Promising more government accountability, on July 2 the Conservative government introduced the Lobbying Act aimed at preventing designated public office holders from immediately becoming lobbyists. Ken Boessenkool is one of the most high-profile public-officials-turned-lobbyists: A senior policy advisor for Prime Minister Stephen Harper until 2004, he joined Hill & Knowlton and today works on behalf of clients like Merck Frosst and Taser International. He talks about the challenge of public affairs with a minority government—and what he thinks of the new Lobbying Act.
What is the challenge of communicating on behalf of clients with a minority government?
Having a minority government in Canada has changed public affairs. It is no longer, if it ever was, important to focus on just a few people on the government side. You need a much broader approach to the players in Ottawa and Quebec City. And the reality of a minority government means you need to convince more than one political party, generally, to get things accomplished.
How do you develop that broader approach?
The broad stakeholder approach is one we have been developing over the last number of years.That comes down to developing very detailed stakeholder maps, looking at who the influencers are, and developing strategies to reach all those different stakeholders. Government officials are a part of that stakeholder map, but are only a part. Getting our head around the importance of broad stakeholder communications as opposed to just lobbying is the movement we're going into. And as the industry becomes more tightly regulated and scrutinized, getting those broad stakeholders on side is increasingly important.
What is your take on the new Lobbying Act?
The regulation of public affairs and lobbying is getting tightened not just here but around the world, and I see that as a good thing because it creates a better understanding of what we do.
You work for such US clients as Taser International. What unique challenges do they face here?
We do a tremendous amount of work for clients seeking to understand the public affairs environment in Canada. The parliamentary system is something new to a lot of our American clients, and if they don't have a strong presence here, they need to be informed about how our government works, how to approach them and the type of stakeholders that are important. There are some similarities, but a lot of differences than the approach companies would use in Washington.
Name: Ken Boessenkool
Title: SVP, national practice director, public affairs
Agency: Hill & Knowlton Canada, Calgary office
Clients: Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, Cameco Corporation, and Taser International