Ready, Set, Spend: Six questions to ask if your organization is ready to participate in the 2018 Pre-Budget Consultations

Matt Triemstra

Earlier this month, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance launched their 2018 Pre-Budget Consultations.  This is the venue for organizations, corporations and Canadians alike to submit their ideas for where the government should be spending money in 2018.  The 10 Members of Parliament on the Finance Committee, chaired by MP Wayne Easter, will devote a considerable amount of time to reviewing all the submissions, hearing from witnesses and ultimately tabling a final report in Parliament.  The report will be considered by the Minister of Finance as he develops next year’s budget.

So if you are an organization in Canada with an idea, why should you participate in this process?  Here are six questions to ask your organization:

1. Why should we bother making a submission?

This is the Government of Canada’s formal mechanism for collecting information from Canadians on what to include in Budget 2018.  All the submissions are shared with a committee of 10 Members of Parliament and you may also have the opportunity to appear as a witness before the committee. While not every item eventually included in the final budget will have gone through this process, it does allow for you to formally put your request on record.  For your organization, your pre-budget submission becomes an important tool to showcase your asks of government and provides an opportunity to bring your issues forward through all media channels; you can frame a release or op ed around your asks and your rationale.

2. Does our proposal align with current government initiatives?

Early in the life of Justin Trudeau’s government, the Prime Minister took what was an unprecedented move by releasing the cabinet mandate letters to the public.  These letters included the specific initiatives that each Minister would be responsible for. The priorities draw heavily from the commitments in the Liberal campaign platform and Ministers are expected to track and report on the progress of their commitments in order to get results. Fast forward 18 months and the mandate letters continue to hold sway, to the point where stakeholders who cannot align with the mandate letters are virtually ignored.

Not every ask of government will always align nicely with the priorities of the middle class, nor do they always need to, but where possible, every effort should be made in your pre-budget submission to remind MPs and Ministers on how you can help them deliver on the objectives articulated in their mandate letters.

3. Do we have cross party support for our asks?

This is a majority liberal government, so ultimately the Liberals can pass anything they choose, but that’s not good politics and is certainly now how sunny ways is supposed to work.  Your pre-budget submission allows you the opportunity to reach out to MPs on all sides of the aisles for support.  You’ll need that support when MPs have to agree on a witness list and you’ll need that cross party support to have your recommendations included in the final report that is reviewed by the Minister of Finance.

4. Do we have public support?

In addition to MP support, you need to ask yourself if your proposal has public support amongst everyday Canadians. Will what you’re asking for be well received by the public?  Is it an easy sell for the Government? Also for a government committed to evidence-based policy, can you point to a body of peer reviewed research or data that supports what you are asking for? Additionally, this pre-budget period is used by the government as a way to identify high priority community projects that they can greenlight and roll out over next summer – just months before the next campaign begins, and the more you can point to broad support from other stakeholders and Canadians, the easier it will be for the Government to include in the budget. Social and civic capital = Political capital.

5. What does success look like?

It’s actually not the norm for specific companies or organization to be named in a Budget, unless there is a politically safe and legitimate reason to do so.  In general, it is the role of the federal government to create the right programs and funding mechanisms, to allow as many organizations as possible a chance to succeed.  So instead of asking what you could do with 1 million dollars, ask how the government could invest 1 million dollars in a fund that you could access.

6. What will it take to achieve our ask in the budget?

Finally, if you are an organization committed to making a pre-budget submission, you’ll want to know what it will take to drive it across the finish line.  Ultimately you will need an internal champion within government, someone who will push to see your wish list realized. Many stakeholders assume that they need to lobby the Department of Finance, but ultimately the Minister of Finance will be receiving recommendations from his cabinet colleagues.  So if the lead Minister in your portfolio doesn’t include your item on their wish list, it becomes a much harder sell with Finance.  Your efforts need to be focused on relevant MPs and Ministers to ensure that they all support your asks and in turn that your lead Minister places your project on their priority list that they submit to Finance.  After that it will just take a determined and sustained effort to get in front of the right audiences and ensure that you have the right buy in from Canadians.

Conclusion

Ready, Set, Spend!

This may seem like jumping through hoops, but it is an important part of the democratic process.  The Government is sincere in its desire to hear the feedback from Canadians, but given the competition for a limited pool of funding, make sure your organizations asks yourselves those key six questions if you want to stand apart from the rest.