making your views known to your elected representatives, about the law or public policy, as it affects your family or your community is one of the oldest we have under our system of parliamentary democracy.
COHA encourages members of Canada's outdoor community to exercise their rights and let their elected politicians know what they think, when governments enact laws or regulations which negatively effect our ability to hunt, fish or trap.
Do Politicians Listen?
You bet they do! A personal letter sent to those who represent you in Ottawa or in your provincial legislature is a powerful technique for ensuring your interests and way of life are not infringed by others with different points of view.
Every politician pays close attention to the mail they receive from their constituents. This is their barometer of public opinion.
Just over half of our politicians won their seats by less than 1000 votes. One third won by fewer than 400 votes. Since most of our political ridings have thousands of voters, a 400 vote margin is pretty slim.
Once one of these slim-margin politicians starts to get letters, alarm bells go off in their head. They will tell the leaders and cabinet ministers that new measures are popular or unpopular in their ridings. They will explain their riding could be lost if measures are not reversed.
Remember the turn-around when the feds announced the short-lived NHL subsidy? That spectacular reversal was prompted by public opinion.
Remember...politicians want to win and nobody likes being unemployed.
When to Write a Letter
You should write your MP or MPP whenever you feel they have done something good. If your local politician has opposed some idea proposed by anti-hunters or ARA's, write them a letter and let them know you appreciate the stand they took and you support their actions.
Where to Send Your Letter
Make certain you address you MP or MPP with the correct title. (Note in BC, Quebec and Alberta, a provincial politician is elected to the Legislative Assembly and is known as a MLA) If your local MP, MPP or MLA is a cabinet minister they have the official title "Honourable" added in front of their name. If you are writing to the Prime Minister or Premier, use the title "Right Honourable".
If you are writing your local Member of Parliament (provincial or federal), call the local riding office and send your letter there. Grassroots response lets the politician know your vote keeps them in office.
In Ottawa you can address your letter care of the House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario. (For example: Honourable Anne McLelland, Justice Minister of Canada, House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6)
For a provincial member of parliament, phone their local riding office and get their specific address.
If you are writing a cabinet minister, (For example the Honourable John Snobelen, Minister of Natural Resources, Ontario) make certain you send a copy of your letter to your local politician at the local riding office.
How to be Effective
Don't spend your time describing exactly what the law or policy is. They wrote it. Don't waste time telling them what they already know.
Send it to the right person. In Canada there are four levels of governments: federal, provincial, local and native. Since it is often difficult to determine what level of government is responsible for any law, call your local MP's office and ask who is responsible for the issue you are writing about.
Don't be Ernest Hemmingway. Avoid putting on airs. Write like you talk. Speak from the heart in plain English (or French). State clearly what law or regulation is harming you, your family or your community.
Keep to the topic. State your case and end it. Talking about unrelated issues is confusing.
Many writers avoid mentioning if they voted for the politician or not. How you voted is your business, but don't be shy about letting the politician know that if they don't give you what you want, you will vote against them in the future. Don't be shy. Politicians can take the heat.
Don't talk about motives. Even if you suspect why a politician voted for a law you don't like, talking about their motives may lead you to impugning their character or give the impression you are accusing them of dishonesty. Stick to the facts...it's fine to be angry but don't be hysterical.
Don't forget to tell the reader what you want. You want the old state of affairs re-instated or new regulations enacted that will get rid of the problem as it stands now.
This article was taken from pages 6 & 7 of NOTO's "The Outfitter" publication, May/June 2000 Issue