DAWN Ontario: DisAbled Women's Network Ontario

"Tell It to Ottawa"
Legislative Workshop


The Advocacy Tool Kit

page contents

Meetings with Legislators: Getting Organized

Guidelines for Meetings with Legislators

After the Meeting: The Debriefing

The Do's and Don'ts of Legislative Letter Writing

Tell It to Ottawa: Effective Communications with Public Officials

Contact Information

Negotiation: A Very Short Course

Working Effectively with the Media

Media Contact Information - Letters to Editor


Ontario Media Directories
(updated March 23, 2006)

Ontario Daily Newspapers Directory

Ontario Weekly Newspapers Directory

Ontario Radio Stations Directory

Ontario Television Stations Directory

Meetings with Legislators: Getting Organized

  • If others are going with you, meet in advance. Select a spokesperson and agree on the presentation.

  • Research the background of the Member(s) of Parliament (MP).

  • Look for a common link to municipal or province if possible.

  • Know what you want the Member or staff to do.

  • Know your arguments.

  • Prepare handouts which can be easily understood by the staff and the Member.

  • Learn your opposition's arguments in case you are asked.

  • Try to think through the political as well as the legislative impact.

  • Outline legislative strategy to demonstrate how the desired result will occur.

Guidelines for Meetings with Legislators

One of the most effective ways to influence the decisions of a legislator is in face-to-face visits. Frequent contacts are necessary to associate your face and name with your cause. Whether you will meet one-on-one or with a group, plan the meeting and develop an agenda to cover all the points you wish to make. Pick just one or two issues to discuss.

Here are some simple steps to follow:

Make an appointment

State the subject you want to discuss, the time needed to talk (usually no more than 20-30 minutes), and identify any other individuals who will attend. Be sure you will be meeting with the appropriate staff person. If you drop by without an appointment, you may have to wait, or you may force him/her to postpone something else, thereby creating negative feelings before you begin.

Be on time!

Try to meet with the legislator

Don't be upset if the legislator cannot see you personally and asks that you meet with an aide. Treat the aide with the same respect and courtesy that you would extend to the legislator. He or she is in a position to advance your cause.

Always introduce yourself

Also introduce members of your group, even at a second or third meeting. Don't put the legislator or the staff member in the awkward position of having to grope for your name.

Thank him/her for previous support

Legislators like to know that you know of their record. If you don't know the record, thank him/her for taking the time to meet with you.

Get down to business quickly

Begin on a positive note. State the bill number, title and author, or state the issue, your position, and what you want him/her to do.

Stick to the topic

If you are visiting in a group, stay focused on the agreed-upon topic to avoid alienating either the staff member, who may have prepared only for the particular topic, or the other members of your group.

Be specific, be clear and be simple

Provide information about how this issue impacts his/her constituency and public. Present the facts
in an orderly, concise, positive manner. Use fact sheets, charts, statistics, etc. If you don't know the answer to a question, tell him/her that you don't know, but will obtain the information and get back to him/her. Ask for favourable consideration.

Use personal stories or anecdotes

Remember, your job is to persuade...and a personal story will leave an image that the legislator will remember when he/she votes on the issue.


Encourage questions and discuss them. Do not make up answers to questions. For questions you cannot answer, tell the staff that you will get back to them.

Ask what you can do

Ask if you can provide further information, arrange a tour of a program or contact others.

Leave written materials

Your legislator will file the materials and refer to them when questions come up later and/or when he/she votes on the issue. Be sure to leave your name, address and phone number.

Thank him/her again

Send a written thank you, recapping the meeting, as soon as you return home. Identify follow-up steps to which you or the legislator committed. Ask for a commitment from the legislator and request a reply.

Continue to build the relationship after you return home.

After the Meeting: The Debriefing

Set up a debriefing shortly after your visit while everything is fresh in your mind. In order to learn from the meeting with the Member/staff person and identify the logical next steps, members of the group need an opportunity to express their feelings and thoughts about the meeting. The following steps will give everyone a chance to express themselves and decide about the next actions.

What went well? Make a list together. No negative comments!

How did the Member/staff person respond to the group? Bored, hostile, encouraging, non-committal, distracted, uncomfortable?

Was this due to his/her personal interest in the issue, or to other circumstances (such as interruptions, an upcoming re-election campaign, etc.)?

How did you tell? Body language? Words? Length of the meeting?

What did you learn about the Member? Any insights into character, "world view"/philosophy, motivation to be in politics, areas where s/he feels vulnerable, areas where s/he feels confident, how much s/he relies on staff for information, or how s/he tries to "manage" meetings with constituents? Does the Member or staff person have a relative or friend with a disability? If you met with the staff person, did they give you any insights into the

What should the next step be?

  • A visit to the Member by other citizens
  • A press story about this visit
  • A letter-writing campaign
  • An invitation to the Member to meet with your group or a district group that may have more influence with him/her
  • A meeting with local party leaders to discuss the Member's position
  • An invitation to the Member to visit your school or program.
  • Other

Who will draft a letter to the Member/staff person thanking him/her for the meeting and restating key points?

Brief other interested groups about the Member's position.

The Do's and Don'ts of Legislative Letter Writing

In provincial and national capitals, letters are the barometers that measure political interest. Letters are counted, and they do count!

Not just any letter is influential. Just as we at the grassroots level have become more organized in our letter
writing campaigns, legislators have become more savvy in distinguishing a drummed-up letter from an expression of personal concern. So, it is especially important that your letter be personal, thoughtful, specific, and concise. Your letters should be written with the expectation that they will be read by someone of sensitivity and intelligence, but who may be slightly less well-informed than you are on your particular issue.

Here are some do's and don'ts to consider in writing a convincing letter.

Do spell your legislative member's name correctly. Cabinet Ministers should be addressed as "Honourable."

Do write as an individual constituent. Because legislators pay the most attention to personal letters from their constituents, it's important that your letter express your own views. To make this clear, it will help to use personal stationery rather than a postcard or form letter; express your views in your own words rather than those of another; and refer to previous communications with the member, if possible.

Organizational letters can be useful for some issues but are never a substitute for personal letters.

Do write one page or less. Because legislators are so busy, they do not have much time to read through a long, involved letter in order to discover your point. If your letter is limited to one page, they can scan it quickly. If you have more information than will fit on one page, include it as background material, clearly marked as such and attached to the letter.

Do cover only one subject and clearly identify it as such. For example, at the top of the page, below the date, write, "Re: (name of bill or issue)." This will speed up the routing of the letter in the office. If you have more than one subject which you would like to cover, then write a separate letter for each one.

Do be as specific as possible. Regardless of what you are writing about, be as specific as possible in describing it. If it is a particular bill, try to refer to its number, the person who introduced it, and what it will do. Similarly, if you refer to the position of the legislator, it will demonstrate your specific interest in his/her actions. Show as much knowledge as you can, but don't hesitate to write merely because you are not an "expert."

Do make your letter timely. Try to ensure that your letter arrives while the issue is alive. Your legislator will appreciate having your views and information while the bill is before him/her.

Do ask the legislator to do something specific. It is important to ask for a specific action such as, "Please vote for (or against) _________."

Do include your name, return address and email on the letter.

Do hand write letters if they are legible; otherwise type letters. Write each legislator individually, avoiding photocopies or carbons. Braille letters are fine if accompanied by a print transcription of the letter. Members may answer your letter in braille upon request but this will delay their response to you.

Don't write letters that demand the legislator's vote for or against a certain bill.

Don't write a chain letter or form letter.

Don't threaten the legislator with defeat at the next election.

Don't become a chronic letter writer. Choose your issues wisely.

Don't send carbon copies.

Tell It to Ottawa: Effective Communications with Public Officials

Forms of Address

Prime Minister

Mail may be sent postage-free to the Prime Minister at the following address:

Right Hon. Paul Martin
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A2

Fax: 613-941-6900
Email: pm@pm.gc.ca

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

PM's website: http://pm.gc.ca/


Mail may be sent postage-free to any Senator at the following address:

Hon. (insert name)
The Senate of Canada
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A4

Dear Senator ______:

Senate of Canada: http://www.parl.gc.ca/common/senmemb/senate/isenator.asp?Language=E

Members of the Federal Cabinet

Mail may be sent postage-free to any Member of the Cabinet at the following address:

Hon. (insert name)
House of Commons
Parliament Buildings,
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

Federal Cabinet Ministers

Parliamentary Secretaries

Members of the House of Commons

Mail may be sent postage-free to any Member at the following address:

House of Commons
Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear ________________:

Use the person's first name in the salutation of your letter only if you know him/her personally.

List of Members of the House of Commons:

Contact Information

Here are a series of links for researching the background and activities of Canadian MPs and Senators, and information for contacting them by phone, fax, mail or email.

Information about MPs and Senators:

All of the MPs and Senators are listed on the Parliamentary web site, along with tons of background info.  This is a great resource for finding out who's who in Parliament and what they do:

An alphabetical list of MPs, with links to contact info, biographical notes and committee responsibilities is posted at: Follow this link

Senators (with links to detailed bios) are listed at: Follow this link

MPs with committee responsibilities are listed separately at: Follow this link

Senate Human Rights Committee members (with bios) are at: Follow this link

Committee Information and Contact:

Committee on Human Rights: Follow this link

Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Development: Follow this link

Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights: Follow this link

Contact Information:

For a phone/fax number for an MP follow this link and selecy the MP's name.

The formula for an MP e-mail address is:

[Full last name] . [Initial] @parl.gc.ca


  • Dalphond-Guiral.M@parl.gc.ca
  • Cotler.I@parl.gc.ca
  • Day.S@parl.gc.ca

The formula for a Senator's email address is:

[first 5 letters of last name and initial, small case]@sen.parl.gc.ca



Mail may be sent postage-free to any Member at the following address:

Name of MP
House of Commons
Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Mailing address for the Senate (postage required) is:

Name of Senator
The Senate of Canada,
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A4


Letter-writing Tips

Make your letter short (preferably two or three paragraphs), to the point, and personal. Stick to one issue per letter. Handwritten letters in your own words are best, followed by typewritten correspondence. Postcards, petitions, or "canned" computer generated messages via email are less effective.

Braille letters are fine if accompanied by a print transcription of the letter. Members may answer your letter in
braille upon request but this will delay their response to you.

Telegrams, Mailgrams, Fax Messages, Phone Calls

First-class letters may take from seven to ten days for delivery. Use priority post, express post, telegrams, courier, fax, or phone calls if time is of the essence, e.g., shortly before a committee or floor vote.

House Government Bills

For copies of House Government Bills, ask your own Member of Parliament since this is an excellent way to become acquainted with his/her office.

Alternatively, visit http://www.parl.gc.ca/common/Bills_House_Government.asp?Language=E

House Private Members' Bills

Visit: http://www.parl.gc.ca/common/Bills_House_Private.asp?Language=E

Background and Analysis on a Government Bill

Consult the Legislative Summary, prepared for most government bills by the Parliamentary Research Branch of the Library of Parliament.

Legislative Summaries are prepared by the Parliamentary Research Branch to provide Parliamentarians with an explanatory document for most government bills. They are written by Research Officers knowledgeable in the relevant area of policy or law as soon as resources permit following First Reading of a bill. New Legislative Summaries will be posted on the web site once the texts are available in both official languages.

While Legislative Summaries are made available for a wide range of government bills, there are some exceptions: documents are not prepared for taxation measures, omnibus legislation or brief, self- explanatory bills. Legislative Summaries are revised to reflect amendments, where feasible. Text discussing amendments will appear in bold type in the document.

If you have specific questions about any bill for which an LS is not available, if you wish a printed copy of a document, or if you encounter any difficulty in using this on-line service, please contact the Parliamentary Research Branch at:

Telephone: (613) 996-3942
Fax: (613) 992-5015

Contents of Your Message

Use this generic outline.

  1. Indicate who you are and the purpose or nature of your problem or request. If you are a voter in the Member's
    district, mention this in your letter.

  2. State specifically what you want your Member to do about your problem or request.

  3. Indicate why it is important to you for your member to take action regarding your problem or request.

  4. Put a "hook" in your letter. Ask for something that will require a substantive reply to your letter or communication. For example, ask your member to advise you as to the status of the pending legislation. Is your member a cosponsor of the bill in question?

  5. Indicate your thanks, reiterate your most important message, and say that you expect a response.

Don't Be Discouraged!!!!!

You may not always receive a substantive response to your letters of communications, but following these suggestions will increase the chances that you will be heard effectively in Ottawa. However, each letter received by a Member of the House of Commons is counted.

Remember that the legislative process involves many stages and many key votes before a bill is passed by both the House and the Senate. Accordingly, you may be asked to write several letters or to make several phone
calls on a single issue.


Negotiation: A Very Short Course

The Ground Rules

  • The participants need to understand why they are at the table. Parties may have different reasons and different expectations of outcomes.
  • Be aware that your side wants you to win but they may have different definitions of what winning is.
  • Know what the other side thinks and troubleshoot your approach with this knowledge.
  • Be precise with your language. For example, be careful to note whether or not the time is right for you to say "This is a proposal."
  • Develop your listening skills.
  • Does everything have to be solved at this session?

The Personalities

  • Who are the "closers" on your side and the other side. They are like professional salespersons who know how to get the deal signed.
  • How can you convince the other side that you have credible strength?
  • Does everyone at the table have the same timeline? Who at the table may not really need to come to an agreement at this session?

The Process

  • Sessions have a beginning and an end. Be aware that agreements often don't begin to take form until near
    the end of a session.
  • Since this is the case, be aware that you cannot afford to leave your problem solving until the end game.
  • This is the part where you must become very precise with effective language like "How will this work."
  • Balance all of this with the need to find the right time to win your case. Pushing for a win too early may
    expose weak points in your case or isolate you from others who would have helped you later.

Working Effectively with the Media

Compiling a Press List
Preparing a Press Release
The Press Conference
Tips for Writing Letters to the Editor
Dealing with TV and Radio
Preparing a Public Service Announcement
Radio and TV News Interviews
Editorial Reply Time
Tips for Getting on Radio Call-in Shows
Placing Someone on a TV or Radio Show
Other Media Options

Compiling a Press List

This list should include all media available in the area and a contact person for each. The media list should include local newspapers, television and radio stations, and appropriate newsletters.

Sources. Use the Internet, telephone yellow pages, your own knowledge of the community, and press lists of other organizations to put together your press list. Call each to ask to whom you should send the releases and to
get the correct mailing address. It is important to develop personal contacts with sympathetic reporters (for example, those covering the elections or the issues you're raising). They will appreciate your keeping them posted and may be responsible for getting you coverage even when they cannot cover an event themselves. People in your organization may have personal contacts of their own among the press. Use these in addition to your basic mailing list.

Define your news. What do you want people to know? You can't make every point every time. The contacts you make should last a long time. You'll have other opportunities to make other points. For now, focus.

Select the appropriate media. Your press list should include a variety of departments and contact people. Different news is suited to different departments.

Preparing a Press Release


  • Logo, preferably letterhead, or heading.
  • Date of issue.
  • Release date ("immediate," or "AMs and PMs Tuesday, March 6").
  • Contact name and office and home phone number (cell phone if available)
  • Headline -- succinct and informative.
  • Indent paragraphs five spaces.
  • Double space.
  • 1 « inch margin.
  • If a release runs more than one page:
    • head each page with a shortened version of the headline;
    • use the word "more" at the bottom of each page;
    • Type --30-- at the bottom of the release. This is the media's code version of "The End."

Content: Who, What, Where, When, Why

  • The lead (first) paragraph must single out the answer to at least two of the five W's.

  • The second paragraph should answer all the others. It helps to have a quotable first paragraph. Pick your
    priorities carefully. Your lead should tell the reporter what he/she needs to know in order to convince him/her and the editor that the story should be covered. If they aren't hooked by the lead, they won't read your release. Releases can be long if you have a long story to tell. But follow the law of diminishing importance, so that the editor can cut from the tail up.

  • Always include the title or description of the person you are writing about (e.g. Mr. André Harvey, M.P.
    Parliamentary Secretary to the Hon. Susan Whelan, Minister for International Cooperation). Include the names of all note-worthy participants and, if for local press, include addresses of local residents.

  • Statements of opinion must be enclosed in quotation marks and attributed to a person ("In making the announcement, candidate X stated:"). Never editorialize in a news release.

  • Have a standard closing paragraph, stating succinctly the purpose of your organization.


  • The press release should be in the hands of the media approximately one week before you want it published.

  • Follow up with a phone call when the contact has had time to receive the release. Don't badger. Just ask if s/he received the release and if s/he needs any additional information.

The Press Conference

  • The press conference is a particular kind of event, and it can be an important tool if used well. Make sure your constituency is present in adequate numbers. Once again, one person should be in charge.

  • The purpose of a conference can be to make announcements and statements; to introduce to the press personalities or specialists with a story; to call new facts and figures to the attention of the public; to launch campaigns and drives. Be sure that the purpose is important enough to bring out expensive TV and radio equipment and make reporters travel.

  • Lead into the name speaker with one or two minor speakers. The agenda should make the program clear. Once the statement has been made, open the conference for questions.

  • Start on time. Make sure you are never more than 15 minutes late. If most of the media is there, start it rolling.

  • Send out advance notice -- 24 to 48 hours, if possible. The notice should be simple, written in release form, but very short.

  • Have a prepared statement -- never more than two or three pages long. Have enough copies for all the reporters. Have supporting documents, such as letters or reports, available for reporters.

  • It is a help, but not vital, to have a brief release written in story form to pass out with the statement and to deliver to the media that cannot attend the conference.

  • Don't give individual interviews to broadcast media or newspapers before you start. Give everyone the same chance.


  • Choose a symbolic place. Choose a geographically practical place, easily accessible to the press.

  • Beg or borrow good rooms from other organizations or corporations. Hotels are in the business of renting rooms and won't lend them.

  • Pick a room to go with the size of your crowd. Better too small than too big. Make sure the room can accommodate lighting and sound equipment.

  • Set up the room so reporters can sit close and cameras can shoot over their heads. The panel should sit together behind a long desk and face the audience (in this case, the reporters) behind which is space for cameras and standing camerapersons.

Tips for Writing Letters to the Editor

  • Be brief and focus on one issue. Most newspapers reserve the right to edit letters that are too long.

  • If possible, refer to local events or recent articles that have appeared in the newspaper. Include the date and title of any relevant article or editorial.

  • Ask readers to contact their legislators about the issue.

  • Give your address and phone number. Most newspapers verify authorship before they print a letter.

  • Clip your published letter-to-the-editor and mail or fax it to relevant legislators.

Dealing with TV and Radio

Preparing a Public Service Announcement (PSA)

A public service announcement (PSA) is like a press release, but shorter. Because PSAs are heard, not read, they must be interesting, clear, and brief. All the information must be provided in 30 - 60 seconds.

PSAs can be used to announce upcoming events; announce a project; identify an issue(s) and explain why you have chosen to be involved.

Allow more advance time for a PSA than for a press release. Be sure to follow up.



(your organization's name)

For more information, contact:
Jane Smith, publicity coordinator,
(705) 555-1212
Janet Jones, project coordinator,
(705) 555-2121


Time: 30 seconds
Words: 58

All candidates for the Nipissing District's seat in the federal election have been invited to participate in an all-candidates' forum on social justice at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 15, at Capital Centre, 500 Main Street. Members of the audience will ask the candidates questions at the forum, sponsored by (name and VERY brief description of your organization).


Radio and TV News Interviews

  • Be brief. Chances are they will only use 20 to 60 seconds. Get the important points in quickly and with punch. Don't ramble.

  • Speak clearly and firmly, but be natural. Don't sound rehearsed or as if you are reading, even if it's a prepared statement.

  • For TV, don't stare at the camera. Talk to the reporter in a casual conversational style, but be brief and positive. People watch TV in their living rooms. Act as if you're talking to someone in the room. Don't stare downward. Look as neat as possible, even if you're outdoors.

Editorial Reply Time

  • It's always available if someone is monitoring broadcasts enough to know when and on what issues. The networks will send you their editorials if you call and ask to be put on the mailing lists. These are mailed weekly in most instances, so it is still good to watch in order to be up-to-the-minute.

  • Telephone the program manager, identifying yourself and your position on the issue. Ask for a slot in answer to a specific stand, given on a specific day. Follow with an appropriate letter and background information. Try to make the call an inquiry and the letter the clincher.

  • Use your allies. Sometimes it may be best to have someone not from your organization make the editorial reply. Use legitimate spokespeople who have a real stake in the issue and agree with your position.

Tips for Getting on Radio Call-in Shows

  • Call in during open forum or relevant discussion.

  • Contact station producers or staff members in charge of bookings to suggest discussion topics and guests.

Placing Someone on a TV or Radio Show

  • Your biggest asset is credibility. If you've been getting good coverage, chances are that the editors on the show will know what you're about.

  • The best lead-in is a succinct letter of introduction containing background information plus a clipping or two and suggesting a good news angle for the show in question.

  • Telephone ahead to find out who screens guests and mark the envelope to that person's attention:

    Ms./Mr. Host/Hostess
    Name of Show

    Attention: Name of contact assistant

  • Follow with a telephone call to the assistant. In most cases, the assistant does the screening, and you should establish a good rapport with that person immediately.

  • Probe during this conversation and listen for a focus that will satisfy both your group and the host/hostess. Listen for ideas for further material you can submit to bolster your image of newsworthiness.

  • Be patient. Let the show have time to call you. If this begins to seem like never, make a straight-forward inquiry to see if a new angle should be developed. Present your case strongly, but don't argue -- you'll lose even if you win.

  • If and when your spokesperson is set to appear on a TV or radio show, make sure he/she understands the angle you have agreed on with the producers. Follow this format within reason, but recognize there can be times when the only way to get the message across is for the spokesperson to shift gears in mid-interview.

Other Media Options

  • Talk to features editors at your local papers and to the editors of disability-related papers. They may be willing to write, or to allow you to write, a longer article about the project or the issues.

  • You may also want to consider publishing announcements of upcoming events, volunteer requests, synopses of the issues, and results of candidate surveys and interviews in newsletters and bulletins.

  • Television and radio talk shows, community service programs, and local cable channels can provide an ideal opportunity to talk about the issues, the project, and the results.

  • Invite reporters to attend and cover events such as issue and candidate forums.

Media Contact Information - Letters to Editor

Follow this link: http://dawn.thot.net/media_emails_cda.html

Ontario Daily Newspapers Directory

Ontario Weekly Newspapers Directory

Ontario Radio Stations Directory

Ontario Television Stations Directory


credits: Adapted from the 1997 Legislative Workshop developed by American Council of the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind.



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