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!

Photo of Catherine O'Gorman

Catherine O’Gorman is a bilingual public policy and communications professional who works in public affairs, and in a thriving family-run business in Ontario’s agri-food sector. Catherine can be contacted at catherine@grassrootspa.ca.

Six months ago, I left my policy job with Ontario Public Service, packed up my life in downtown Toronto, and drove to 2.5 hours east to Prince Edward County to begin a new chapter in the agri-food sector with my fiancé.

During my time at Queen’s Park, I worked in the heart of policy development in the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) at the Policy Priorities and Coordination Office, and I loved it! I worked on diverse files including leading the ministry’s participation in municipal conferences, facilitating policy development workshops, evaluating funding applications, providing expertise on ministry priorities and Cabinet committee processes, and providing policy and legislative support to the Minister, Deputy Minister and senior ministry executives.

Last February, my fiancé and I took a huge leap of faith; I left my job at MTO and he left his law practice to move to his hometown and work in his family business, Sprague Foods. His parents are the fourth generation of Sprague’s since the company was established in 1925 and we now work alongside them as the fifth generation. Sprague Foods is family owned and operated and specializes in producing canned soups and beans.

COVID-19: A Surge in Demand

COVID-19 has drastically impacted demand for canned foods. At the beginning of the pandemic, due to supply chain disruptions, demand for canned goods skyrocketed to levels comparable to World War II. Little did we know when we moved in February that a tidal wave of change was coming for our business. Turns out, the timing for our move was perfect. The pandemic surge in demand meant that I quickly started learning about the agri-food industry from a manufacturing perspective and its range of challenges – from supply chain management and managing ingredient or raw material shortages, to regulatory and legislative procedures that are specific to food processing.

Melding Policy Skills with Food Processing

In this new environment I have learned about the importance of relationships across the supply chain, from farmers who produce our ingredients, to truck drivers who deliver finished goods across the country, to the frontline workers who put our product on grocery store shelves. Every part of the supply chain is integral to ensuring Canadians have access to food, especially during a pandemic. This new life gives me a unique opportunity to combine my hands-on agri-food experience with my policy background, which helps me navigate legislative and regulatory challenges and secure government funding.

For example, throughout my work across different levels of government, I often evaluated funding applications from companies and stakeholder groups for a diverse range of programs. Using this practical experience, I drafted Sprague Food’s application for funding through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and successfully secured $75,000 from the provincial and federal government for product development. Our proposal was one of 75 projects chosen across Ontario to help strengthen the province’s crucial agri-food supply chain.

Agri-Food and Advocacy

The combination of my prior government experience and current involvement with agri-food gives me a unique perspective as I support the team at Grassroots Public Affairs. I understand the challenges of the agri-food sector and the unbelievable stress the pandemic has put on the supply chain.  Now, more than ever, it is important that both the provincial and federal government support the food processing and agri-food sector to protect our food supply and support local growers and producers. It is vital that the agri-food sector is a government priority both during and after the pandemic. 

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


Crisis communications are highly emotional. It is a crisis after all. And if, as is often the case, the communication platform is “public speaking” emotional concerns and flat-out fears kick in big time. Fear of the crisis itself, in combination with an innate fear of public speaking, can create a messy mish-mash of the speaker’s mindset resulting in a confusing, rambling message.

The entire experience often becomes overwhelming. Many noble, well-intentioned and intelligent people lose emotional control and are unable to stay focused. Your passion, rage, fury, fears and frustrations can easily get the better of you and your message becomes incoherent damaging both your professional and personal reputation.

The solution depends on your skill to gain, or re-gain, and then resiliently maintain the first of Grassroots’ 3 C’s: Clarity.

Clarity demands that you narrow the focus of all that’s going on inside your head and your heart.

Quiet the white noise. Become fully aware and determine exactly what you must say. Strategically focus on how best to say it. Calculate where and when the delivery will be presented.  

What follows is a simple (not easy) 3 step process that will give you a “slight-edge principle” to trim-tab and be in better control when you need it most.  

  1. Think.
  2. Focus.
  3. Act.

Think

Emotional acknowledgement is the first stage of emotional management (control of self). Answer these 3 questions in depth and with probative accuracy:

  1. What exactly is your deepest concern?
  2. Why?
  3. What must you do to maintain control of F.U.D.S. (Fears, Uncertainties, Doubts, Suspicions)?

Focus

Identify 2 polar-opposite possible outcomes:

  1. What is the worst that can happen?
  2. What is the best that can happen?

Strategically focus on the negatives which must be avoided or diminished, as well as the positives you wish to bring about.

With the very best and the very worst, properly established in your mindset you are better equipped to accurately determine the attributes you must manifest to handle your present crisis. Many strong leaders find it helpful to role-model crisis leaders whom they consider impressive. For me, those leaders include Winston Churchill, WWII; Ghandi, emancipation of India; JFK, Cuban missile crisis. Or business crisis leaders; the likes of Lee Iacocca, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Who are the powerhouse people you admire? Study them, emulate their characteristics of communications to keep you on track, maintain focus.

Act

Think some, focus some, but then by God do something! Execute! 

Crisis tends to get worse not better under dithering leadership. For certain it is valid that analytical thinking, and pondering the enormously wide range of possibilities, are essential to make prudent decisions. But there is also truth to the saying “paralysis through analysis.”

There is rarely sufficient certainty when dealing with any crisis to identify THE solution, the ONE correct decision. Usually it’s about making A decision and having the strength of will to execute on that decision.

Also, be armed with a readiness to pivot, to adapt and face reality of whether the plan is working or not working. Be empowered to make another decision or decisions as the situation evolves. Be strong. Follow your convictions. Trust your instincts. And ACT.

To your success!     

Photo of Catherine O'Gorman

Grassroots Public Affairs is excited to welcome Catherine O’Gorman to the team as a Campaign Support Specialist, effective immediately.

Catherine is a bilingual public policy and communications professional with an interest in public affairs and the agri-food sector. She has experience working with supranational, national, provincial and municipal governments and organizations including: the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, the United Nations, the House of Commons, the City of Ottawa, and the Québec Public Service.

Catherine holds a Bachelor of Arts in Global Politics with Minors in French and Spanish from Carleton University, a Masters of Public and International Affairs from Glendon College, and a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Strasbourg.

Catherine currently lives in Prince Edward County and works as a Communications and Community Outreach Specialist in the agri-food sector at Sprague Foods, an independent, family-run Canadian cannery.

Contact Catherine:

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 second annual agriculture and food research public opinion poll.

Our approach for 2020 includes COVID-19 pandemic-related food questions, as well as repeated questions from 2019 so we can measure any change in public opinion. Key findings for this year’s research include:

  • 64% of Canadians believe that hunger and food insecurity will worsen in future as a result of COVID-19. –
  • 97% of Canadians trust the quality of food grown or produced domestically – an increase from 2019. –
  • 92% of Canadians endorse government support for the agriculture and agri-food sector. –
  • 62% of Canadians believe that temporary foreign workers should continue to come into Canada. –
  • 87% of Canadians believe that agriculture and agri-food is a leading economic driver in Canada, identifying the sector as the most economically important industry surveyed. –
  • 86% of Canadians believe that agriculture and agri-food plays a key role in Canada’s national security and critical infrastructure, with the sector coming second only to healthcare in terms of importance.

Other key findings include:

  • Across the country more than one-in-six saying they have worked on a farm, in agriculture or in food processing. –
  • Canadians are more likely to grocery shop themselves as opposed to ordering-in, grabbing takeaway or using a grocery delivery service due to COVID-19. –
  • Canadians continue to hold overwhelmingly negative views towards food additives such hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and GMOs. –
  • The future of Canadian agriculture looks positive with a strong plurality believing that the industry is likely to grow as opposed to shrink or stay the same as it is today. –
  • Canadians continue to believe that the federal government should prioritize financial support for grains over livestock but support for proteins has increased in the past year.

Special thanks to Food Banks Canada for their participation.

You can read coverage of our poll findings by Bernard Tobin of Real Agriculture here.

We invite you to download and share the ‘Greenhouse’:

Grassroots-Greenhouse-Agriculture-Poll-Findings-May-1st-compresed

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

Stay safe and healthy,

Peter Seemann, President
905-716-3000

Chris Gray

Grassroots Public Affairs is excited to welcome Senior Consultant Chris Gray to the team, effective immediately.

Located in Ottawa, Chris will head up federal advocacy for Grassroots’ clientele.

Recognized by The Hill Times as one of the top 100 lobbyists in Canada, Chris has worked in government and public affairs for 20 years.  His career started on Parliament Hill working for MPs and a Cabinet Minister, before moving to the private sector with organizations including The Greater Toronto Airports Authority, The Canadian Chamber of Commerce and The Heart & Stroke Foundation. Chris has a proven track record of successfully advocating for changes to legislation and policy, and securing funding for organizations.

Chris is a native of Prince Edward Island and a graduate of Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. Chris currently serves on the board of the Vimy Foundation.

Contact Chris: