Six ideas to bring awarenss to an issue

6 Ways to Bring Awareness to an Issue

February 19, 2019

Awareness “Day”

Not long ago I was asked by a non-profit organization to help them draft a proclamation recognizing a particular day as a day of awareness for their issue. In this case, my advice was to pursue a motion in the Legislature instead as their aim was to educate and bring awareness to their issue through dialogue.

Many non-profit organizations designate a special day or week for awareness and advocacy. As part of a communications or advocacy strategy, organizations will sometimes ask governments to recognize a day or an event. Recognition of a day of awareness for your issue by provincial, federal or municipal governments or by a provincial legislature, municipal council or Parliament can play a significant role in a larger strategic advocacy plan. The key is to understand the different ways you can receive recognition for your “Day” and the strategic effect of each, and then choose the one which best assists you in moving towards your strategic goals.

Here are six ways to receive recognition by a legislative body or government for your “Day”:

1. A statement from the floor by the Premier, a Cabinet Minister or a backbench member recognizing the day is a public acknowledgment on the official record, known as Hansard, during a sitting. Sometimes members will send out communications materials highlighting statements they have made. Because these are short interventions, the ability to educate is limited. A statement like this is probably the easiest recognition to achieve, but will have the smallest effect. In the House of Commons these are know as SO 31s. In the Senate they are known as Senator Statements. A Minister can choose to make a statement under Minister’s Statements.

2. A Minister may issue a press release marking a particular day of awareness. If this is picked up by the media and accompanied by a statement, you have a slightly better chance of reaching the public through the media, as well as demonstrating some Ministerial support for your issue.

3. A Premier or a Minister may issue a Declaration indicating the government recognizes a special day or event. Sometimes these Declarations are mistakenly called Proclamations. A Declaration is made by the Premier or Minister and does not mean there has been Cabinet approval. Nor does it necessarily mean official government recognition. A Declaration is not published in the Royal Gazette. It is not signed under the Great Seal of the Province or of Canada as the case may be. It can provide a good opportunity for a photo op and media hit. It has a limited ability to educate in and of itself as there is no opportunity for debate as it takes place outside of the legislative body.

4. In some cases, the government might issue a Proclamation, signed by the Lieutenant Governor of the province, proclaiming a particular day. A Proclamation is defined as an official notice or order issued by the Crown. Proclamations are most commonly used to bring legislation into effect and begin or end a parliament. A Proclamation is published in the Royal Gazette. The official seal of the province/Canada is affixed.

British Columbia has a specific process for organizations and groups to follow to apply for a proclamation.
Excerpt from the BC Ministry of the Attorney General website:

“A provincial proclamation is a recognition by government of events or occasions held by groups on their own behalf or for the general public. The attorney general has the authority to approve and sign provincial proclamations. Approval is required each year or time an event or occasion occurs.
Types of events or occasions suitable for proclamations are those that are:
observe milestones, recognize achievements or direct attention to a worthy cause; and
would not be considered offensive or frivolous by the public.”

Not all provinces have the same process for a Proclamation. Often Proclamations and Declarations are confused with one another and what may be referred to in a province as a Proclamation is really a Declaration.

A Proclamation is an official notice or order by Crown so that means the Lieutenant Governor or Governor General has signed. It is not very easy to get a Proclamation and, in my view, it is not necessary. It takes place outside the legislative body and there is no accompanying debate.

5. A legislature or Parliament might adopt a bill (proposed legislation) recognizing a certain day. This is often used when that date is to be recognized every year. With a bill there is debate on the floor, which can be useful in raising awareness and bringing attention to an issue among members, the media and the public. A bill will have substantial debate twice, at seconds reading and at third reading, and will usually be sent to a legislative committee for study and hearings. Adopting a bill in a legislature or Parliament grants official recognition. A bill could be introduced by either the Government or the Opposition. A bill, once adopted and proclaimed, is law. A bill may be the best choice if there are other legislative measures you wish taken or to direct the Government to take certain action in promoting the day. Note that once a bill has been adopted a Proclamation is issued to bring the legislation into force.

6. A legislature or Parliament may adopt a motion recognizing a certain day. This can be used when the day is to be recognized every year. As with a bill there is debate on the floor, which can be useful in raising awareness and bringing attention to an issue among members, the media and the public. Although a motion may be sent to Committee for hearings, it often is not. There is only one stage of debate and so a motion can often be more easily adopted. A motion is an official order of the legislative body and does grant official recognition by the legislative body. It can include several explanatory clauses about why the day should be recognized. It may even direct the government to take particular action. It can be introduced from either the Government or the Opposition.

Fundamentally, when an organization wishes to seek recognition by government for a day or event as part of a strategic advocacy plan, it must consider how each of these methods might fit into the overall strategy. Do you wish to secure ministerial support and/or Cabinet support? Do you wish to educate the members of the legislature and the public? Are you looking for a photo op or a dialogue? How do your other strategic goals intersect?

The decision to choose between which of the above you pursue must take into account a range of factors, both internal to your organization and external. External factors include time frames, other items on the legislative agenda, and how widespread support is for the issue, among others. These external factors, in combination with internal operational factors and opportunities must be analyzed as part of the overall strategic approach. Remember, understanding the context is as important as understanding the tools.

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