Q&A – CAEM President Bianca Kennedy & Crestview Strategy Senior Consultant Jason Clark

To kick off Power Education Day, on Thursday November 19th, CAEM President Bianca Kennedy and Crestview Strategy Senior Consultant Jason Clark, shared some insights on the public affairs landscape and specifically how this relates to CAEM’s objective – and strategy – to lobby the federal government for sector-specific funding.

Here’s a summary of some of some the key insights and takeaways from their conversation.

Bianca:  Welcome Jason.  Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and Crestview Strategy?  What is your background and areas of expertise, and what does Crestview Strategy specialize in?

Jason:  Thanks Bianca.  Happy to be here with you today.  I am a senior consultant with Crestview Strategy, based in Ottawa.  Crestview Strategy is one of the fastest growing public affairs firms in Canada with teams based out of Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Washington DC and London, UK.  I’ve been with the firm 4 years now, and my specialization is Federal government relations.  I am part of a cross-partisan project team that is working with CAEM on developing and executing a federal engagement plan to advocate for sector-specific emergency funding for the exhibition industry.   I come from the Liberal tradition and have strong connections to the party.  My sole focus since March 15th has been working with clients – from global brands to professional associations and non-profits – to deal with the risks and opportunities related to responding to the pandemic, economic shutdown and forthcoming recovery.

Bianca:  Can you give us an overview of the Federal Political Landscape and how this impacts CAEM and the ask that we are looking to develop?

Jason:  COVID-19 has changed the political landscape and has upended the government’s priorities.  Federally, the focus right now is on the impact of, and responding to, the second wave that we are grappling with, across the country.  We are seeing multiple signals of a delayed economic recovery trajectory, and this second wave has definitely impacted a resilient recovery.

Currently, we are awaiting the fall economic statement, scheduled to be released on Monday November 30th, that will provide us with a revised look at the state of federal finances amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and signal what additional measures the government might be considering to support Canadians through the pandemic.  I say signal because Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has made it clear that recovery and investment, while time-limited and not infinite, will extend well into 2021 to ensure that the post-COVID economy is robust, inclusive, and sustainable.  We will be doing a thorough review of this economic statement and identifying areas of opportunity that CAEM may be able to leverage as we develop our ask, with the goal of our funding request being included in the 2021 Budget – expected in spring 2021.  We will also look to determine what opportunities we can leverage through existing programs that may be recapitalized or where the criteria could be expanded.

With these key dates on the horizon, the timing is right for CAEM to develop and put forward an ask for sector-specific funding.  CAEM has certainly not missed out on any opportunities to date.  In fact, the federal government has taken a very sector-agnostic approach to funding.  However, we know this Minority government has acted like a Majority government throughout much of the pandemic, with extraordinary spending powers. We anticipate that a spending effort on the level of World War II could be mobilized throughout the duration of the pandemic so despite this sector-agnostic preference, there is certainly opportunity for CAEM to build a case for sector-specific relief and support measures.

  What do we know currently about the federal government’s tendencies toward sectoral support?

Jason:  We know the Federal government understands that people and businesses are hurting, and as a result, they are piling on record debt, primarily directed until now, at supporting individuals, families and businesses.

While not widespread, there are examples of specific sector supports to aid in targeted relief measures for the tourism, sports, and film and television industries.  These have tended to be a result of sector-wide lobby efforts and have been aimed at support for the hardest hit.  There has been an ongoing negotiation around the airline industry, as an example.

We know that by CAEM meeting with Ministers’ Offices and the PMO alone, we will not be successful.  There is no magic meeting that will unlock funding.  Instead we need to educate government and build champions.  We need to take a different approach.  Engaging political decision-makers already in your networks or those responsible for the communities you operate in will be critical to our strategy.  Your MPs need to hear from you and understand the negative impact you have endured and the positive opportunity your businesses can contribute to the recovery.  We need to build the narrative that this industry has a deep impact on small businesses across the country – whether that’s your vendors and exhibitors, your attendees, your suppliers, small tourism operators such as hoteliers, or business located near you that benefit from large expositions.

This effort will require active participation and engagement from CAEM’s member base, in order to raise our collective voice and find champion MPs who will press Ministers to take immediate action.

Bianca:  What does success look like for Crestview Strategy and CAEM?

Jason:  We have 3 goals for our work:

  1. Secure financial and sector support for CAEM members, to offset the impacts of the pandemic.
  2. Elevate the voice of your membership, vendors and supply chain in Ottawa, underscoring that a safe return to events and expositions is critical to the health and growth of entrepreneurs and small businesses across the country.
  3. Build the CAEM national reputation by positioning this group as vital to economic recovery, and enabling political decision-makers from across the country to champion the industry and our ask.

Bianca:  What is the approach that Crestview and CAEM will be adopting to achieve this intended successful outcome?  Can you provide a general strategy map and timeline for us?

Jason:  Our strategy map includes 3 distinct phases:

  1. Survey: We have initiated a survey that a number of CAEM members have already completed.  This data (both quantitative and qualitative) is critical to our understanding – not only of the damage of the pandemic – but also what CAEM member companies need in order to survive as we move toward a safe restart and recovery.  The survey closes at 5 pm on November 27th and can be accessed HERE.
  2. Strategy Development: We have a strong understanding of how the government has approached support throughout the pandemic and our strategy is to elevate the voices of members in order to identify:
    a) the negative impact on your businesses and the communities you operate in
    b) the cumulative economic impact your industry can contribute to the economic recover
    c) the specifics of how the pandemic has impacted women, small vendors and entrepreneurs that rely on your businesses for their livelihoods
  3. Engagement / Execution:
    We will be bringing your voices to Ottawa, through a comprehensive outreach, to key political advisors at various Ministries, with the goal of sharing the funding proposal with targeted staff and engaging members of parliament across all caucuses to build noise around the need for industry support.  We will also be mobilizing a group that is representative of your industry to help amplify CAEM’s request for federal funding, by sharing both the qualitative and quantitative impacts of COVID-19 on your businesses. While the federal government has focused on responding to the pandemic, they have not lost their way on other priorities: support for the middle class, women and gender equality, as well as enabling entrepreneurs to succeed. We will tap into each of these with our key messages.

Bianca:  Can we take a deeper dive into some specific tactics that we will be using and how we might be calling on our members to support us with next steps?

Jason:  From a messaging standpoint, our narrative will highlight these important facts:

  • Entrepreneurs and small business vendors have been hardest hit by COVID-19 with the forced shut down of expositions.
  • Expositions act as a platform for vendors that are critical to the survival of many small businesses.
  • CAEM member companies are critical to local economic recovery in communities across the country.
  • CAEM member companies are committed to a safe reopening for their audiences, vendors, contractors and the communities they operate in.

In terms of tactics, we will be:

  • Surveying the industry to build out our case.
  • Developing a coalition of support through targeted members and vendor enlistment.
  • Building political will through targeted outreach to Ministerial Offices and MPs across all parties.
  • Raising CAEM’s profile through engagement and targeted thought-leadership.

This Federal government is narrative and story-based. Individual impact matters to them and this can be used to define the large challenges and problems that we are asking them to address. We will utilize your stories and voices to lead our engagement.

We will be building that advocacy coalition and working with many of you to directly engage MPs, Ministers, political staff and civil servants to drive our ask forward.

Bianca:  Thank you so much Jason for proving that fantastic high-level overview for our members on the approach that Crestview Strategy and CAEM will be undertaking together to engage the federal government on the need for sector-specific relief and support measures.

Obviously as you have laid out, the approach is multi-faceted and there are a lot of moving parts to this project that can and will evolve as the context surrounding COVID-19 changes in the coming weeks and months.

CAEM will continue to keep members updated on our actions and progress through our bi-weekly newsletters.  And of course, any members who have additional questions, comments or suggestions are invited to reach out to the CAEM office at [email protected].