Steve Andrews is currently the Director of Legislative and Political Affairs at the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association. Prior to that, Steve was a Government Relations Advisor at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (BLG) for 11 years. He also worked at Toronto Hydro Corporation as the Manager of Communications and Public Affairs for a number of years. Steve also worked in the government of Ontario both as a civil servant and political staffer in the 1990s. He has a PhD. in political theory (Queen’s University, 1994 and a Master’s degree in social policy (University of Toronto, 1996).
How did you get your start in public affairs?
After working in the Ontario government at the Ministry of Energy for a few years in the mid 90s, I was offered an opportunity to work at a small public relations firm in government relations. At that time, the provincial government was restructuring Ontario Hydro and introducing reforms in the energy sector. The firm had a number of energy clients that needed support understanding and participating in the energy policy reform process.
Having worked in public affairs for over 20 years, what do you like most?
Developing government relations strategies. This allows a lobbyist to analyze a situation confronting a client, association or corporation, conduct policy and stakeholder analysis and propose a course of action to try and address the situation—be it a legislative or regulatory challenge, a general policy issue or reputational problem. I have worked with so many amazing clients and individuals over the years in different sectors on many issues and problems it is hard to say what has been the most interesting.
What skills do you think are most important for people to have in order to succeed in public affairs?
For government relations professionals, knowledge of the policy development process and who makes various decisions is critical. In addition, having an in-depth understanding of the political process, how the political and bureaucratic mindset works is also essential. The other skill is more character related and that is the ability to persist in the face of opposition. As you know, some advocacy campaigns take years to see through to some form of success. Being creative and flexible in the use of various advocacy tactics never hurts either!
What do you feel is the greatest challenge facing the public affairs industry?
For government relations professionals and lobbyists, I think it is the caricature the media makes of our work. This influences public opinion which in turn shapes elite opinion of government decision makers and lobbyist regulators. Popular culture images of lobbyists as master manipulators showering gifts on our elected “friends” is totally misleading and false. The fact is that lobbying is hard work, providing an analysis of how government policy actions will impact a firm, industry or sector of the society. It’s about improving public policy at the end of the day not having meetings with friends. If one looks at the advocacy work of various NGOs that make up the bulk of registered lobbyists in Canada, their work has led to policy reforms making the lives of people they represent better. More services for people with disabilities, better educational resources, equal access to housing, and so on.
Is there a specific example where you made a significant difference for one of your clients?
When I was at BLG, I helped a family-owned construction firm rebuild its working relationship with the government of Ontario that ensured its survival. That was truly rewarding. Another example comes from my current role with the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association that represents 29 Catholic school boards in Ontario. Through the development of detailed research and policy submissions over the last three years, we managed to persuade the ministry of education to increase student transportation funding and increase funds related to services for students with Autism in schools.
How has public affairs changed since you started, for better or worse?
I think the sector is far more sophisticated now that it was in the mid-1990s when I began my career. The use of public opinion research, social media, stakeholders, and opposition parties to build an advocacy strategy seems common place now, but was in its infancy at that time. I also think lobbyists are much more professional and disciplined when comes to complying with lobbyist registration rules. As the former chair of PAAC’s advocacy committee, we have managed to build solid working relationships with lobbyist regulators over the past ten years. This has assisted in positioning lobbyists to secure modifications in lobbyist codes of conduct and other rules governing our sector. This state of affairs was unthinkable in the early 2000s.
You were involved with PAAC for many years as a member and on the board of directors. Why did you stay involved?
Well, for several reasons: PAAC provides many valuable services to its members from events featuring leading edge speakers to networking opportunities with MPPs and other professionals in the public affairs community. My involvement gave me the opportunity to develop working relationships with lobbyist regulators nationally which was instrumental for my career at BLG. I enjoyed my work with the board of directors immensely—though we did have some significant challenges several years ago! Being involved with the Advocacy Committee of the board and our work helped position PAAC as the go-to stakeholder on questions of lobbying law and compliance federally and provincially. We also had success in modifying some rules regarding conflict of interest with the federal lobbying office.