Photo of Michelle Silva

Michelle is the Campaign Support Intern at Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in Toronto. Michelle can be contacted at michelle@grassrootspa.ca.

This spring, I began my new role as a Campaign Support Intern at Grassroots and fully immersed myself in all things relating to public affairs. To my surprise, I quickly discovered how this fast-paced and ever-changing industry can be both exciting and unexpected. Here are three things I’ve learned about the industry so far in my internship: 

1. Stay informed on current events

As a public relations student, I learned the value of staying up to date on current affairs. I was encouraged to monitor and analyze the news and apply my findings to my academic work. This skill has become invaluable to the work I now do in my internship. 

Amidst this period of rapid change, we see government move fast and make changes even quicker. Our role as public affairs professionals is to stay informed on these changes. In a matter of days, a government decision could change the course of any issue and impact the progress of an advocacy project. 

The effectiveness of my work depends on my ability to stay informed and identify potential issues. I always like to start my day by monitoring the media for news or government announcements that can directly or indirectly affect existing client advocacy projects. 

While this process may appear overwhelming with the abundance of news and content on social media, I’ve found that targeted filters and alerts help me identify the most relevant information. It can also be exciting because no one day is the same, and there’s always something new to learn. 

2. Build strong relationships with your team and clients

A concern I had before starting my internship was how to build strong relationships while working remotely, but from the moment I started my internship, the Grassroots team has always supported me. Whether it’s during a meeting or our end-of-week social, they always check in on each other. Despite working remotely, they have created a supportive virtual environment and offered me constant mentorship. 

Building strong relationships also extends to client relations. Taking the time to learn about an organization, its story, issues affecting them, and, importantly, how the Grassroots team can help, serves as the foundation for success. From the start to the end of a project, developing trust and confidence with the client directly impacts the work we deliver. Getting this right requires checking in regularly with the client, asking questions, receiving feedback, and maintaining consistent communication to achieve effective results. 

3. Recognize news issues and why they are important

As public affairs professionals, our role is to understand issues affecting our clients and to communicate their importance. Whether you’re approached by an organization with an issue or discover an issue yourself, this is the first step to any advocacy project. 

Through my internship, I have gained a deeper awareness of issues impacting a wide range of industries. Many organizations affected by these issues can greatly benefit by getting their voices heard at all levels of government. Advocacy plays an important role in raising government awareness on these issues and it pushes for solution-oriented action.

Before jumping right into an advocacy plan, I learned that it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Ask yourself: why this is an issue today? Why should the government listen? What are we asking government for, and will it improve the issue? It’s been a great experience to be a part of real change through meaningful advocacy and strategic government relations. 


The transition from lectures to meetings and from textbooks to clients happened in the blink of an eye. Every opportunity I have had at Grassroots has continued to advance my learning and has given me a greater appreciation for the industry. There’s nothing quite like jumping into public affairs during a pandemic! I’m looking forward to continuing my career in the exciting and unexpected world of public affairs. 


What If the Pandemic Hadn’t Happened? A Review of Liberal Promises

Photo of Chris Gray

Author Chris Gray is a Sr. Consultant at Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in Ottawa. Chris can be contacted at chris@grassrootspa.ca.

On October 21st, 2019, the Liberals returned to government with a minority, dropping to 157 seats in the House of Commons. Under Leader Andrew Scheer, the Conservatives picked up most of the seats the Liberals lost. Just three months later, Canada and the world plunged into the COVID-19 pandemic, that we are only now starting to recover from. Prime Minister Trudeau’s new cabinet was sworn in on November 20th, 2019, and mandate letters were released December 13th. As the new year struck, the government began planning for the 2020 federal budget and March 30th was set for then Finance Minster Bill Morneau to deliver the Budget Speech in the House of Commons, laying out the Liberals spending priorities. But by mid-March, it was clear that the pandemic would have a major impact on the Canadian health care system and the economy. Many people started to work remotely, including Members of Parliament. 

But what if the pandemic never happened?

Here’s my analysis on how the Liberal government is doing with their promises as we anticipate the next federal election. Let’s take a closer look at what the Liberals had in their platform and Ministerial mandate letters in 2019, what has been done in some key areas, and what has fallen off the radar. 

Income taxes

During their election campaign, the Liberals pledged to raise the basic personal amount to $15,000 by 2023, for taxpayers whose annual income is less than $147,000. 

Result: One of the first things the Liberals did when they were returned was introduce legislation to raise the basic personal amount to $15,000 by 2023. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has indicated that this move will cost the government $21B over five years, but the government touted that this will leave more money in the hands of Canadians to help stimulate the economy. 

Corporate taxes

The Liberals said they would cut in half the corporate tax paid by companies that develop and manufacture zero-emissions technologies. 

Result: To create jobs and support the growth of clean technology manufacturing in Canada, Budget 2021 reduced — by half — the general corporate and small business income tax rates for businesses that manufacture zero-emission technologies.

Affordable phone bills

The Liberals indicated they would reduce cell phone bills by 25% annually, in part by expanding entry of network operators. 

Result: The Liberals have not succeeded with this one. Canada has the highest mobile-data fees of all G7 countries—by far. In May, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission reversed an old rate reduction, reinstating higher prices.  The only people to benefit so far are shareholders. 

Pharmacare

The Liberals committed to taking the critical next steps to implement National Pharmacare so that all Canadians have access to the drugs they need at an affordable price.

Result:  The Liberals have not moved the ball much on this one. The advisory council called for a $15B universal single payer pharmacare plan, and council Chair, Dr. Eric Hoskins, stated that the national program would save $5B annually on drug costs. But the pandemic was a serious blow to the Liberals spending plans and pharmacare has basically been shelved. 

Net zero emissions

In 2019 the Liberals committed to getting Canada to net-zero emissions by 2050, with legally binding five-year milestones. 

Result: The government introduced and passed (on the last day Parliament was sitting), Bill C-12, the Canada Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act. The goal of this legislation is to meet the objectives under the Paris Agreement and to reduce greenhouse gases in Canada. The Liberals had to do some political wrangling to get this bill passed but were able to get NDP support, while the Conservatives opposed it, as did the Green party, who said it didn’t go far enough. 

Single-use plastics ban

The Liberals committed to taking steps to ban harmful single-use plastics. This builds on their existing ban on products with plastic microbeads, which threaten the health of our lakes, oceans, and wildlife.

Result:  In 2020, the government announced a federal ban of single-use plastic products, with regulations to be finalized by the end of 2021. A key part of the plan focuses on items that are found in the environment, are often not recycled, and have readily available alternatives. Based on this criterion, the six items the Government proposes to ban are: plastic checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery, and food ware made from hard-to-recycle plastics. This ban is a step forward in the government’s goal to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030.

Conclusion

Overall, the Liberal government has done about as well as could be expected considering the pandemic health crisis. Providing support for Canadians and Canadian businesses since March 2020, the government coffers are seriously depleted with record breaking deficits that will take many years to replenish. The billions spent on COVID support programs took focus away from other government priorities, and rightly so. 

As we head towards a likely fall election, with COVID seemingly subsiding, expect all parties to start making promises over the summer about how they would continue to help Canadians recover from the pandemic, should they form government.  As for the Liberals, I anticipate they will continue looking at universal basic income, implement a National Pharmacare program, and take more responsibility for long-term care in Canada. 


2017 vs. 2021 – Political & Economic Perspectives in Ontario

Peter Seemann

Author Peter Seemann is the Principal & Sr. Consultant at Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in Toronto. Peter can be contacted at peter@grassrootspa.ca.

After more than a year of tough times dealing with the pandemic, the Ford government at Queen’s Park is looking forward to a return to more normal conditions this fall. With the legislature finally rising for the summer months and the long-awaited cabinet shuffle on June 18th, the government is clearly looking ahead to next spring’s election. A year seems like a long time, but it’s a brief moment in politics, and history has shown that a lot can happen in 12 months. And a lot will undoubtedly happen before voters decide who gets their vote next spring. 

Let’s go back the summer of 2017, one year before the last scheduled provincial election in 2018.

Four years ago this month, the former Liberal government led by Kathleen Wynne was entering its final year of the four-year mandate. The Liberals were approaching almost 14 years of consecutive leadership going back to the 2003 Dalton McGuinty win, and despite a series of controversies (remember gas plants, teacher union payments and e-health?) the Wynne Liberals were rebounding somewhat in the polls that summer. The increase in public support was partly attributed to the generous 2017 spring budget that included plans to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour and allocated billions of dollars towards important issues such as healthcare, affordable housing and infrastructure. Remarkably, after more than a decade of annual deficits the Liberals were even planning for a balanced budget. The PCs were led at the time by current Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, who was doing everything he could to garner attention with his “People’s Guarantee” policy platform. Hard to believe at the time, that Mr. Brown’s leadership aspirations would blow up in such a monumental way 6 months later, and that the Tories would be forced into a leadership vote literally weeks before the election. Safe to say that in the summer of 2017, no one could have anticipated the political drama and election outcome that transpired.

Now, let’s look ahead. 

Premier Ford and his PC government have governed through an incredibly challenging and difficult time during the last 15 months, and fallout from the pandemic is far from over. It is widely known that the government is aiming to enter the fall legislative session with a strong economic plan to lead them into 2022. Look for a detailed Fall Economic Statement by November that should provide insights on what the government will prioritize for next spring’s budget. With a forecasted deficit of over $38B this year and a current unemployment rate of 9.1% (50% higher than 2017), big expensive pre-election promises are not likely to be part of next spring’s budget. Instead, many factors that are out of the government’s control have the potential to greatly impact next year’s electoral prospects. There is a strong possibility Canadians will be voting in a federal election this fall. Ontario businesses and individuals alike could see an end to a range of federal pandemic subsidies that many people have grown accustomed to. While many are predicting a mini economic boom as people come out of COVID lockdowns, no one knows how long it may last and the one common thing incumbent governments fear the most going into an election, is an economic downturn.

PeriodGovernmentDeficitUnemploymentDebt/GDP Ratio
Summer of 2017Liberal$1B6%39.3%
Summer of 2018Liberal/PC$7.4B5.6%39.4%
Summer of 2021PC$38B9.1%48%
Summer of 2022????????????

Here are some quick predictions we believe everyone should be paying attention to:

4th Wave Could Kill Ford’s Chances for Re-Election

After three tiring lockdowns, Ontarians collectively are dealing with massive pandemic fatigue. All indications look positive in terms of our economy opening up in the coming weeks, yet some medical experts are still raising concern about a possible Delta variant 4th wave of infections. If this happens and the government is forced to once again lock things down and close schools, the Ford government may take a massive hit in popularity. Whether it’s their fault or not, Ontarians will look to blame someone, and the opposition parties will likely stand to benefit.

Expect More Priorities for Cities and Suburban Middle Class

When the Ford government won in 2018, they not only held on to their longstanding rural base, but they also won in many longstanding Liberal-held urban and suburban ridings. If the PCs have any hope of getting re-elected they need to hold on to the majority of these ridings and their importance was reflected in last week’s cabinet shuffle. All five ministers who were demoted came from rural ridings, while virtually all the promotions were given to MPPs from GTA area ridings that the Tories need to retain. Aside from an expanded profile in the more heavily populated regions of the province, look for policy and funding announcements to benefit people in these areas.

More Surprises Will Likely Impact 2021/22

Just like 4 years ago, some things will happen in the coming 12 months that none of us today can predict. Right now, we are all focused on overcoming the pandemic that has had such a massive impact on our economy and day-to-day lifestyle. Despite not knowing what a “return to normal” may look like, be prepared to expect the unexpected. 

All of us at Grassroots will be watching how things unfold provincially with great interest. We hope you are able to take some time to enjoy the summer months and, like government, be ready to hit the ground running with your advocacy plans this September.


Leadership Communication Tidbits

Photo of Ray Pons

Author Ray Pons is the Senior Communications Specialist at Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in Montreal. Ray can be contacted at ray@grassrootspa.ca.

Bite-sized insights to gain greater clarity and improved leverage, buy-in, when you speak.

In written words and spoken words there appears to be strong truth to the principle that small changes can make a big difference.

This posting will highlight a few examples to help you improve your communication effectiveness and communication execution – as a leader, an influencer – in your business activities as well as in your life.

You have no doubt experienced when a colleague or co-worker [peer, superior or subordinate] is flat-out having a bad day; a day when it is easy to see that something is just not right. At home it can be equally transparent. Anytime something is ‘wrong’ it is so darned easy to jump in with: ‘What’s wrong?’ or the more accusatory version: ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Notice how the addition of ‘with you’, just 2 little words, will heighten the tension.

Try this on for size: ‘What’s troubling you?’

Related add-on tidbit: a common ‘rule’ of lawyering is to avoid questions which you do not truly want answered.

‘Why are you angry?’ [frustrated, annoyed, bothered, bewildered, etc.]. Do you really want to know the root cause of the negative emotion?

We recommend you stay away from the path of ‘blaming’ – in the mind of the listener – by avoiding enquiry about the problem. Focus instead on the desired solution.

Try this on for size: ‘What will it take to make you happy?’ [calm, pleased, contented, clear-headed].

Finally: ‘Team meeting tomorrow – don’t be late!’

Try this on for size: ‘Team meeting tomorrow – please turn up on time.’

And throw in a benefit of some sort, an added bonus if you like, when they comply with what you expect: And I commit to you that we will get right to it and finish on time.’ Or perhaps ‘That way you won’t miss the good news I’ll be sharing.’

Communication is simple. It is far from easy.

Look for the simple, small changes you can make, which will make a big difference to your effectiveness as a communicator, and a corresponding increase in your personal/professional image as an influential leader.   


GRPA Team Updates

Photo of Lindsay Yaciuk

Author Lindsay Yaciuk is a Communications Specialist at Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in Toronto. Lindsay can be contacted at lindsay@grassrootspa.ca.

Notwithstanding all the changes and overall strangeness of living through a pandemic, 2021 has been an exciting year for Grassroots Public Affairs…

Congratulations Liz Gross!

Photo of Liz Gross

Formerly known as our (amazing!) Campaign Support Specialist, Liz has been a valued member of the Grassroots team for the past three years and was recently promoted to the position of Research Associate.  In this new role, Liz oversees the details of our client research projects and advises the team on scholarly communication and best practices. 

This well-deserved shift in responsibilities aligns with Liz’s academic achievements, professional experience and natural talents – congratulations from the team! 

Read Liz’s recent article about the foundational importance of research to effective government relations strategies.

Welcome Michelle Silva!

Photo of Michelle Silva

At a time when many businesses are suffering due to pandemic realities, Grassroots is grateful to be expanding the team – and thrilled to welcome Michelle!

A recent graduate of Humber College’s Public Relations Certificate Program, Michelle is turning theory into practice as our Campaign Support Intern, and since day one has been doing a terrific job.

Michelle’s professionalism and interest in strategic communications are a natural fit with Grassroots’ advocacy services – it’s great to have you with us Michelle! 


#ICYMI

June 16th Webinar – Post-Pandemic Predictions

Special thanks to Paul Smetanin, president of the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis (CANCEA) who joined Grassroots for a webinar discussion of post-covid predictions, as they apply to mental healthworking remotely, and latent financial distress.

Traditional socio-economic analysis tends to treat people as averages of groups, but CANCEA’s approach is unique in that it models people and firms as distinct individuals.  All results shared were derived from updated 2020 simulations of actual client projects, and Paul’s intriguing findings included:

  • The prevalence of mental illness in Ontario is at risk of increasing by almost 1 million people (38% increase)
  • Work-from-home expectations are 50% higher than pre-pandemic levels
  • Business and consumer insolvencies have dropped during the pandemic, but latent financial distressis expected in most sectors – especially in hospitality and food services, manufacturing and construction  

Watch the webinar recording:


The Grassroots Greenhouse 2021

Grassroots-Greenhouse-2021-Final-Report-compressed

As enthusiastic advocates for the Canadian Agri-Food sector, Grassroots Public Affairs released our third annual agriculture and food research public opinion poll in April.

Our approach for 2021 included COVID-19 pandemic-related food questions, as well as repeat questions from past years so we can measure any change in public opinion.

Key findings for this year’s research included:

  • 91% of Canadians are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ confident in the food grown or produced domestically.
  • 70% of Canadians have never visited an operational or commercial farm.
  • 59% of Canadians are not interested in trying ‘lab grown meat’ if deemed safe to eat by the federal government.
  • 47% of Canadians frequently check the labelling of a food item to inspect the ingredients or nutritional information.
  • 24% of Canadians have a food allergy or food sensitivity.

The Greenhouse received media attention from local and national publications, including:

Special thanks to Food Banks Canada and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture for their participation.

Photo of Liz Gross

Liz is the Research Associate at Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in St. Catharines. Liz can be contacted at liz@grassrootspa.ca.

In summer 2019, I decided to transition from full- to part-time work at Grassroots to start graduate school at Western University. The choice to pursue a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree was a big step but not a difficult decision for me. That said, I did get some well-meaning questions from friends, family, and colleagues about why I thought this kind of education would be relevant.

The answer is research! Library and information science professionals are trained researchers and serve as key partners in the research process for academics and other professionals. 

Although the image of brick-and-mortar libraries continues to dominate popular culture, the Internet has completely retooled the research and information-seeking environment, and information professionals are on the front lines. As a library student, I’ve taken classes in traditional cataloguing and classification but also courses addressing online information retrieval, web design and architecture, human-computer interaction, and database management systems so that I can support high-quality research in an increasingly digital context.

Regardless of the methodology involved, research offers the chance to identify, unpack, and build on ideas that are fresh and new (or, just new to me!). I don’t always come armed with expertise in the topic of interest, which means that I get to learn from, and collaborate with, people who are deeply engaged with their academic or professional field. There’s nothing more exciting than being the first to know about emerging innovation or new opportunities.

Importantly, research can involve wrestling with questions that are difficult, and getting really (really) comfortable with uncertainty. Similarly, studies and projects sometimes go “off the rails” and evolve in new and unexpected ways – and that’s okay! These moments give me a chance to stretch my mind by questioning the process, making changes, and reaching for new ideas or possibilities. 

It goes without saying that the past fourteen months have been challenging. For me, one bright light came about at the end of last year when I took on the new role of Research Associate full-time at Grassroots. In this position, I work with our clients to identify, evaluate, and capitalize on opportunities to engage with government at all levels. While the idea of presenting my research was a bit anxiety-inducing at first, I’ve been fortunate to have the support of the Grassroots team – all of whom have helped me become a clearer and more confident communicator.

As Peter (our founder and principal) reminds us, a central goal of government relations work is to educate policymakers about innovative developments and potential policy solutions that could have a positive impact on public programming and quality of life for Canadians. Whether this work takes the form of a government program review to help advance an organization or industry goal, a sentiment analysis of media or consumer comments, or a scan of academic literature to ground a policy position, it has been a pleasure to see our clients build on comprehensive and authoritative information to develop their advocacy efforts. 

While research initiatives may seem tedious and unnecessary to those who are embedded in professional communities (“why wouldn’t X politician see where we’re coming from?”), careful research is the foundation of successful advocacy – both in terms of strategy development and engagement. Research gives your advocacy substance, establishes your reputation as an ‘expert’ on the issue, provides you with evidence to support your case to government and the media, and can be used identify workable solutions to address your challenges.  

All that’s to say – I look forward to completing my final master’s courses this summer and I can’t wait to find out which project will arrive next in my inbox. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about how research can strengthen your message to government.

Ray is the Senior Communications Specialist at Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in Montreal. Ray can be contacted at ray@grassrootspa.ca.

Those seriously committed to being seen, being perceived, as a powerful and positive leader, a “leadership” communicator, must gain awareness of small yet significant communication blunders made far too often by far too many people.

To paraphrase the notable voice actor Stephen Morgan Zirnkilton, best known for his “Law and Order” series introductions: 

“In the criminal communication system, miscommunication gaffes by those in prominent leadership positions are considered most heinous; these are their stories.” 

Well … I think they are … 😊.

Throughout this COVID pandemic, you may have noticed one of the most egregious communication mistakes in newscasts and major media, without fully realizing that you have indeed noticed it. 

According to various scientific experts on communication and mindset, judgements you make of others will most frequently be made in your sub-conscious mind. People make sub-conscious decisions on other people and their habits, or perhaps more accurately expressed as because of their habits, without much conscious awareness that those sub-conscious judgements are happening. 

And it is my assessment that the more prevalent the habit is displayed, broadcasted, and disseminated, especially by those in prominent positions, the more you hear it repeated, the less noticeable it becomes and the more it will be accepted, imitated, and integrated into general communication culture.   

One such habit is saying “I think.”

Consider the following statement from recent events: 

“I think the execution of search warrants is an extraordinary action for prosecutors to take against a lawyer, let alone a lawyer of a former president.” 

Compared to:  

“The execution of search warrants is an extraordinary action for prosecutors to take against a lawyer, let alone a lawyer of a former president.”   

In the latter, the small removal of “I think” results in a sizeable increase in assertiveness, strength of message and authority of the messenger.

Another example from a personal life experience: 

Some years ago, my wife and I were visiting one of her close friends who asked her: “Are you coming to Jocelyne’s baby shower next weekend?” The response, enthusiastically said, was: “I think so.” A pause. “Well, are you coming … or aren’t you?” “Yes Julie … I think I can make it.” Another pause, which was now causing me, as a coach of communication skills, an advocate for kaizen [continuous Improvement] and concerned husband wanting to avoid any unpleasantry between friends, to advance from mild concern to worry. 

The conversation deteriorated as tensions rose. “Why wouldn’t you come? I can’t believe you! She’s like a daughter to you” after which … well … ‘the wheels came off’ comes to mind. 

When people are told “I think” what they really hear is “I’m not sure.” Julie was looking for a strong “Yes, of course” not a “maybe.”

Listen for “I think” on the news, in interviews, online, in conversations at home, discussions at work. When you really listen for it you will catch it being said just about everywhere! By politicians, world leaders, sports commentators, podcasters, authority figures on all sorts of diverse topics.

And when you do listen for and hear the many “I thinks” in the public domain, you may also catch times you yourself are saying it and, therefore, be able to adjust. Small change – big difference.

The good news is that you will also notice, and be impressed by, those communicators who never, ever, say it! And that heightened awareness must surely allow you to become one of them.

Be one of those who never utters “I think” and replace it with more positive vocabulary: “I know, I believe, I am sure, I am convinced, I am certain.” 

For comparison:

  • I think the Toronto Maple Leafs have a good chance of competing for the Stanley Cup this season.
  • I believe The Toronto Maple Leafs have a good chance of competing for the Stanley Cup this season.
  • I think our company can provide you with exceptional products, the best customer service and strong overall support.
  • I am confident our company can provide you with exceptional products, the best customer service and strong overall support.

Or consider just leaving it out:

  • I think the report will be on your desk by start of day Friday. 
  • The report will be on your desk by start of day Friday. 

Elevate your communication power, your assertiveness, your professional image as a leader, and your personal reputation at the sub-conscious level of your listeners, by breaking the habit of saying “I think.”

To “think” often – as an action, a habit, a forethought to making strong, strategic choices – is a practice of great leaders and a custom of respected leadership.

To say “I think” is not.

To your success! 

“First we eat, then we do everything else.”

M.F.K. Fisher

Everyone needs to eat.  But not everyone understands the complexities of producing the myriad of food options available to Canadians.

Our food comes from farms – Canadian farms, and faraway farms in distant lands.  I’ve learned that spending time on a farm provides a much deeper understanding of where our food choices come from, how they are created, and by whom.  

The latest Grassroots Greenhouse poll just confirmed that 70% of Canadians have never visited an operational farm:

Graph from National Agricultural Poll presenting data that seven in ten Canadians have never visited an operational, working or commercial farm.

Until recently, that number included me.

When I joined Grassroots Public Affairs in 2018, I started learning about issues impacting the Canadian agri-food industry, and visited various farm operations – fruits & vegetables, livestock, grains.  All of them were fascinating in terms of scope, on-farm activities, and day-to-day management.  I was repeatedly amazed by the integration of advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence and block chain.  Until I witnessed it first-hand, I had no idea that a career in agriculture could be so interesting, innovative and important.

I suppose it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise that only 30% of Canadians have visited a farm, considering the vast majority of us live in cities, where opportunities to engage agriculture and food production are simply not as accessible as in rural settings.

Let me ask, have you ever really thought about where your food comes from – before it lands in the grocery store, or on a restaurant plate?  

Think of travel for a moment (remember travel?…).  After you visit a different place and experience different activities within a different culture, you feel a much stronger sense of understanding and connection to that place, and the lifestyle there, because you experienced it first-hand

To experience food-production first-hand is to gain a meaningful appreciation for parts of Canada’s “farm-to-fork” supply chain, a critical network we now know is complex, and fragile.  

Since COVID started, it seems every time I grocery shop there’s a shortage of something I need – items previously found in abundance are missing from the shelves, “expected next week”.  

Without question, food prices are going up.  

I once read some great advice, “Never ignore the writing on the wall…

Living through a pandemic has taught me to appreciate many things, including the value of food.  It’s the foundation for everything else we do – as individuals and families, as a country, as a world, and as a species.  

In the interest of greater appreciation for Canadian food, and as part of the 30% of Canadians who have visited a farm – I highly encourage it!   

Granted, due to COVID now may not be the time, but in due course consider adding ‘farm tour’ to the proverbial bucket list.  Touring a modern farm is to witness the human ingenuity of age-old farming techniques, combined with the advanced technologies of the 21st century.  Touring a farm is to experience food production first-hand

While there may be a disconnect between food-production and the average grocery shopper, the 2021 Grassroots Greenhouse poll found the majority of Canadians (86%) endorse increased government support for the agriculture and agri-food sectors:

Graph from National Agriculture Poll with data illustrating that Canadians continue to believe the federal government should provide financial support for the agri-food sector.

Good timing.  Earlier this week, it was reassuring to see federal budget support for Canadian food producers.  Representing hundreds of thousands of farm families across the country, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture was pleased with several key announcements in this week’s budget, outlined in their subsequent News Release

Investing in domestic food production certainly feels right, given the events of the past year, and the uncertainty of the future.  

As Canadians, we mustn’t take our food for granted – 100% of us need it, to “do everything else...”


Lindsay Yaciuk, Grassroots Communications

(PS:  If you’re interested in Canadian agri-food, like we are at Grassroots Public Affairs, join us Wednesday April 28th for a complimentary: Presentation of Findings from the 2021 Grassroots Greenhouse National Agriculture Poll – register here)

TORONTO, ON – April 13, 2021 – The third annual national Agri-Food public opinion poll by Grassroots Public Affairs finds that Canadians continue to maintain very positive views about the current and future state of agriculture and food in Canada. 

In partnership with clients and other industry associations, Grassroots’s online survey measured attitudes, direction, and intensity of public opinion on a range of issues and policies affecting the domestic Agri-Food sector. 

Some of the more interesting survey findings include:

  • Canadians are extremely confident (91%) in food grown or produced domestically.
  • A strong majority of Canadians (86%) endorse increased government support for the agriculture and agri-food sectors.
  • 70% of Canadians have never had the opportunity to visit an operational farm. However, the impressions of the 30% that did visit were very positive.

“These findings confirm that, in these uncertain times, policy makers and industry leaders can build on the agriculture sector’s reputation as the most important contributor to the country’s economic landscape. Few other industries are viewed as positively by Canadians. This is a sector with enormous potential to aid in Canada’s economic recovery,”

Peter Seemann, Principal & Sr. Consultant at Grassroots Public Affairs.

New questions for the 2021 poll gathered public opinion about:

  • Awareness regarding The Canada Food Guide;
  • Consumers and food labelling; and
  • Food allergies/sensitivities of Canadians.

Grassroots Public Affairs continues to believe strongly in the growth potential in Canada’s domestic food system. We will be releasing more detailed findings including demographic breakdowns on a variety of questions in the coming weeks.

View the 2021 survey results.

Methodology and Sample Size

The Canada-wide survey was conducted via an online panel of 1,001 Canadians 18+. Fieldwork for the survey took place between March 23rd to March 30th, and the survey was available in English and French. 

For media inquiries, please contact:

Lindsay Yaciuk

Communications, Grassroots Public Affairs

lindsay@grassrootspa.ca

905-715-2788


An annual snapshot of public opinion about Canadian agriculture and food.


As enthusiastic advocates for the Canadian Agri-Food sector, Grassroots Public Affairs is pleased to release our third annual agriculture and food research public opinion poll.

Our approach for 2021 includes COVID-19 pandemic-related food questions, as well as repeated questions from past years so we can measure any change in public opinion.

Key findings for this year’s research include:

  • –91% of Canadians are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ confident in the food grown or produced domestically.
  • –90% of Canadians are aware of the Canada Food Guide and its recommendations on healthy eating.
  • –86% of Canadians endorse government support for the agriculture and agri-food sector – down from 92% 2020.
  • –70% of Canadians have never visited an operational or commercial farm.
  • –59% of Canadians are not interested in trying ‘lab grown meat’ if deemed safe to eat by the federal government.
  • –47% of Canadians frequently check the labelling of a food item to inspect the ingredients or nutritional information.
  • –44% of Canadians believe that agriculture and agri-food is of ‘very large importance’ to Canada’s national security and critical infrastructure – down from 59% in 2020.
  • –43% of Canadians believe that agriculture and agri-food is of ‘very large importance’ to Canada’s economic landscape – down from 63% in 2020.
  • –37% of Canadians believe the agri-food sector is likely to grow in the future– down from 44% in 2019.
  • –24% of Canadians have a food allergy or food sensitivity.

Other key findings:

  • Canadians hold very positive opinions of agriculture and agri-food; however, the intensity of these opinions has decreased in the past year.
  • The majority of Canadians believe the most recent update to the Canada Food Guide increased the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables. Plurality believe meat and dairy recommendations were reduced.
  • Canadians see agriculture as having a positive impact on the environment.
  • Canadians continue to believe the federal government should place the greatest level of prioritization of financial support for fruit and vegetable commodities.
  • Canadians are consuming less red meat than they were a year ago, but are consuming more animal sources of protein such as eggs and fish.
  • Consumption of plant-based proteins such as legumes and seeds has risen at a greater rate than plant-based protein products (made with soy or pea).
  • Canadians are less willing to recommend a job or career in agriculture today than in 2019.

Special thanks to Food Banks Canada and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture for their participation.

View the ‘Greenhouse’ below:

Grassroots-Greenhouse-2021-Final-Report-compressed

For customized presentations on the findings, please contact us by email at info@grassrootspa.ca.

On Wednesday afternoon, Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy delivered the much-anticipated 2021 Ontario budget. After the COVID-19 pandemic delayed last year’s budget until the fall, the government is likely eager to get back on track as it moves towards the 2022 provincial election. Here are the highlights:

Primary Themes

As was leaked last week, the primary themes of the budget were “Protecting People’s Health” and “Protecting our Economy”. While the Ford government campaigned in the last election on a promise the eliminate the $15B annual deficit inherited from the previous Liberal government, any plan to do that has been dismissed due to pandemic impacts on the provincial economy. 

Minister Bethlenfalvy remarked that this year’s budget was similar to the one delivered by P.C. Finance Minister Leslie Frost in 1943, when Canada was in the midst of fighting the Second World War:

“COVID‐19 arrived on Canadian shores one year ago. At the time, few could have anticipated the devastating consequences, here at home and across the globe. Our loved ones, our economy, our education system, our main streets and our communities have all been impacted by the global pandemic. But from the first moments of this crisis, Premier Ford made clear that our government would protect the people of this province.”

Protecting People’s Heath – Commitments Announced 

  • Setting aside $16.3B over 4 years to battle COVID-related health care costs.
  • $1B for the ongoing vaccination of Ontarians.
  • Funding for existing and new hospitals across Ontario including Brampton, London, Mississauga, Windsor and Moosonee.
  • Almost $5B in funding to support Long-Term Care facilities and staff.
  • Additional funding to help and recruit Personal Support Workers by offering bonuses ranging between $5-10K.

Protecting our Economy – Commitments Announced

Normally, economic priorities take precedence when it comes to conservative government budgets. This year, however, the budget will play a necessary supporting role in protecting the health and well-being of Ontarians. That said, the government did announce a significant round of investments to assist Ontario businesses to rebound from what has been a very difficult year.

  • $3.4B in new funding for businesses through the province’s small business grant program. This program previously allotted up to $20K grants to eligible businesses due to pandemic-related disruption.
  • A new $260M job training tax credit. In line with the Ford government’s promotion of post-secondary trade programs, it grants $2K to workers looking to improve their skills for new career opportunities.
  • A commitment of $400M in new funds for Ontario’s beleaguered tourism industry over the next 3 years.
  • A commitment of $2.8B for rural broadband in communities lacking proper high-speed internet connectivity.
  • $117M in funding to support women and minority groups via training programs for those most impacted by pandemic-related job loss.
  • Another round of child benefit payments to parents of children under the age of 18. The government is estimating this will cost upwards of another $1B. 

Assessing the Numbers

While not surprising given the circumstances, the bottom line for this budget, and all budgets in the foreseeable future, is not pretty. As most people expected – Ontario’s budget deficit of $32B is much higher than the government would have anticipated when it was first elected in 2018. The good news is, that it’s estimated to be almost $5B lower than last year and progressively lower in years to come. 

Interest on the province’s debt, despite all time low interest rates, will cost the government approximately $13B and the total debt will rise to $439B in the upcoming fiscal year, and as high as half a trillion by 2023-24.

Looking much further into the future, the government’s long-term projections suggest that balancing the provincial books won’t be achievable until the end of the decade; 7 years later than the PCs were aiming for in their 2019 pre-COVID budget.

Despite the rebound from the economic collapse a year ago when Ontarians were faced with the first lockdown, there are still more than 300,000 fewer full-time jobs in the province than before the pandemic hit. 

And a final staggering metric is the province’s debt-to-GDP ratio, which is currently projected to be over 50% within 3 years.

Reaction

Reaction to the budget was mixed, with traditional allies to the PC government expressing support and those ideologically opposed to the government expressing disappointment in yesterday’s budget.

Business groups including the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Ontario Real Estate Association applauded the investments towards supporting business and making important infrastructure investments. 

Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath was critical of what the NDP viewed as spending cuts in public education, long term care facilities and healthcare. Liberal leader Stephen Del Duca expressed his party’s outrage towards the government on reduced support for Ontario students compared to increased funding last year when the pandemic first arrived. 

What This All Means

While the fundamentals of Ontario’s economy are still extremely shaky, the general public has largely supported the Ford government’s handling of COVID.  There has been some concern and frustration over perceived mismanagement around vaccine distribution, but the PC government is giving Ontarians what they want and need in this budget: a path and plan that the government will support the province on the road back to recovery. Expect to see government ministers fan out across the province and engage in some significant PR to sell the benefits of the budget to Ontarians in the coming weeks. Moreover, expect opposition parties to continue hammering the government to do more in support of Ontarians.

For more information on budget details, visit the full 2021 Ontario Budget document.

Grassroots will continue to monitor government plans as we head into the summer months. The ongoing fight against the pandemic will remain the focus for some time, but it won’t be long until we see clear signs of electioneering in anticipation of next year’s scheduled provincial vote. 

Since 2017, we at Grassroots have had the good fortune to partner with clients in the Agri-Food sector to measure Canadian’s attitudes towards our domestic food industry. Our findings have helped us advise organizations on how best to frame their messaging so that government and the general public are more receptive to their ‘asks’. 

This month, Grassroots will be re-entering the field to once again measure Canadians attitudes towards a wide range of topics related to Canada’s vast and diverse Agri-Food industry. We are excited to offer the opportunity for outside organizations and commodity groups to participate.

Our Agri-Food Omnibus polls from the last two years have uncovered a wide variety of interesting data. Here are a few notable findings related to agriculture and the business of food:

Agriculture is a key driver of the Canadian economy.

Overwhelming, the general public sees agriculture as one of the key drivers of the Canadian economy. 

Agriculture is important to Canada’s national security and critical infrastructure.

When compared with other major sectors of the Canadian economy, agriculture is seen as one of Canada’s most important industries, coming second only to health care, with respect to the role it plays in guaranteeing Canada’s national security and critical infrastructure. This bodes well for a sector that routinely feels ignored by government. 

The pandemic has changed the way Canadians act or think about shopping for food, but public trust in domestic food is high.

In last year’s poll, conducted just as the first lockdown was imposed, we learned that Canadians began thinking differently about how and where their food comes from. The pandemic exposed Canadians to the possibilities of food shortages and barriers to accessing food. More than six in ten Canadians believed food availability at grocery stores had worsened after COVID, and a third report experiencing greater difficulty affording food. 

Trust in home-grown food is high.

In comparison to other major global agricultural producers, Canadians trust food grown or produced domestically significantly more than food grown or produced elsewhere.

Quebecers are most optimistic about the future of the sector.

Another interesting regional insight is just how the Agri-Food sector is viewed differently across the country. According to last year’s survey Quebecers were by far the most optimistic and supportive about the future of the sector, while Ontario and Alberta residents were more pessimistic. The culture of food and firsthand connection to the industry matters significantly when it comes to public support.

As anyone involved in the agri-food industry knows, there have been many positive PR campaigns launched by industry stakeholders to help educate and influence consumers. These initiatives are needed, as the majority of Canadians increasingly have less direct exposure to farming and agriculture in general.

We look forward to releasing the findings of our poll in April. There is still time to participate and include a question or two focused on specific sectors of the industry in our poll. Check out the information on our website or email info@grassrootspa.ca for more information. 

Smile, spring is just around the corner!

Peter Seemann

Peter is the Principal & Senior Consultant at Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in Toronto. Peter can be contacted at peter@grassrootspa.ca.

As we begin the first quarter of 2021, with lockdowns in place and government struggling to combat a virus that just doesn’t want to go away, it may be challenging to stay optimistic. To say the recent holidays were abnormal would be understatement, and here we are, staring down the runway of a New Year with the impacts of COVID-19 still the primary focus on everyone’s mind.

Whether you feel ready or not, there is work to be done with your organization’s advocacy and government relations plans for the coming year. The pandemic has changed the playbook on how we move forward, so here are some opportunities to keep in mind:

Get your plans in order and manage expectations for the first quarter.

This winter is going to be challenging as government at all levels remain focused on dealing with the pandemic. The continued inability for us to do business face-to-face, meet socially at events, or look forward to the annual winter getaway you normally take, will make the cold, dark months of January, February and March particularly challenging this year.  Yet, things will eventually start to improve when the snow melts, so now is a great time to review your advocacy plans for the entire year.

At Grassroots we are taking time to re-evaluate the strategies our clients are using to engage government in a very different environment. Last year we were forced to adjust on the fly, not knowing what the next month or two would bring. We now know that communicating with government is likely forever impacted by the pandemic. This is a good opportunity to review your internal digital systems, marketing materials, and the overall tone of how your message may be received by government and other outside stakeholders, given the times we are in.

Smile, you’re on camera! Meetings are here to stay.

Understanding how to properly utilize video communications is now a must. Mastering it and using it to its full advantage may require an investment of time and money, but we believe this will pay off. Since the pandemic hit last spring, we at Grassroots have helped clients with many different projects, including livestream video events, and we are learning more and more about the do’s and don’ts of virtual communications. Throughout the recent holidays I saw some very creative seasonal greetings on social media. High quality professionally produced videos will help your message stand out.

Videos can be easily filmed and uploaded via smart phone, but that isn’t always the best approach. There are many great videographers and production experts out there who can turn a good message into a fantastic message.  At Grassroots we’ve had opportunities to work with several experts in the field that have helped us deliver enhanced value to our clients.

Schedule time to check in with people regularly.

As we focus on project objectives and deadlines, it is important to remember that every person we come in contact with is dealing with their own unique challenges related to the changes in lifestyle forced upon us. From staff and colleagues, to clients, to people working within government – everyone has experienced some level of disruption in the past 12 months. I find that regular check-in calls go a long way to strengthen relationships. While virtual meetings on Zoom have become common, old-fashioned phone calls seem to work best for check-ins like this, as people may not want to be seen when they aren’t feeling 100%. Make time to schedule check-in calls for the people that are important to you and your business.

Grassroots remains committed to supporting our clients through the challenging year ahead.  By thinking creatively together, we can ensure advocacy messages are heard by the right people, within the right level of government.

Happy New Year from all of us at Grassroots – here’s to health, happiness and success for you and your business in 2021!