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The Self Lobbyist

In the early 1980s, I was working in the petroleum industry in offshore Newfoundland. I was traveling by airline between Edmonton and St. John’s in those days.

One of my many seatmates was a pilot from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. His family owned and operated a northern airline that had mid-sized propeller planes flying out of Yellowknife to villages, hamlets, and worksites throughout Canada’s North.

The fellow had just spent a month in Ottawa. His mission was to address some flaws in an aviation bill that was introduced in Parliament. This bill addressed important concerns in Canada’s more populous south. But running an airline in the Northwest Territories is much different than in the south. According to this pilot, the southern legislation was going to make aviation more difficult in the North. He needed to bring northern concerns to the decision makers.

For whatever reason, his Member of Parliament could not or would not help him. So the pilot’s family firm decided to send him to Ottawa to try and straighten things out.

This pilot had no connections for his Ottawa tasks. In his first days, he spent many hours in his hotel room working the phones, making connections through several ministries. He found a secretarial service to type whatever letters needed typing. He would hand-deliver these letters to the appropriate offices.

Soon he was having face-to-face meetings with mid-level civil servants. While they couldn’t help him directly, they referred him to higher-level civil servants. He was getting face-to-face meetings with more important people. Of course, the important people had full schedules, and it usually took a few days to arrange such a meeting.

A month of interactions with Ottawa bureaucrats finally led to the pilot having a half-hour meeting with the Minister of Transport. The pilot made his points to the Minister. Then the pilot’s job was done. He had got the attention of the Minister, underlings to that Minister, and other relevant government departments. He had become an effective lobbyist for his own cause.

The cost? A month of hotel bills and meals! Airline tickets between Yellowknife and Ottawa. Taxis and secretarial services. And the pilot was not flying commercial airplanes to generate revenues for his family business. All this lobbying cost the aviation company a small fortune.

Remember, this all happened in the early 1980s. Lobbyists were not that common in those days. Anyone with a serious legislative concern and without political connections had to go through a similar process to have their say in legislation that was affecting them—or just put up with whatever the government decided.

By 1990, lobbyists were far more common in Ottawa. It was much cheaper to hire lobbyists who had connections and experience to work the system. The aviation company would have needed to hire a lobbyist only for a few days of work to ensure their concerns were made to primary decision makers.

Even though lobbyists have a negative reputation, I believe they serve an important role in modern democracy. It’s just more cost effective for businesses, professional associations, citizen coalitions, nonprofits, and NGOs to hire a lobbyist than to send a political rookie to the capital city and start working the phones and setting up meetings.

Lobbyists and the TDG

How would be the role of lobbyists work in my alternative democracy, known as “Tiered Democratic Governance (TDG)?

There is already one important advantage with the TDG. There is no campaigning in TDG elections. So campaign donations to win elections are not part of the TDG culture. No lobbyist could offer TDG politicians some financial assistance to win the next election. That suspicious cloud has been removed.

However, a subtle corrupting influence may still be present. Lobbyists may still offer small tokens of appreciation to politicians or senior civil servants for taking time to hear their case. Restaurant meals, sporting and concert tickets, and weekend getaways can still be part of an unofficial minor corruption. If the TDG is working well, a TDG representative who indulges in too many of these gifts could be removed via the annual elections. No drama necessary!

But I believe there is a better social/political force that the TDG encapsulates. To explain this force, I’m going to bring back the pilot and his family’s aviation company. The pilot lives in Yellowknife, the capital city of the Northwest Territories. This city has about 20,000 people. When Yellowknife has a functional TDG, I estimate it will have about 50 first-tier representatives and six second-tier representatives. As well, there might be another 50 to 100 first-tier representatives throughout the smaller communities of the Territories. And some of them will be sent to the third tier, constituting the TDG government of the Territories.

I am also going to bring in the pilot’s Member of Parliament at that time. Remember, he did not help the pilot’s aviation firm. There could be several good reasons for his lack of action. Perhaps the best is that Members of Parliament should be very busy people, especially for the sparsely populated Northwest Territories. Demands for time and presence are high: priorities need to be set. This Member of Parliament just might have been too busy at the wrong time.

But with the TDG, the pilot has more political resources: all the TDG representatives of Yellowknife and the rest of the Territories. All of them cannot be busy at the wrong time. He can present his case to these representatives. If he gets the support of many of them, he can craft a letter with their signatures attached. He could get approval from the second TDG tier of Yellowknife or even the third tier of the Territories. Such approval would carry a lot of influence in the Canadian TDG parliament and with its senior federal civil servants. They would regard these signatories as sensible, credible people. They would investigate the claims made by the pilot’s aviation company.

With the TDG, the pilot and his family’s business would have had a very democratic mechanism to ensure northern aviation concerns are incorporated into any new aviation legislation. And the pilot need not have traveled to Ottawa to “work the phones” for several weeks.

Conversely, if the pilot had not been able to gain the approval of the TDG representatives in Yellowknife or the Territories, that is saying something about the credibility of his claim.

Even without TDG support, the pilot would still have the freedom to hire a lobbyist. But methinks there will be a lot fewer lobbyists when TDG governance matures.

Publish on Medium 2022

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