Spotlight on advocacy

  • September 12, 2018

There was a time not so long ago when the executive assistant to the CBA President was also the staff lawyer who looked after submissions to government. In the 1970s, there might have been six submissions a year. In Tamra Thomson’s first year – she joined CBA in 1994 – there were 29 submissions. That yearly number has been growing steadily ever since – and in the last couple of years has exploded, to almost 100 submissions in fiscal 2017-18.

Tamra has just been named the CBA’s Executive Director of Advocacy. The new title comes with a new mandate, but this doesn’t mean that the CBA will completely change how it does advocacy, she says; rather, it means the process is an evolution of constant improvement. The goal is twofold: make CBA advocacy more effective and engage more CBA members.

How it works

The Board is now selecting overarching advocacy priorities for the year, based on input from members and Association leaders, and looking at developments and trends. This year, advocacy efforts will be focused on two areas: access to justice and solicitor-client privilege. These are the big-picture issues for the Association as a whole.

Add to that the CBA’s advocacy originating with Sections and committees, which identify the hot issues that relate to their areas of expertise, looking at where their efforts can achieve the best results.

The Policy Committee, which has overall responsibility for advocacy work, has just updated its operational policies, including the advocacy policy. This outlines who does what in putting a submission together and talking to government about it. Essentially, members are the substantive law experts, while staff lawyers are the government relations experts, and together they’re a “fabulous team,” says the new ED.

“We are relying not only numbers, we’re relying on the expertise of members. It’s what makes the CBA a credible advocate, because of our expertise in any area of law, people who deal with the impact of good and bad laws every day,” says Tamra.

We’re evolving

Tamra describes the three major evolutionary steps planned for CBA advocacy as follows:

  1. Involving more members in setting policy for the CBA. Moving to a system where all members can vote on resolutions at the annual general meeting was an early step. The AGM is held each February, and members can participate at the main venue or from hubs in each province and territory. “We are working to expand the ways that people can be part of that process, so watch this space.”
  2. Encouraging more members to participate through their sections, and
  3. Coordinating advocacy efforts across the country on key issues. When it’s a federal issue, Tamra says, national Sections and the national office are best placed to handle it. When it’s a provincial or territorial issue, a Branch is best placed to handle it. But when it’s, say, a local issue with national implications, we can have greater success with a coordinated approach. Protecting privilege is a good example of that kind of issue.

CBA Influence, a monthly newsletter that brings members up to date on national advocacy, is another vehicle for increasing engagement. “Getting more members involved in the advocacy process is a two-way street,” says Tamra. “Members have more of a say in the policy-setting process and they get to know more about what the CBA is doing.”