Lobbying Initiatives in Ottawa and Winnipeg

Opaskwayak Chief, Council and CEO sit with Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations in the Minister's office on Parliament Hill.

Lobbying Initiatives in Ottawa and Winnipeg

With the constant need to expand our capacity whether it’s in staff, buildings, or developments within Opaskwayak: there is always a struggle to find the funding for such projects.

Opaskwayak has embarked on our own ventures with our own source revenue but, frankly, there isn’t enough to keep up with the demand. Opaskwayak continues to see a steady growth in population, with more than 6,260 people, and more than half of whom live on reserve.

“I am a firm believer that in order for our Nation to be truly successful, our citizens all need to be thriving,” said Chief Sidney Ballantyne. “As we look back to traditions and customs, we see that everyone played a role in community. We must work together and leave no family behind. Wakohtowin. It’s our way.”

Opaskwayak faces similar demographic, social and economic challenges as other First Nations. Because there are so many communities going after the same types of funding, we learned to get creative to get our foot in the door. In order to meet our needs, leadership both past and present have gone to Ottawa (federal matters) and Winnipeg (provincial and regional matters) to “lobby.”

To lobby, or lobbying, may roughly be defined as applying political strategy to achieve government outcomes: developing, stopping or amending a bill or regulations; obtaining funding; getting political support; or changing a government policy.

The goal is to bring perspective to busy legislators (that cannot be expected to be knowledgeable about every piece of legislation under development) who may appreciate getting help and being empowered.

Lobbying helps reduce the “buffers” governments sometimes create between themselves and the “real world” of everyday concerns experienced by the public. 

By bringing “real world” evidence from the public in the form of facts, arguments and issues, it then helps shape a broader and more inclusive public debate.

Removing all the government jargon, it basically means finding common ground between politicians and grassroots folks and working toward compromise that is going to make everyone happy, aka a win-win situation for all involved.

For over the past decade, Opaskwayak has used the same agency, Quinn Public Affairs (QPA), to lobby on its behalf.

“Here at QPA we create lasting relationships and partnerships with our clients based on our values of respect and trust,” said Mark Quinn, President of Quinn Public Affairs. “We assist our clients in creating a plan that will help to realize their strategic objectives.”

QPA does a lot of Government Relations, Public Relations and Communications including crisis communication, issues management, stakeholder outreach and engagement for dozens of organizations. “It’s been an honour working with Opaskwayak all these years,” said Quinn, “because when it comes to preparing information packets, not only is there a lot of information to work with, there is a lot of vision and thought put into planning community sustainability for future generations. This often helps get meetings in a timely manner with the appropriate governmental authorities.”

This past winter, some members of Chief and Council and staff travelled to Ottawa and Winnipeg for lobbying efforts in all of the seven branch areas. While the priorities differ in each branch, some more achievable in the short-term versus long-term, there are common threads throughout Opaskwayak where certain areas need more lobbying efforts.

The top ten areas where QPA continues to help Opaskwayak include: 

  1. Awareness for 20-Year Community Master Plan
  2. Egg Lake Healing and Recovery Centre 
  3. Elders and Youth Recreational and Cultural Centre 
  4. Beatrice Wilson Health Centre
  5. Hilda Young Childcare Centre
  6. Critical Housing
  7. Ten-year grant 
  8. Regional Solid Waste and Recycling Facility 
  9. Opaskwayak Commercial Strip
  10. Otineka Development Corporation Office Complex

All of these items on a bigger scale, will elevate us as a prosperous and healthy Nation. They aim toward helping our citizens heal, grow and prosper to be successful contributing members of society, a win for all of Canada.

Opaskwayak Chief and Council and Senior Leadership at Parliament Hill in NDP MP Niki Ashton's office while she holds up the 20-Year Master Plan.
Niki Ashton, NDP MP for Keewatinook Aski holds the 20-Year Master Plan as she poses with Opaskwayak leadership and senior staff in her office on Parliament Hill.

The 20-Year Community Master Plan

In 2021, Chief and Council embarked on a long-term community planning process, leading to the release of a 20-Year Community Master Plan in the spring of 2022.

The Master Plan identifies key developments that are needed in areas ranging from housing, economic development, health care, education, and recreational facilities to ensure a healthy, prosperous and vibrant community over the next 20 years.

The Master Plan reflects extensive consultation with Opaskwayak citizens, administration and leadership and identifies priority developments that will contribute towards the long-term economic and social health of its people.

In recent months, the Master Plan has gained a lot of traction from all levels of government: local, regional, provincial, federal and even other Indigenous governments.

To give you an idea, some of the key government legislators that Opaskwayak has shared the 20-Year Master Plan with include: 

  • Keith Conn, Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) First Nations Inuit Health Branch, Indigenous Services Canada
  • Niki Ashton, Member of Parliament, NDP, Churchill-Keewatinook Aski
  • Indigenous Affairs and Northern Affairs deputy critics
  • Minister Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations
  • Minister Patty Hajdu, Indigenous Services Canada at AFN
  • MP Badawey, Parliamentary Secretary to Minister Hajdu
  • Hon. Dan Vandal, Saint Boniface – Saint Vital, Minister of Northern Affairs; Kevin Lamoureux, Winnipeg North; and Terry Duguid, Winnipeg South. (This was a Meeting with Manitoba Caucus – Winnipeg) 

“To Chief and Council’s knowledge, Opaskwayak is the only First Nation in Canada to have embarked on such a process or to publish a long-term strategic framework to guide decision-making and development in the community,” said Quinn.

“When going lobbying with Opaskwayak, it’s exciting to see the engagement from the legislators and the response for follow up meetings. It shows that Opaskwayak has caught their attention and the legislators want to find solutions so they too can achieve on their political outcomes.”

“…Opaskwayak is the only
First Nation in Canada to have embarked on such a process or to publish a long-term strategic framework to guide decision-making and development in the community.”
Mark Quinn, President of Quinn Public Affairs

Moving forward, Chief and Council continue to be guided by the Master Plan in developing new partnerships with the Government of Canada. Funding proposals submitted to the federal government will be tied to the Master Plan and all projects proposed by Opaskwayak will have to contribute to the vision outlined in the Master Plan.

Federal government support will be vital as Opaskwayak continues to develops specific and fully-costed proposals to implement aspects of the Master Plan.

This story was first published in the Spring 2023 Report to the Community.