I was asked by a young parent recently, what is the most common mistake made by advocates. My reply was immediate.  Not following the money trail in Government. Or, as was the case in this circumstance (he was advocating for inclusive education at a local School Board), within and between levels of Government.

You can get lots of things right as an advocate: good media; good research; broad based support; meetings with senior public servants; a meeting with a Cabinet Minister or School Board Chair; and perhaps even a promise – but still make no headway if the resources aren't there for implementation. 

lot of power in government resides in the people who oversee money – its collection, its budgeting, its allocation, its spending, its administration, its reporting, its accountability.  It is worth paying attention to who, on both the political and public service side of government, controls spending priorities and expenditures. 

That's why Ministers of Finance are almost as powerful as Premiers or Prime Ministers.  Or comptrollers and Chief Operating Officers (COO 's) can be almost as powerful as Deputy Ministers, CEO's, City Managers, and Superintendents of departments, ministries, Crown Corporations, municipalities and school boards.

No matter what position you are advocating or what decision you have agreed on, there is usually a behind the scenes route that lands at the desk of someone responsible for money. While the politicians with money
responsibilities have a public profile, public servants with financial responsibilities will not be as well known, even though they
senior positions and may even have veto power.

Here are some tips to help you follow the money:

  • Don't ignore Ministers of Finance even though you may be dealing with another Minister and Ministry. Get to know their Policy Advisors and Executive Assistants.  Learn who is the Analyst in the Minister of Finance or Treasury Board responsible for the Ministry you are dealing with. They have influence.
  • Research who is on the Cabinet Committee responsible for allocating financial resources.  It may be called Treasury Board.  It may be called something like, Agenda and Priorities. There may be split responsibilities. If the Minister you are lobbying is not on one of these powerful committees, they may have less power than you think. Any new major program likely has to be approved by one of these committees.
  • Ask the public servants you are working with to explain the flow of money within their department, ministry,Crown Corporation or arm of government.
  • If money is flowing for example, between a Provincial Ministry of Education and a local school board get to know the provincial as well as local officials. Ask for the performance or accountability mechanisms.  For example: How much special needs funding is allocated to School Board 'X'?   Are there expectations? What can the money be used for?  What happens if the money is not spent on what it was allocated for?
  • Draw a map of the flow of money and try to identify as many key stops and decision makers, both political and bureaucratic, as you can.
  • If there is a transfer of funds from one level of government to another map this flow as well.
  • Once you know who these key people are, reach out to as many as you can while maintaining your other contacts.

Yes, it's a lot more work. But following the money gives you a greater chance of success.