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Martin Laplante

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Wed, 20 Jun 2007

Ministerial Correspondence

I occasionally write to government ministers. A very few of them I know personally, but mostly I fool myself into thinking that I can somehow provide information that will enlighten government policy.

I'm not a complete lunatic. I work for a policy research firm. Work that I do professionally does influence government policy. I've testified at House of Commons and Senate committees. Government white papers have plagiarized my reports. And given that a couple of my friends have been elected and gotten important responsibilities, I know it is possible to have an intelligent conversation with them and maybe even see that reflected in legislation later.

But every now and then I write as a private citizen, or a letter I write to someone I know gets forwarded to a minister that I don't know, without a covering letter saying I am not a raving loony.

I just got a reply back from one. I had sent a thoughtful piece, with scholarly references, showing what aspects of New York City's "Housing First" programs could be adapted here and the expected effects and policy context. I'm not with any pressure group here, I just happen to have done a few projects in related areas and I saw an opportunity to improve programs over here.

Well, as usual, the letter I got back bore no relation to the one I sent. It grabbed on to a keyword in my first sentence and listed the department's programs related to that keyword. I wish that I could be sure that this is a form letter spat out by a machine that looks for key words. No, someone who writes this sort of correspondence assures me that a thousand dollars or two of taxpayers' money went to composing and approving that studiously vacuous response, and that anyone who had anything to do with developing programs was carefully kept far away from any such external input. If I wanted to be a responsible citizen, I would avoid addressing the government directly.

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