Get in front of government before issues arise

by Kim Haakstad

Over the past two decades, I’ve had the privilege of working as a senior advisor in both the public and private sectors. This experience has given me a unique perspective that I bring to my new role as Managing Director, Government Affairs, at Wazuku.

I’m looking forward to working with our clients – sharing my knowledge of the inner workings of government, and helping them educate and affect policy in ways that not only benefit their organizations or industries, but benefit the province as a whole.

One thing I’ll share with you right now: the key to success in industry-government relations is understanding where each other comes from.

The private sector is filled with executives who started out on the front lines and worked their way up to leadership positions. As a result, they understand their industries inside and out, but may not grasp the way government works.

On the flip side, there are many smart people in government with no first-hand experience working in the industries they’re responsible for regulating.

As a result of these varying backgrounds, and often due to lack of appropriate levels of consultation with one another, we see no shortage of examples of policy implementations gone awry, despite the best intentions of everyone involved.

The Alberta government’s effort to limit the number of orphaned oil and gas wells that don’t get remediated properly when owners declare bankruptcy is a case in point. The government’s regulation was a well-meaning attempt to solve the very real orphaned well problem. However, because industry wasn’t able to get in front of the problem and educate government on the complexities of the issues and consequences of regulation, the new regulations exacerbated the original problem. Buyer demand for orphaned wells dried up, industry was outraged and the government had to change its policy.

This is exactly the kind of scenario that can and should be avoided. Organizations and industries have numerous opportunities to inform and engage with government on a consistent basis, well in advance of any policy formation. Here are five ways to do this:

  1. Play a leadership role within your industry. Grab hold of any and all occasions to educate government about what’s going on in your sector. Let them know you’re the expert and on top of any emerging issues.
  2. Highlight the ways your company and your industry are aligned with the government’s agenda. How are you affecting job growth? What are you doing for the environment?
  3. Present yourself as a key stakeholder — a trusted advisor that government knows to get in touch with when considering any kind of legislation or regulation.
  4. Outline how potential regulatory changes could promote growth or cause harm. Be the one to illustrate what alternative future scenarios would look like and what impact they would have on the province or the country.
  5. Demonstrate to your customers and oversight body that you are fully compliant with regulations and follow industry-leading practices. This sends the message that things are working well, that legislation may not be necessary and that maintaining the status quo may be best for business and the public interest.

Your relations with government should never be adversarial. In fact, you will have more success in achieving your agenda if you play the role of friendly educator.

My time as senior advisor to government and industry afforded me insight from both angles, and I’m here to help you navigate the fine art of successful engagement. Getting the right message to the right people, at the right times and in the right ways, will bring tremendous benefits to both your industry and your government.

Kim Haakstad is Wazuku’s Managing Director, Government Affairs. She has two decades of experience as a senior political aide and advisor to public, private and business organizations. Kim brings a first-hand understanding of the inner workings of government and the private sector to Wazuku clients.