On June 12, the House Standing Committee on Finance issued a call for input as part of its annual pre-budget consultations. Like many of you, my immediate reaction to this news was almost relief.
The past several months have been challenging to say the least. With the exception of the Today at a Glance series, this space has been largely silent - owing to a genuine lack of meaningful content to put out there. When everyone’s scrambling to figure out what needs to happen, I felt it was better to stay out of the way and avoid unintentionally adding to the confusion.
The return of the annual pre-budget consultation, therefore, feels like a small slice of normal in the midst of all the uncertainty that has engulfed our field. Finally, there’s some semblance of the “precedented times” that we’ve come to miss.
The annual pre-budget process is a great opportunity to communicate your/your client’s needs to a receptive audience of key decision-makers. In any given year, there’s more demand for budgetary investment than government capacity to meet it - this year, the demands on government are sure to be unprecedented. To break through and have your recomendations heard, you’ll need to bring your A-game. Unfortunately, many organizations struggle to use their pre-budget submissions effectively.
In today’s PoliTraQ blog, we’ll look at some helpful tips and considerations for pre-budget submissions in general, and the 2021 pre-budget consultation in particular.
1. Position Your Pre-Budget Consultations to Internal Stakeholders
The pre-budget consultation process is one of the major advocacy touchstones in many annual advocacy plans. However, many organizations struggle in developing their annual budget asks. In my experience developing these proposals as part of an in-house advocacy team - some of which would likely also apply to those preparing submissions for external clients - there is often confusion within the organization as to the purpose of a pre-budget submission.
Unless you’re one of a handful of organizations with substantial clout on the Hill, it is highly unlikely that an ask in your pre-budget submission will be adopted by the committee in its report back to the house. It’s even less likely that you’ll see an ask picked-up wholesale and included in the Budget. There’s no tips or tricks to tell if you’re one of these organizations - if you have to ask, you’re not one of them.
Assuming you’re not in this category (if you’re reading this, that’s probably the case), how should you position your pre-budget submission - both to an internal audience, as well as to the committee and to government? Rather than seeing your pre-budget submission as a list of requests that you expect to see reflected in the budget, position it to your internal audiences (or your client, if you’re an external consultant) as a roadmap for your advocacy priorities over the coming year. Measure expectations, and remind your internal stakeholders that the pre-budget process is just one of the ways that you communicate your organization’s/sector’s needs to decisions. This can help to alleviate some future concerns, and secure the right level of buy-in and expectation.
2. Recognize the Time Frame for Budget Decisions
Just as important as internal positioning, it’s also important to consider the timeframe for budget decisions. The Committee’s deadline for submissions is in early August. Throughout the fall, the Committee will hold hearings with witnesses from various sectors and organizations to seek further input on the budget. A report is issued to the House in late fall, with the budget tabled between mid February and early April. Program spending from the Budget would begin to flow in late spring/early summer - up to a year from now, or more.
If your pre-budget ask is focused on issues for which you’d require funding earlier than late spring 2021, you’ve already missed the mark for consideration. Pre-budget consultations require a forward-thinking approach, and an appreciation for the timelines for decision-making. Don’t waste your word count on issues that need to be addressed prior to the spring budget - those issues should instead be communicated through more direct advocacy channels.
3. Connect the Dots
Your pre-budget submission also needs to address the themes and topics that the Committee - as well as the government as a whole - has chosen to highlight.
In recent years, it has become more common for the Committee to position its consultation around a specific theme. Last year, prior to the election, you may recall that the Committee’s call for submissions was focused on climate change and the environment. This year’s call is (unsurprisingly) focused on recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Ignoring the theme of the consultation suggests that you’re focused on what the government can do for you, and not so interested in what you can do to assist them in achieving their priorities.
However, that doesn’t mean your asks can only focus on the theme the committee has selected. Governments often have a number of “priority” files in play at any given time, and a handful of overarching themes around which their legislative agenda is built. These are the top-line premises on which they campaigned, and are always on the lookout for ways to move the needle and re-secure support from their base.
A strategic GR practitioner will use this knowledge at all stages of the drafting process - using these insights to narrow the scope of potential recomendations (to those touching on multiple government priorities), and to position these asks in such a way that mirrors the tone and intent set by the government. Recomendations that can address multiple government priorities - for instance, an employment program with an EDI lens, or a proposal to fund green infrastructure projects in resource-focused regions - allow the government to address multiple constituencies and their concerns, and can only improve your chances of success.
By using a GR-focused CRM like PoliTraQ, you and your team will be able to make real, data-driven decisions, monitor progress on KPI’s and demonstrate the value of your advocacy efforts.