Approaching Your MLA and MP
Help's available, but there are some things to keep in mind
They're a different kind of M&M
The offices of our MLAs and MPs can be great resources, but unfortunately many people go about approaching them the wrong way, leading to experiences that are less than ideal.
Here's some guidance on who to reach out to for help, and important points to keep in mind when doing so.
Who is who?
An MLA, Member of the Legislative Assembly, is an elected provincial government representative for an area. They sit in the provincial legislature in Victoria. The Premier of BC is an MLA.
Areas under provincial jurisdiction include
Education (public universities, funding to school districts)
Healthcare (MSP, hospitals, urgent and primary care centres)
Persons with disabilities assistance; income assistance
An MP, Member of Parliament, is an elected federal government representative for an area. They sit in the federal legislature in Ottawa. The Prime Minister of Canada is an MP.
Areas under federal jurisdiction include
Canada Pension Plan
Old age security
There are many areas of overlap too. For example, both levels of government are involved in housing, and you may have an issue that requires working with each, such as having a visa application (federal) approved to get certain healthcare benefits (provincial).
How can they help me?
Your MLA and MP's offices can support you in numerous ways, most of which are provided by constituency staff rather than the elected representatives themselves.
Help you solve issues with government services
Take your input to the legislature and to colleagues
Provide letters of support
General community support
Free printing, copying, scanning, and faxing
Office space for community groups
Recognition of constituent achievements and birthdays
Information and referral
Provide information about government programs, services, and legislation
Help you apply for benefits and services
Connect you to local resources
There are certain issues for which these offices cannot provide much support however, including legal cases or matters before a quasi-judicial body like WorkSafeBC or the Civil Resolution Tribunal.
Tips for contacting your MLA or MP
It's okay to be frustrated, but be respectful
You can contact your MLA or MP in-person, by phone, or by email, with the latter being the most common method. The basics to provide are name, address, and no more than 3 to 4 short paragraphs about the nature of your inquiry.
Here are some points to keep in mind.
Stay local, don't spam
If you message the wrong MLA and are redirected to the correct one, this isn't buck-passing or a sign that you aren't being taken seriously; it's how things are performed for efficiency, and the offices in your area will have the best knowledge of local resources.
Mass mailing to every MLA or MP will just delay a response and create confusion. Offices may just assume someone else will reply and not bother getting back to you, and you will soon become known as a spammer who doesn't follow procedure.
Even if you try to do this covertly, perhaps with BCC or sending separate emails, offices communicate with one another and will still know you've been blindly reaching out.
Be detailed, but concise
Too few words and it can be unclear what you're after or how to help you. Too many and your message becomes exhausting to read and key details may be lost.
You want to find balance. Stick to the essentials and be clear about what you're after, whether that's finding information, setting up a meeting with the MLA or MP, or using office space. Generally 3-4 paragraphs will do it.
One issue at a time
You may have numerous issues you need assistance with or want to raise with your representative. Sticking with one issue at a time will help focus, and thereby generate quicker responses than dumping several things on them at once.
When you have resolved one issue, then it's a better time to move to the next.
Have your info ready
Depending on your situation, certain information might be essential to provide. This could be a personal health number if you issue is with the Ministry of Health, contact info for people who've worked on your ICBC case, or numerous other things.
Having your info ready from the go will cut down on the back and forth and speed up the process.
Manage your expectations for time and outcome
Larger constituencies may be getting hundreds of emails and calls each day, and as important as your issue is, someone else's may be just as pressing.
Nor does your MLA or MP's office have a magic wand they can wave to perfectly solve your problem. Sometimes they cannot change the situation, because structural legislative change is needed, which is beyond the scope of their position. In this case, your biggest victory may be communicating the need for change to your elected representative.
You should expect timely service, but still be ready to do some waiting, and prepare yourself for the possibility that your case cannot be resolved.
Check back in
If you reach out to your MLA or MP's office and haven't heard back for over a week, you may conclude they simply don't care, but the reality is that in a sea of dozens or hundreds of emails and phone calls, there can be oversights.
Follow-up with a respectful reminder and more often than not you will hear back shortly.
Most of the time you will interact with constituency staff, rather than the MLA or MP directly. These staffers aren't responsible for legislation you dislike or your unpleasant dealings with bureaucrats.
Staying respectful despite your frustrations is not only the decent thing to do, it helps build a positive relationship that encourages the offices to push for your cause and keep the door open to you in the future.
Generally, avoid handwritten letters
Some people think sending a handwritten letter adds a personal touch that's more likely to generate a response. While I understand that thinking, the reality's that most offices process communication electronically, meaning they'd have to scan your letter anyway.
It may seem minor, but this adds an layer to dealing with handwritten communication that make staff more likely to put it off.
Here is a sample:
Dear MLA ___,
I am writing to request help finding housing. I am a 45-year-old currently living in an apartment on 123 Street, but I am struggling to afford rent and have been informed that my landlord plans to move a family member into the unit later this year.
I would like your help in completing the forms to get my name on the BC Housing Registry for subsidized housing, as well as information on what other options there are for a low-income Vancouver resident.
If you could get back to me by email, or give me a call at 604-555-5555, it would be much appreciated.
All the best
A quick note about ministries
If you want to contact a minister, for example the minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, do not contact them through their MLA email. MLA offices deal with local issues for their constituency; not province or country-wide issues.
Instead, look up the ministry they're in charge of, and you should find contact information for them in their role as minister. Reaching them through here will be much more effective than trying to go through their local constituency office.
To find more community resources, click here! Also feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
-Spencer van Vloten