Canada’s government had the power to ratify the Canada-China investment treaty last Friday — but they didn’t — and a massive wave of citizen outrage may be the reason.
The proposed treaty called the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) was introduced to parliament only three weeks ago, with the majority Conservative government not allowing Parliament or the provinces an opportunity to debate what some are calling the biggest trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
When several nonprofits, Leadnow and Sum of Us heard about FIPA, which was not covered in the mainstream media, they decided to partner to bring the agreement to attention of their communities of supporters and beyond.
Through e-mails, they educated people on FIPA and encouraged them to sign a petition against passing the trade deal, as well as write letters to the editor.
With each petition signed, supporters were encouraged to share the message on social media, and use the Twitter hashtag #Cdnpoli, which is widely watched by journalists.
The campaign struck a chord. Leadnow and Sum of Us hosted a press conference to present 62,000 electronic signatures in support of having a full and proper debate on FIPA in the House of Commons. Representatives from all three opposition parties were present and all three agreed to take a stand against FIPA.
FIPA has been written about by all major mainstream media including a Canadian Press article about the Leadnow and Sum of Us press conference.
In the final week before FIPA was expected to be passed, Leadnow and Sum of Us also tried a new tactic . After finding the issue resonating with supporters, they sent a follow-up e-mail asking supporters to fund the cost of one radio ad ($20) that would air in Conservative MP ridings to educate their constituents.
The campaign raised $70,000 for online radio ads, which have been airing in Calgary, areas of Toronto and rural parts of British Columbia. Jamie Biggar, Leadnow executive director, says the ads are incredibly effective tool to bridge people sitting on both sides of the political spectrum.
“I really do think that may be one of, if not the most, efficient way to get a community of online supporters to share a message that’s going to go directly to the government’s base of supporters, and to connect those two people,” he says.
On the day FIPA was expected to pass, Leadnow and Sum of Us rallied more than one thousand people to call key Conservative MPs and share their concerns over FIPA.
“This has been the most successful campaign we’ve ever run in terms of the total number of supporters online and in terms of total amount of money raised,” Jamie tells Mob Lab.
“The campaign work has managed to take this issue from being quite low profile and notable for lack of media attention and put it at height of national, political and media attention in Canada, and we were able to do that in about three weeks, which I think is a testament to what technology-enabled campaigning organizations can do when there is a really outrageous threat in a very short period of time.”
Another key to the groups’ success was sharing information and collaborating with other organizations fighting FIPA.
Jamie credits ForestEthics senior energy campaigner Nikki Skuce for coming up with the idea of a radio ad, which came out of a conversation about what tactics each group would use. While Leadnow and Sum of US aired radio ads, ForestEthics rallied its supporters to fund a full page ad in the Ottawa Citizen the day FIPA was expected to be ratified.
While no-one can be sure why the Harper government hasn’t ratified FIPA, Jamie says they do know the campaign’s momentum has rattled many Conservative MPs, with conservative voters now taking issue with FIPA.
“This is an issue that this government was hoping would slip by, but with all the messages they are seeing from their constituents and with the radio ads in their ridings, the message that they are receiving is this isn’t a message that’s going to slip by Canadians, that it’s something that there will be a real political price if they pass it,” he says.
Next Steps and How You Can Help
Jamie says next steps for the campaign will be to keep growing pressure over FIPA. Conservatives may propose “fig leaf changes” to the bill, and the campaign could use help from people experienced in how to effectively counter government spin.
Finally, Leadnow and Sum of Us plan to rally small engaged teams that can put more pressure on Conservative incumbents. They would appreciate any advice and tactics from others who have been able to advance an issue beyond citizen e-mails.
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