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Advocacy - even the smallest voice can have big impact

January 24, 2022 / Sarah Manley, with Elliott Silverstein, Director of Government Relations

Everyone has advocated for something at one time or another. I have memories of my daughter when she was young asking to read just one more story before bedtime, because it would help her have a better sleep which, in turn, would allow me to have a more restful night. At the age of 4, she was advocating for what she felt was a greater good in her young mind.

When it comes to advocacy, many may think their voice can’t be heard, or that it’s too hard - that it’s an activity reserved for lobbyists. But the truth is everyone has an opportunity to speak up and share their opinions, concerns, and recommendations – you don’t necessarily need to be a registered lobbyist.

CAA has played an active role in advocating for safety on our roads for over 100 years. Here are just a few milestones that our organization has made a reality:

  • 1903: CAA advocates to increase the speed limit in Toronto from 8 mph to 10 mph
  • 1913: CAA installs Ontario’s first road signs
  • 1960: CAA advocates for mandatory seat belts
  • 1977: CAA aids in starting the R.I.D.E. program
  • 2009: With CAA’s support, Ontario bans the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving
  • 2011: CAA Insurance is the first insurer in Ontario to offer an insurance discount for the installation of four matching winter tires
  • 2015: CAA successfully advocates for an increase in penalties for distracted driving, including the introduction of demerit points upon conviction
  • 2018: CAA launches a towing bill of rights to help protect motorists
  • 2019: CAA raises awareness about cannabis-impaired driving

Why do we do this? Because it’s at the core of our values – we are obsessed with Member safety, and approach everything we do with the Member in mind. How do we do it? By being at the table with the government and other regulatory bodies.

Elliott Silverstein, Director of Government Relations, explained to me the importance of allowing your voice to be heard and advocating for change. “If you don’t, you’re at the mercy of someone else. My philosophy is that when it comes to advocacy and government relations, if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu,” he says. “CAA prioritizes advocacy because we want to provoke change, whether it’s introducing an effort to benefit our communities, or, in some cases, prevent something from happening.”

So, how does one begin to make a difference?

Before knocking on your MPP’s door, Elliott cautions to be prepared. “If you have an issue that you would like to see addressed by government, you should come to the table with ideas that lead to a solution,” he suggests. “We are the experts in the business of insurance, and the government representatives don’t always hold the institutional knowledge of what the impact may be with certain changes. If you say to them ‘this is the problem’ and ask them to fix it – they will decide how to fix it, without necessarily anticipating what the residual effects could be, including any unintentional consequences.”

For example, when it became clear that the pandemic was not going to be short lived, and that many people were suffering financially, CAA Insurance knew the right thing to do was to give back to policyholders. Our approach was customer-focused, however we also considered other impacts. We also wanted to make it simple for Brokers so that they didn’t have to do anything. This in turn made it easy for the regulators to approve our approach. We looked at it holistically, considering the impacts at all levels.

Having your voice heard, really.

There are many ways Brokers can get involved to advocate for their customers and local communities.

  • Talk to your insurance companies, like CAA Insurance. We’re already at the table with government.
  • Talk to your local MPP. They want to know about what’s going on in their communities and would much rather hear it from their constituents and local businesses, rather than on the 6 o’clock news. Perhaps customers in your area are complaining about insurance costs. You can be their advocates and explain costs based on local circumstances – this provides great perspective for MPPs who may not have that inherent knowledge.
  • Work with the IBAO. They are already registered as a lobbyist, and any issues you may have may already be on their agenda. They will represent you as a Broker at the government table and present their ideas from a broker industry perspective. This compliments issues raised by insurers and creates great synergy.

Advocating for your customers can create meaningful change. But again, be prepared – if you’re going to raise a concern, provide a solution. Without one, you may set yourself back. It’s about bringing forth an issue, with substantiated evidence, and educating government so that their ultimate decisions are not ill-informed. “Without being prepared, you may create an urgency that the government will want to act upon quickly because they think a sinkhole has surfaced, when really it’s just a pothole,” muses Elliott. “They may take your words verbatim, so be mindful about what you share, especially when it comes to facts and figures. If you’ve seen an issue emerge with a handful of customers, say so. Hyperbole when explaining an issue can be your enemy.”

The insurance industry tends to be seen in a negative light by some. We as an industry need to show the positive efforts we achieve, by always keeping the consumer in mind when it comes to advocating for meaningful change. If we can show there are positive things happening in the industry, it may help diminish some of the skepticism directed at the industry. It may not always be the easiest thing to do, but in the end, it will benefit the greater public.


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