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Contemporary Canadian Govt. & Politics: Getting Involved in Government and Politics

As a citizen in a democracy it is your right and duty to be informed about what your government is doing. We are fortunate in Canada that the concept of "open government" is one that is being upheld to some extent. Many of the tools and resources identified in this guide are created and paid for by the government and are made available to you so that you can learn about Canadian government and politics and can keep yourself informed on an ongoing basis. Most of the sources identified are available to you for free in public and academic libraries and on the Internet. Use these sources to learn as much as you can about an issue before you attempt to influence policy or make your views known. Go beyond your favourite news source, consider alternative views, and get the facts. Being well informed is the first and most important step in getting involved in government and politics.

Going the extra step to participate in government and politics is a logical step for any informed citizen but one that can be very rewarding from a research perspective as well. Getting involved is likely to provide you with richer insights and a deeper understanding of Canadian government and politics, which should enrich any research project on the subject.

Getting involved in government or politics for the first time may be easiest to do at the local level. See Special Topics: Provincial / Municipal Government and Politics for tips on participating in local government and politics.

The following are some ideas for getting involved and some sources of information to help you do it:

  • Getting Involved in Government
  • Getting Involved in Politics

Getting Involved In Government

Petition the Government. A public petition is a formal request for government action on an issue of concern. Members of the public are not allowed to address the House of Commons directly, so you must ask a Member of Parliament to agree to present the petition to Parliament. There is a specific format recommended and other rules that need to be followed (e.g. the number of signatures required varies depending on whether it is a print or electronic petition). For the most up-to-date details, including a standardized template, see: About Petitions. House of Commons.  See also Chapter 22: "Guidelines for Petitions" in the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, edited by Marc Bosc and André Gagnon.

Ask to Appear Before a Committee. Senate and House Committees frequently invite knowledgeable people (usually representatives of groups, public officials or experts) to provide information on the topic under study. If you know of an upcoming committee meeting in which an issue of interest to you will be considered, you can request to appear. For more details see:

Guide for Witnesses Appearing Before Committees of the House of Commons.

Senate Committees: For Witnesses.

Taking it to the Hill: The Complete Guide to Appearing Before Parliamentary Committees. By David McInnes. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2005. 2nd ed. 264 p. (A useful how-to book full of tips and advice from an experienced lobbyist and people in government. It also explains, in a very readable way, the parliamentary process, rules, and other background information one should know before getting involved. Required reading for lobbyists and all those who attempt to get heard by a federal government committee.)

Submit a Brief to a Committee. A brief is a written presentation outlining the position of an individual, group or organization on a particular issue. For details see the guide to preparing briefs: Guide for Submitting Briefs to  House of Commons Committees.
The Senate Committees For Witnesses page includes instructions in the 10-page Guide to Participating in a Senate Committee Study.

Respond to Consultations. Federal government departments and agencies consult the public in various ways, from formal consultations to discussion papers with calls for input, surveys and questionnaires, and feedback forms on their websites. You can help influence policy by taking advantage of these opportunities for providing your views. The Consulting with Canadians website: allows you to search for all current federal consultations underway. 

Volunteer. Find a group that lobbies government and represents your interests or point of view on an issue and volunteer your time to help them out.

Make a Donation. Donate money to an interest group, think tank or other organization that shares your views and can lobby for issues as you would if you had the time. In many cases the donation will be tax deductible.

Ask Questions. Take advantage of phone-in programs (e.g. on CPAC, CBC, etc.) and other public opportunities to ask government officials and politicians about the issues that concern you.

Contact Opposition Critics. Opposition party critics are responsible for critiquing the government's policies or lack thereof regarding their area(s) of responsibility. Sending them information and questions to ask in Question Period on a timely issue, proposed bill or topic under discussion in the House of Commons can help them do their job more effectively. To see a list of opposition critics by area of responsibility see Departments and Roles: 1867 - Today: Select "Current Parliament", then for each department, Members of the Cabinet, Parliamentary Secretaries and Opposition Party Critics are listed. Clicking on the name links to the Member's profile page with contact information, committee membership, electoral history, etc.

Get a Job. There are several programs that help youth gain knowledge and experience by working in government (e.g. as a page in the House of Commons and Senate, as a Parliamentary Guide, or in various internships and student work programs in government departments and agencies). For jobs in Parliament see the Parliament of Canada website page "Employment at Parliament": . For Government of Canada hiring programs for students, see "Student Employment": For anyone interested in a job or career in the federal government see the "Find a Job" website: Included here is the searchable database of government jobs and hiring programs. Higher level vacancies in government agencies, boards, commissions and Crown corporations are advertised at the Governor in Council Appointments site:

Contact your Member of Parliament. Phone, fax, email, or write your Member of Parliament (no postage required) and let them know what concerns you. If you don't know who your MP is, you can find out at the Parliament of Canada site's "Find Members of Parliament" page: by entering your postal code, or by using the Elections Canada "Voter Information Service", where you can enter your postal code, town, or check a map. Your MP is supposed to represent you and your neighbours in the riding so should be interested in hearing from you. You can see how your current MP voted on issues that concern you in the Profiles page for  Current Members of Parliament. Click on the MP's name to see "Chamber Votes" listed under the "Work" tab. Votes are also listed in the House of Commons Journals, under the heading "Divisions, recorded" in the Journals Index available on the Parliament of Canada website.

Invite an MP to your Event. If you or your organization are planning an event to publicize an issue of concern, ask your Member of Parliament (or the Minister responsible for the issue) to attend the event, either as a speaker or not.

Contact the Minister Responsible. If your issue of concern comes under the responsibility of a federal Minister, write a letter and provide any information you can to help inform the Minister of the issue. See the Parliament of Canada list of Current Ministers with their portfolio, or the Government of Canada list of Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries (clicking on the name of the Minister leads to contact information).

Provide feedback on services or programs you use or policies that affect you. Most services and programs have web pages with online web forms and other ways to contact them. Let the service providers or officials responsible for the program know how it affects you. They need to know from those most affected to be able to improve, or in some cases, continue providing the service.

Contact the Prime Minister. As above with any other Minister or government official appropriate for your questions, comments or concerns, you are invited to "Contact the PM" on the Prime Minister's website. Although the Prime Minister may never see it or reply, well written letters are noted and give the Prime Minister's office an idea of the extent of public concern on an issue.

Getting Involved in Politics

Attend Candidates' Meetings. Find out what the candidates in your riding stand for and let them know what issues are important to you.

Find Out What Each Political Party Stands For. Read their platforms, principles, or other statements of their philosophy and their campaign materials. Check out their websites. See the list of Registered Political Parties and Parties Eligible for Registration on the Elections Canada website for contact information and a link to the party websites.

Join a Political Party. Each party has its own criteria for joining, usually including a small fee. As a member of the party you can participate in developing the party's policies, hold positions in the party and vote for the next leader.

Contact Your Local Federal Riding Association. Find out what events are planned by your local association. In an election year you can be involved in selecting the local candidate to run in that riding. See the Registered Association Database on the Elections Canada website to find your riding association and its contact information.

Join a Political Party Club or Organization. These are groups within political parties that help form local clubs, develop policy and resolutions on issues of relevance to their members and can bring these to the national party meetings or conventions. Examples are Young Liberals of Canada, Senior Liberals' Commission, National Women's Liberal Commission, etc.

Volunteer. Especially in an election year, political parties rely on an army of volunteers to help out in candidates' offices or with their election campaign, but at other times too, volunteers make significant contributions and gain valuable experience.

Make a Donation. Contributions to a federal political party, candidates, etc. are tax deductible. For the latest details see the Canada Revenue Agency website, "Personal Income Tax" page. "Federal political contributions" are under the heading for tax deductions and credits. Federal political contributions have limits and other important rules. See also  "Limits on Contributions" on the Elections Canada site.

Run for Election. If you are a Canadian citizen 18 years or older, you are likely eligible to stand as a candidate in a federal election. See the "Political Participants" section of the Elections Canada website for information.

Vote. If you are a Canadian citizen 18 years or older, you are likely eligible to vote in a federal election. For all the latest information on voting see the "Voters" section of the Elections Canada website.

Be Political. Join groups of any kind that stand for issues you believe in. Listen, learn, and speak out. Learn what it takes to become an effective speaker, to influence opinion and to achieve results.