Asked to host a politician? Know your limits
Be aware of the distinction between government and politics as election time approaches.
This is the second article in a series that will help manufacturers prepare for the Oct. 21 Canadian federal election.
You just got a call and a federal minister wants to visit your business to celebrate your success. That’s great, right? Of course, it is. You’ve worked hard to build a successful company and now it’s caught the attention of senior officials in our government. They want to meet you and your team, learn about your company and see how they can help.
Having a relationship with your government is important and could represent a great opportunity for your business – but we always need to be aware of the distinction between government and politics. That difference becomes more apparent as we head into election time.
Many people understand there is a difference between government staff or bureaucrats, who are permanent, non-partisan government employees who work with and for the people we elect to run our country. Politicians must run for election every four years and can change roles frequently, putting forward policies based on their party’s ideology of what they plan to do if elected.
In the lead-up to the election, the party holding office will typically use its status as the government to its advantage to get out into the community, visit businesses and make strategic funding announcements. Sometimes the months leading up to the election will be used to travel to specific ridings based on the governing political party’s strength or weakness there.
If you get a call today to ask if a federal minister can visit your business, it might be wise to accept and establish a relationship with the permanent government staff. This will help you educate them about your business and goals, which in turn helps them to help you overcome challenges. This is a ‘government’ visit and it’s mostly upside and typically low-risk.
Once the formal election period begins (usually about five weeks before election day), you might start to receive calls from politicians or campaign staff asking to visit your business, with reporters and photographers present. This is also an opportunity, but you need to think through the implications of hosting a politically motivated campaign visit.
Large companies often set an all-or-none policy for hosting political events during the formal campaign period, and most opt for the latter. Simply put, they don’t want campaigning politicians from any party to use their businesses as backdrops for their photo opportunities. This way there’s no implication that you and your business are endorsing one candidate over another, and it reduces the risk of alienating customers or others whose political views differ from the candidate’s.
Smaller businesses might also decide to open their doors to all candidates in an attempt to generate awareness of their businesses and capitalize on any media exposure. This can be risky because there’s no guarantee more than one party will ask to visit, meaning you might inadvertently become known a single-party supporter if you end up hosting only one.
Is it OK to say no to candidates who ask to tour your shop floor, office space, or use your building as their backdrop? The simple answer is yes – it’s common practice during a campaign and you won’t be penalized for it.
If the current government calls with a similar request ahead of the election, or if the new government sworn in this fall after the election contacts you to host an event, feel free to open your doors, because those photos won’t end up on campaign literature. They may even serve your business interests in the long run.
Faye Roberts founded Scout Public Affairs after spending more than 17 years working in corporate and public affairs at General Motors Canada. Her career at General Motors included a pivotal role as director of government relations. She also worked in the public affairs branch at both the federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the Department of National Defence.
Scout Public Affairs Inc. provides insights and communications expertise to organizations. Visit https://scoutpublicaffairs.com.