Saturday, June 04, 2005

Don't be offended by my frank analysis

So sue me: I can sympathize (to some extent) with Don Boudria. Over the last 29 hours, my office has received no fewer than 828 faxes here on Parliament Hill. I have them here. I am willing to table them for the consideration of the Speaker if Mr. Speaker feels that this will help guide him in determining whether or not this is an abuse of what should legitimately be going on. [...] In the case of my office, whereby we normally receive 40 to 50 faxes from constituents in a day, we have been able to receive a grand total of five over the last two days. The rest of the time the equipment is completely blocked. A group calling itself Focus on the Family, which has the website www.marriagematters.ca, is making it such that our telephone systems have been rendered inoperative this way. Several of the commenters at SDA need to understand a bit better how parliamentary offices handle correspondence. Here's what I can say about how the process tends to work - here, at least, and in the limited experience I've had working for two opposition MPs. Correspondence from constituents goes to the top of the pile, with snail-mail and faxes usually taking precedence over e-mail. Unique correspondence from non-constituents may be dealt with, if interesting, pertinent to critic/portfolio area, or otherwise not a waste of the office's limited resources. Form e-mails or faxes from non-constituents? Forget it. For e-mails, you'll be lucky to get filed into an Outlook folder for later bulk reply, if not deleted outright. For faxes, anything beyond the first is likely to go straight into the circular file. Expecting a personal reply? Don't count on it. Note, too, that repetition (multiple e-mails, but especially multiple faxes or snail-mail form letters) is less a way to impress the passion of your conviction upon the legislator in question than to seriously irritate the staffers, volunteers, or party lackeys who actually deal with the mess. I was the one who had to clean up a three-foot-tall stack of faxes on this issue for the HM's office, and nearly a foot of that turned out to be from a single person. This person is not, in fact, a constituent, but rather living several provinces distant from the HM's riding. Keep that in mind when raging against Boudria's whininess: little correspondence MPs receive (and especially on contentious issues) is actually from within their riding. (The franked incoming postage policy, in particular, is frequently abused.) Likewise, it may feel good to CC every MP in the House with your letter or fax, but do understand that either will only increase the operating cost of governance by generating more work (for which full-time staffers are amply paid), and likely make no net difference beyond sending a single message to your own MP. Now, MarriageMatters is a slightly different case, in that it's a site which sends personalized form letters on your behalf. But they're still form letters, which aren't a terribly effective way to demonstrate serious commitment to an issue; like it or not, sending a form letter is as good as having a fax header reading "ATTN: PLACE ON VERY BOTTOM OF INBOX." Want to make certain that when you fax your MP, your message isn't going to be accidentally pushed aside for days or weeks with those of non-constituents? Write your own message. Do it on your personal letterhead. Honestly, it takes five minutes, and ensures that a tired or lazy staffer will actually have to read it, which often isn't necessary to get the gist of form letters. These are human beings who may or may not disagree with your position; don't give them any more reasons to want to ignore you than necessary. Another legislator's office for which a friend works, I'm informed, has the harshest policy I've ever heard of for form letters; the very first copy of a form letter received is counted as a single piece of correspondence, and duly recorded, with all subsequent copies (whether from constituents or not) immediately junked. A little effort can go a long way to ensure your message is heard. Boudria is way out of line demanding that the bulk-faxers be charged with harassment, and spectacularly out of his mind on the matter of Parliament directly controlling domain name registration. But he does make a valid point: there is a lot of repetition in correspondence from single-issue advocacy groups left or right, and dealing with the volume of letters sent by them on the behalf of their patrons does trend towards being a waste of public funds, with no real effect. I assure you, if you're against same-sex marriage, Don Boudria is aware; his office will have access to internal as well as public polls, for the entire country as well as his riding, and he certainly will know in general terms that significant numbers are opposed. He just doesn't care. That's a problem in and of itself, but it seems unlikely he'd have his mind changed by a torrent of faxes - and, at the same time, he's more than happy to both charge the Canadian taxpayer for the cost of reading, collating, and recording them, and attempt to persecute the faxers with trumped-up criminal charges. Why give him the satisfaction?

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