As a member of Ontario’s provincial parliament, I sincerely enjoy reading correspondence from, and conversing with, individuals who share with me their unique experiences that illustrate and justify amending public policies, statutes or regulations. Not only do these personal perspectives assist me in understanding the nuances and complexities of the issues involved, they also help in developing public policy solutions to the problems.
I place considerable weight on these personal interactions, but with advancements in technology, including social media, this form of communication is increasingly being replaced with the speed and convenience of form emails that are composed by others and empty of any personal experiences or meaningful insights.
Form letters generated by impersonal third-party websites belong in the trash can and that is where they end up in most government offices, whether they be those of elected members, ministries or government agencies.
“Form follows function” is a maxim that appears to have lost currency in our society, at least as it relates to engaging in public policy. If you want to affect change, but the most effort you are willing to exert is resending someone else’s email, do not be surprised when the recipient does not exert any more effort than the button press you put into it.
Regurgitating someone else’s talking points is not advocacy. Rather, it has the same effect as elected members who act as trained seals — no one takes them or their talking points seriously and no one is swayed by their arguments.
I have taken to blocking certain email addresses from websites that generate voluminous and worthless form emails. Too often, they lack any cognizance of the public policy process, how a bill becomes law or how regulations get drafted and come into effect. Demanding that an elected representative take an action beyond what his or her statutory authority allows is a waste of everyone’s time and energy.
The current labour disruptions in Ontario’s public schools have resulted in many teachers’ unions relying on this vacuous means of advocating for a negotiated settlement, while often attempting to disguise that the sender is a teacher or a member of a union. Duplicitous form letters are the worst of the worst and their only effect is to undermine the credibility of both the sender and the organization.
Though communication is becoming ever more instantaneous in this digital age, the human element of developing policy should never change. It is through honesty and thoroughness that the most mindful laws can be enacted. That cannot exist in the climate of instant gratification that’s found on social media and email. Enacting change comes through active efforts in our communities to engage with elected officials. If you want to affect change within our democratic institutions, here are a few tips to consider:
Be sincere and forthright, think about your personal experiences before sending an email, call and speak with the member or that person’s staff prior to requesting a meeting or sending your email. Before criticizing a member’s position on a policy, do a cursory investigation by going to his or her website, or searching the web for media interviews and other posts. Finally, while sending messages on social media may be easy and satisfying, it is not the best medium for sharing or debating ideas on public policy. That is always best done directly with the member.