For Kevin Dorse, advocacy manager for the Canadian Credit Union Association (CCUA), last October’s Hike the Hill was both daunting and exhilarating. The federal election, held Oct 19, 2015, saw the Liberal party take power in Parliament, joined by more than 200 new Members of Parliament. One year later, Dorse found himself hosting and prepping credit union CEOs and CFOs, board directors and community relations specialists from across the country in preparation for Hike the Hill, the credit union system’s premier government relations event. The two-day affair gave credit union representatives the opportunity to meet new MPs and explain how their organizations positively impact the lives of Canadians.
“The influx of so many new MPs is both bad and good,” says Dorse. “It’s unfortunate when you build up a strong relationship with an MP and then they leave. But it has also been exciting to go back to the beginning with so many new MPs and explain why credit unions exist and the nature of the work we do. It’s an opportunity to establish a great relationship early on.” Dorse notes that, though the federal Hike is the most well known, Central 1 Credit Union also runs similar provincial events in Toronto and Victoria aimed at MPPs and MLAs.
Dorse explains how participation in Hike the Hill paves the way for more effective year-round advocacy.
While there are a number of conferences and talks over the two-day event, the key meeting is where each participant meets with their regional MP. “You’ve got 30 minutes to introduce yourself, talk about the key issues affecting credit unions and make an impact with your local story,” says Dorse. Time being of the essence, Dorse puts together a binder filled with briefs for each advocate so they’re prepared ahead of time. “The topics gel best if you’re telling a local story but you need to practice: know what you want to say about your work within the community and how you’re going to say it.”
You want your MP to become an ally and an advocate for Canadian credit unions. If the MP understands the credit union system’s needs, they’ll be better positioned to petition ministers and public servants on important issues.
FOLLOW UP IS CRUCIAL
Your voice has been heard but your job is not done. The CCUA works with Hike the Hill participants in the aftermath of their MP meetings to identify which elected officials had more questions about credit union operations or wanted more information about specific issues. They then follow up with those decision makers to get them the background, so that they truly understand issues. The end goal is to identify MPs who are attentive to credit union concerns and goals and make sure they get the information they need to act. “If an MP cares about the success of your institution, that’s everything,” says Dorse.
KEEP THE MOMENTUM ROLLING
Once Hike the Hill wraps, participants should make a concerted effort to stay in touch with the MP they’ve briefed. “Now you know your MP, try to set up meetings with them a few times a year when they’re in their constituency,” says Dorse, who wants participants to come out of the event seeing themselves as partners with their elected representative. MPs need to hear from credit unions in order to do their jobs properly — and vice versa. “MPs can seem distant — almost like celebrities — but they need to hear from you. They want to hear from you,” Dorse says. The end goal is building a culture of advocacy within the credit union system, where more and more members have the skills and confidence to connect with decision-makers. “We need to have strong advocates across the breadth of the country,” says Dorse. “That’s when Hike the Hill can be considered fully successful.” ◊