By Weldon LeBlanc
Kudos to MP Ron Cannan and Minister Stockwell Day for their tireless efforts to convince the decision makers at Passport Canada to open a passport office in Kelowna.
It took a great deal of effort and years of strong lobbying, but finally it happened. Kelowna’s passport office is the only office outside the Lower Mainland. With nearly 50,000 passport applications annually in the BC interior, it begs the question: “why did we have to work so hard to get something that was obviously needed”?
The issue of the passport office demonstrates the coordinated lobbying effort that is needed to ensure success. When I arrived in Kelowna in the summer of 2005, this issue was on the top of the list of issues that the Kelowna Chamber was working on.
In September 2005, we successfully lobbied the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to support our policy resolution calling for 10-year passports and the establishment of passport offices outside of major metropolitan areas. This crucial step placed the issue prominently at the national level, and added national support to our efforts to get a passport office in Kelowna.
Over the next couple of years lobbying efforts continued without much traction. When Ron Cannan was elected as our MP, he immediately placed this issue as a priority, and hounded his colleagues. A strong business case was built outlining the need to have an office located in Kelowna.
In September of 2007, MP Cannan arranged a meeting in Ottawa for Chamber In-coming President James Patterson and myself to meet with Gérald Cossette the CEO of Passport Canada. This meeting was a frank discussion about the needs of the Kelowna business community, and the direction of Passport Canada.
It was clear from the meeting that at the time, Passport Canada was focusing their efforts on web-based initiatives rather than creating bricks and mortar infrastructure. In hindsight, this was a pivotal meeting.
We successfully convinced the decision-makers that regardless of the web-based initiatives planned by Passport Canada, they still needed to be able to adequately service the business community with offices outside the Lower Mainland; specifically in Kelowna.
This is lobbying at its best. In a political environment of government belt-tightening, the effort to get a passport office in Kelowna demonstrates how complicated and drawn-out achieving success can be. It further shows the need to have clear priorities and focused lobby efforts by the business community and our elected officials.
The days of writing a letter and getting what you want are gone. Lobbying now requires establishing a strong business case, getting everyone on the same page, and a determined effort to convince the decision-makers of your point of view.
A passport office in Kelowna will dramatically reduce the time, effort, and inconvenience for business people and residents in the interior to get a passport. As Kelowna’s global economy continues to grow, this will prove to be a crucial piece of infrastructure. Acquiring a passport office is a true community-lobbying success.
Pat your elected officials on the back…they’ve done an outstanding job in making this happen.