On my way to my first OMSA Lobby Weekend session on Saturday morning, I found myself reflecting on previous advocacy conversations I've had with political representatives. My most memorable experience also happens to be my first: while in grade 11, my history teacher appointed me with the duty to ask all of the candidates running for minister of parliament about their stance on environmental policy at the school assembly, for all my classmates to hear. I thought it appropriate to ask some questions about the Kyoto Agreement (I realize I'm dating myself with this comment). To my dismay, one of the candidates chose to answer my question in a very condescending manner, informing me that "Kyoto is a city in Japan". The frustration generated by that moment sparked the beginning of a two year period of volunteering for political parties. I was passionate about the environment, and I was intent on being heard. Unfortunately, my efforts did not yield satisfying results, and I eventually diverted my attention away from political advocacy, investing my energy elsewhere--in projects that effected concrete changes.
It's not surprising then that I felt a small degree of apprehension about lobby weekend -- would my meeting with MPP John O'Toole be any better than my previous advocacy conversations with political representatives? Before I ruin the suspense and reveal the weekend's climax, I want to rave a little bit about the parts of the weekend leading up to my meeting; please bear with me. For the first two workshop-based days, I found myself not worrying about my MPP meeting because I was so engaged with the sessions. The weekend was not solely focussed on learning about Health Human Resources (HHR) planning and advocating on its behalf (a topic that deserves its own series of articles)-- but on personal development as well. We gained some tools for approaching uncomfortable, high stakes conversations in our professional lives through the Crucial Conversations workshop. We met a physician-turned-politician and learned about what the process might look like if we choose to follow that path. We were briefed on HHR planning by an expert, which equipped us all with a solid understanding of our "ask". Lastly--the weekend's highlights for me-- were the casual, small group chats we had with physician leaders Saturday afternoon. Through their life stories, the physicians leading our small groups demonstrated that it's possible to keep a career in medicine feeling fresh no matter how long you've been practicing.
This brings me to the weekend's conclusion: my meeting with MPP John O'Toole. Mr. O'Toole did not hesitate to challenge my colleague and I when we presented our ask to him. However, he did so out of genuine curiosity, and (this may not be a surprise at this point in the story), once he understood our perspective he turned out to be extremely receptive. We left the meeting assured that concrete steps would be taken towards raising awareness about HHR planning at Queen's Park. Most importantly though (and perhaps most surprisingly), we spoke for a long while about the importance of establishing long-lasting relationships with members of the legislative assembly. He provided us with contacts and encouraged us, in a genuine manner, to stay in touch and keep the conversation going. The experience was radically different from my first encounter with a political representative--I left feeling empowered instead of silenced. The most valuable take-away from Lobby Weekend, I'd wager, is its role as an enabler. It connected us with those that have the power to effect changes and gave us the tools to be effective conversationalists--what happens next is up to us to decide.
- Elena Barbir, Queens University