Understanding Local Politics

Here is where you will learn about municipal processes, the various ways of communicating with council, how to set up meetings, follow up afterwards and more!

Introduction

Welcome to the engaging in politics section of the toolkit! 

Here is where you will learn about municipal processes, the various ways of communicating with council, how to set up meetings, follow up afterwards and more!

Navigating municipal politics can be daunting and confusing, even with encouragement from adults. The following tools aim to reduce the trial and error that takes place at the beginning of an advocacy journey, and simplify and demystify some of the aspects of getting involved in your local politics. 

Enjoy!

Navigating Municipal Roles + Procedures

Within each municipality there are countless roles with different abilities and jurisdictions. When beginning to advocate, it is difficult to know who to talk to for what issue. Here is a basic list of the ‘main players’ within a municipality and their roles.

Communicating With Council

The first thing to think about when talking to politicians is understanding the landscape of the issue you care about.

Presenting to Council - Delegations / Deputations

A deputation is a short statement made by an individual, group of people, or representative of a larger group to a council in a formal procedure.

Follow-Up Procedure

After you present to council You can ask for private meetings with councillors after you make the deputation if you feel you need more time or you wish to further build a relationship with your councillor. 

Talking to Staff, Internal and External Allies

Understanding where staff stand on the issue can also be important. Feel free to ask for meetings with key staff members who are dealing with the issue you care about.

Freedom of Information (FOIs)

The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) provide individuals with the right to request personal information about themselves as well as from certain public-sector institutions in Ontario

Navigating Municipal Roles + Procedures

Within each municipality there are countless roles with different abilities and jurisdictions. When beginning to advocate, it is difficult to know who to talk to for what issue. Here is a basic list of the ‘main players’ within a municipality and their roles.

MP – Member of Parliament – The representative for your region within the federal parliament of Canada 

MPP – Member of Provincial Parliament – The representative for your region within the provincial parliament of Ontario. 

Municipal Council A group of elected officials that make decisions based on majority vote on the services and finances of a municipality.

Mayor (also called chair, regional director or warden depending on municipality) – The head of council who heads council meetings and serves as the primary public representative of the community.

Deputy Mayor – The deputy mayor may serve as Mayor in case of absence. As well, they attend pre-council briefing meetings with the Mayor and relevant officers, and may sign documents for sealing on behalf of the council in the absence of the Mayor.

Councillors For many areas, each councillor(s) represents the public of each ward within the municipality. They are the link between the public in that ward and the council. Typically, they care deeply about the requests of the public and the concerns of local businesses. Councillors work together to determine the effectiveness of public policies/projects, as well as develop new policies/projects to better the community. 

CAO Acts as the executive director for city staff, and ensures that accepted proposals are carried out. They generally have lots of knowledge on municipal processes, hold lots of power, and can influence council’s decisions. However, they can sometimes be resistant to change and like to uphold the status quo. 

Clerks Also known as corporate officers, clerks set council agendas and manage minutes and records of meetings. They also have some influence over what is discussed at council meetings.

Director of Planning The director of planning, as well as planning staff, work with stakeholders to develop policies for land use and development. They manage proposals for long-term urban planning and advise council on important documents such as Official Plans and Bylaws. 

Senior Planner Very experienced planners within the municipality (often with more influence in planning processes) 

Chief Financial Officer This position, under the direction of the CAO, can hold lots of power as they are in charge of managing and allocating funds for new projects. 

Executive Assistants Executive assistants manage schedules and communications of key members of the municipality.

Standing Committees Standing committees are committees set up by topic (natural heritage, seniors or youth concerns, committees, finance, etc.), that host meetings all members of the public can attend. Standing committees review proposals and give advice to the council. **Oftentimes these meetings are more informal than council meetings, so they may be good starting points for youth who want more practice articulating their ideas. 

ANYONE can become a community member on one of the committees or councils in their community. It is easier to get involved than you think – take the plunge and sign up if you want to have more of a day in your community. You don’t have to be the perfect, most experienced advocate to start making a difference.

Once you start to build relationships with your municipal officers you may start to notice who has the most influence when it comes to making decisions. 

Obviously, Mayor + Council, the CAO and chief officials have lots of influence, but there are more specific people to watch out for, and things to ask about (or notice through experience) :

  • Which members are the most open to change?
  • Which are the most progressive?
  • Which are the most resistant to change?
  • Which members push through items faster than others?
  • Which councillors are like-minded and often vote together?
  • Which clerk determines what gets on council agendas?
  • How does the chief financial officer feel about issues that may have short-term financial detriments, such as climate action?

What are council’s top priorities at the moment?

Incorporating your problem into pre-existing concerns of council can be very beneficial in getting support for your stance. 

Some other key players (both inside and outside of politics) may include:

  • Past councillors
  • Local businesses
  • Major businesses, especially high-employing corporations
  • School boards
  • Neighbourhood association members
  • Land defenders
  • Local reporters who cover city hall
  • Indigenious governments 
  • Places of worship
  • Developer associations (especially regarding planning and development committees)
  • Unions

Meeting agendas and minutes can be found on the municipality’s website. Their records usually have the minutes (results from past meetings in chronological order) for many meetings back that can be referenced to build your presentation or learn how far along the issue you are concerned about is. 

Agendas for councils or committees usually are posted a few days to a day before the meeting happens. This is where you can find out when the topic you care about is being discussed, or where your deputation is on the agenda.

Minutes and Agendas are written formally and often contain jargon, so they may need to be dissected the first few times you do this. However, with experience it will get faster and easier. 

Written Comments: 

You can also send written submissions on a topic council is addressing at an upcoming meeting. The procedures vary based on the municipality, so again you can refer to your municipal politics sheet for the specific information for your municipality. Typically you can send in written comments to the clerk, and can even send in submissions not on the agenda. 

Keep your eyes on agendas – planning your projects in accordance to what council is focusing on at the moment can help greatly in gaining support for your cause and having your concerns listened to. 

As well, the majority of the time (especially for larger municipalities) council will not get to every topic on the agenda. Therefore, even if your issue is planned to be discussed at a certain meeting, it may not end up being touched upon. May attention to where your issue sits on the agenda, and whether large, time-consuming items are listed before it. 

The Youth Climate Lab and Youth Caucus have created a great manual outlining ways to push environmental action at the municipal level. The diagram below is taken from it. Find the whole manual here.

A diagram showing the policy-making process within Canadian municipal governments.

Communicating with Council

The first thing to think about when talking to politicians is understanding the landscape of the issue you care about.

For example, think with your group if anyone knows any of the councillors and how well. The better they know them, the better and they should be the ones involved or leading the conversation. From there, there are several ways you can talk to politicians – each with a better suited purpose.

It is so important to be clear, organized and prepared when talking to council, especially if the issue you are speaking on is time sensitive.

In order to avoid your problem being postponed or ‘sent back for review’, you need to have all the necessary information to explain your stance with you as you present.

It is also a good move to have printed out copies of information sheets that you can give to those you are presenting to.

When talking to council (or anyone, honestly), ensure that your group has taken the time beforehand to clearly show exactly what you are asking. Clearly demonstrate the problem in the community you wish to solve and what the council has to do in order to rectify the problem. 

During these meetings, it is important to manage and regulate your emotions. They can be optimistic and positive, but also frustrating and downright angering at times. It is important to stay calm. Always be polite, never raise your voice, and personal attacks will get you nowhere.

As well, it is also important to manage your expectations for meetings. The process is often long and frustrating, so if you expect to create massive change after one meeting you may need to reevaluate your expectations.

These are best for when you need to establish the position of your councillors or if you have a strong relationship with a councillor who is willing to share information about how your issue is being received by the council, barriers it may face and ideas for how to present it.

  **Due to council rules, you cannot formally meet with several councillors at once.  This is seen as progressing council business outside of council and is not allowed.

Private meetings can be held online or almost anywhere (at a coffee shop, in a park, at their office, etc.)

It would be best to start discussing the problem with a councillor who you either have a pre-existing relationship with, or the councillor who is being affected by the issues (is it taking place in their ward? Are they on a committee or board that would be a stakeholder or affected by the issues?).

Since you cannot formally meet with several councillors at once, it would be best to gain the support of one councillor to begin with before you approach others.

If you have something that you’d like council to do, then what you will need is a motion from council that supports your position.  (E.g. a motion to declare a climate emergency).  

For this you will need two councillors: one to propose the motion and one to second the motion,  as well as others who will vote in support so that your request doesn’t die (majority vote needed). 

Best practice is that you suggest a motion that they could pass that meets your demands.  This is a great thing to discuss with supportive council members to understand how they feel about the motion, who they think will support it and if there are any edits needed to make it more likely to pass.

Just be aware that sometimes “supportive” councillors water down your request to the point where the original purpose is lost or weakened.  E.g. declaration of a climate emergency becomes a statement about concern for the climate but no actions or next steps are listed in the motion.

It is important to acknowledge the power balance, especially between youth and older councillors/members of the community. Don’t be afraid to show your knowledge on the subject you are discussing, or your feelings on the subject. You may be younger than they are, however you are meeting to discuss YOUR initiative. It is alright to assert yourself, take care of yourself (even buying your own coffee can keep a balance), while obviously still remaining polite and attempting to build relationships and find common ground. 

As well, be careful of tokenism and how youth can find themselves as publicity symbols for politicians that don’t actually care about listening to their concerns.

The Centre for Social Innovation has a short and sweet explainer for how to identify and avoid tokenism of young people. The image below is taken from it, and you can find the full thing here.

Click for a larger version.

At the end of a meeting, make sure to leave behind informative documents about your issue and your solution or the steps needed to be taken to get there. 

Don’t do meetings with staff or politicians alone. Ideally have at least two or three people.

Municipal processes can take lots of time, and most municipalities have limits on the number of deputations (explained below) you can make to council. Therefore, groups should be smart about when they choose to bring a proposal or campaign before council. 

  • Watch out for public opinion opportunities/open houses/surveys/etc. When council is debating an issue your group is concerned about, they will often open it up to public opinion in various ways. This can be a great time to present questions to council at these meetings and present your opinion without formally making a deputation. As well, you can bring your supporters to these meetings to back up your statements and apply more pressure. 
  • Campaigns are more effective and beneficial when they tie into pre-existing plans and projects. Pay attention to agendas and see if/when council is discussing a problem very similar to yours, and if you can, coordinate that with your campaign. Council will be more inclined to support your campaign when they don’t feel they are going too much out of their way to do so.
  • That being said, it is still possible to add your topic to an agenda (see information on clerks) so don’t let it stop you from pursuing your campaign, especially if it is time sensitive.
  • Having patience is important when getting information for your campaign (see Freedom of Information info. down below), talking to council and waiting for your proposal to be accepted and implemented. With this, relationship building does pay off as that can help accelerate the speed in which your plans get processed (see Internal Allies info.).
  • However – especially if your campaign is time sensitive – direct action is sometimes necessary. With this, involving the media is so important as it makes your actions widespread and places your campaign in the mind of council. 
  • Before you talk to council, ensure that your ‘ask’ is within the council’s jurisdiction (ability to carry out), and agrees with the municipality’s Bylaws. If council can’t do anything for you (or finds a hole in your presentation and exploits it to make it seem so), or it breaks bylaw, your proposal will most likely be denied and you have used up one of your few changes to present before council on behalf of your campaign. 

Presenting to Council - Delegations/Deputations

A deputation is a short statement made by an individual, group of people, or representative of a larger group to a council in a formal procedure. These can be presented to the City’s committees, sub-committees, and community councils that report to the main Council. Committees then make recommendations to Council for a final decision.

Public deputations are very important as they allow members of the public to officially voice their views or concerns on a matter. Anyone can make a deputation!

Deputations/Delegations are best if you have an issue where you’d like to address all of council at once.  You could do this as an introduction and follow up with individual meetings, OR you could coordinate your deputation for the night when a motion you support is being discussed (you can see if a motion you support is being discussed based on the agenda).  If the latter is the case, then you will want to line up as many different deputation speakers as possible.   Deputations can be formal (with a presentation) or they can be more informal (speaking notes, reading from a letter, speaking from your heart or presenting a video).

The deputation process is different for each municipality (refer to the politics info sheet for your specific municipality to learn about your deputation process). Here are some tips on making a strong deputation:

  1. Ensure you know WHEN and WHERE to make your deputation. You don’t want to present to the council/committee that doesn’t deal with your issue. Find out when the next public meeting for that council is and begin planning your deputation from there. 
  2. Make sure you know your deadlines – when you have to submit your request and when you have to submit your slide deck (if you’re doing one). Also know whether your target municipality allows deputations that deal with items not on the agenda. If your issue isn’t on the agenda and your municipality has such a policy, you won’t be allowed to do a deputation. In that case, consider attending the meeting with others and line up a series of questions during the public question period. Be aware that even in these cases sometimes they limit questions to what is on the agenda.

You may have to submit a form, or reserve a spot on the speaker list with the clerk (reference our municipal contact list tool to find more information). While speaking to the clerk, in most cases you will need to reference the agenda item you are speaking on, and provide the full name and contact information of yourself or the organization you are representing.

  1. If you’re just starting out, consider making the deputation as a pair – one to do the presentation and the other to help with questions and watch the council as you’re presenting. As well, if this is your first time you may want to consider attending a meeting beforehand to watch other deputations to see how they run in real time. 
  2. More than two team members can attend the meetings to fulfil other roles. It is so important that you have all your bases covered at meetings like these. For example, having someone write down everything that happens before, during and after your presentation is very important. Especially writing down the councillors’ reactions to your proposal and their questions/reservations on the subject (even if they support your cause – write that down so you know you have an ally!). 
  3. Know how long you have.  Usually they will be limited to 5 to 10 minutes. The time goes by very quickly, so make sure you are concise and straight to the point with the information you are presenting.
  4. Make your presentation exciting, colourful and include pictures or short videos if time permits.
  5. Be organized! Especially as a young person, speaking in front of council can be intimidating. Write out notes on what you want to say (or a whole script) and practice in front of friends or family beforehand.

Deputations are so much more effective when the speaker is knowledgeable on their issue. See what research exists on the topic (statistics, reports, etc.); see what the community opinion/outlook is on the issues; see how the councillors feel about the issue. As well, research whether other communities have confronted this issue, how they did this and what the results were (or the consequences if they failed to solve the problem). 

  1. Focus on the strengths of your solution, or what you are asking the council to do. You want to propose it as something that will benefit the community or make existing projects better. This can help change the council’s view of it being ‘extra work’ or ‘needless change’ and improve your case.
  2. Provide a clear timeline – either in your presentation or in the information sheets you will be leaving behind.
  3. Arrive early to the meeting and pay attention so you are ready when you are called to speak. If you have any supporting documents, print enough copies so they can be shared amongst the council. 
  4. Ensure your deputation speaking time can be adjusted. Council does have the power to shorten your deputation time, so having a few versions (one longer, one shorter, for example) could be beneficial. 
  5. Check for any meeting changes the night before.
  1. Thank the Chair and the committee, or Mayor (often addressed as “Your Worship”) and Council (…members of council).
  2.  Introduce yourself and why you are speaking. If you are representing a group, explain briefly their focus and concerns.
  3.  Explain your concerns and how they affect you and the community. While it’s best to be as personal as possible, using examples, statistics, and other research can help your argument.
  4. Thank the Chair, the committee, and Council and remind them that you will be observing their voting on this issue.

 

After you finish your presentation there may be a period for follow up questions. You should prepare some answers to the most frequently asked (or most likely to be asked) questions relating to your issue. Here are some very common examples of questions that would be asked following a presentation:

  1. “Why should we do this?” – Even though it is obvious, this is a great chance for your team to show off the strengths of your plan. Show the council how agreeing to your proposal would benefit the health, happiness and financial situation of the community.
  2. “Have other communities done this? How did it go?” Now is a great time (if you haven’t already) to give examples of other projects that ran in other areas (preferably areas similar to your own) to combat the issue and how they went, whether they faced any challenges that you could avoid, and the benefits the solution of the problem given to the community (or the consequences they faced because they did not solve the problem)
  3. “How much money/time will this take?” This is why having a planned timeline and approximate budget for the plan is so important – being prepared (and reasonable) when answering this question can show how committed you are to this project, as well as how prepared you are. You do not want to be caught off guard by a question like this.
  4. “Who won’t like this?” Meaning, which outside organizations (or even employees of the municipality) won’t support your proposal. Can you identify your opposants, and what do you have to say to the nay-sayers? This can be a good opportunity to attempt to show your problem in a new way and get others to see it in a new light.
  5. “How does this proposal fit in with Bylaw?” It is so important to do research ahead of time on how your proposal will fit in with your municipality’s bylaws – having it go against them will negatively impact council’s opinion on your cause.

These questions further reiterate what is said above: do your research, come organized, come prepared.

 

There will be three main types of responses to your wishes. Each one will give you beneficial experience and teach you new things:

Allies will hopefully give you advice about how to further build public support (eg. messaging, who to meet with, etc…) and what Council Members might be swayed

Fence-sitters will give you good intelligence about what is holding them back from taking a stand. Make sure you listen to their concerns and get ready to address them in the future.

Opponents to your actions will also give you valuable insights into what information, words and arguments they use to defend their positions. Keep track of this so that you can develop responses to them.

If you know a councillor supports your project, use that!

Address that in your presentation (depending on the mood in the room, perhaps not mentioning the person by name, but mentioning the support you have for the project politically). As well, you can use the relationship you have with that councillor for them to send you some low-ball questions during the post-presentation period that will allow you to showcase the strong points of your case. 

Non-political support matters too!

If you have official statements from other organizations, individuals or institutions in the community showing support for your project, use it!

Follow-Up Procedure

After you present to council You can ask for private meetings with councillors after you make the deputation if you feel you need more time or you wish to further build a relationship with your councillor. 

Some time after the meeting you will be sent a copy of the council’s decision (either by email or physical mail). 

Follow up with your councillor about the issue and see if they support your position and the committee’s decision. 

Following up after your presentation is critical to ensure your project is not sidelined.

  • If possible, after an event or presentation, take pictures with your councillors. You can use them for your social media and to hold them accountable after your meeting. (Remember, these people care deeply about reputations and how the public perceives them).
  • Let them know after your presentation that you will be following up for updates (or even giving them exact dates when you will be doing so) – THEN DO IT!
  • Send them a clear proposal review afterwards with exactly what they agreed upon. As well, updating your social media with this can be incredibly useful to apply pressure and hold them accountable.
  • If your proposal was not accepted, keep working and prepare for the next time you can provide input 
  • If your proposal was accepted, do not stop there! Follow up for when it will be implemented, what funding it is receiving (and if it is adequate), make sure the right people are carrying it out and ensure it was added to the correct plans. 

Talking to Staff, Internal and External Allies

Understanding where staff stand on the issue can also be important. Feel free to ask for meetings with key staff members who are dealing with the issue you care about. If you’re unsure, call the CAO and ask.

As well, municipal processes are confusing even for those who have experience with them – do not be afraid to ask questions, especially to any internal allies you may have.

In almost everything, it is all about who you know, and how strong your relationship is with them. In politics and advocacy, it is no different.

Building a network of people that can help you with your campaigns is essential if you want them to be strong and successful. That means you (or your organization) must take the time to network yourselves and build relationships with those around you. 

Building relationships with your councillors and municipal staff (and with powerful community members) is very important and can be extremely beneficial to your campaigns. When you have allies within the system, you can be provided with support and information much faster, it is easier to navigate the system, and your allies can make your proposal appear more credible. Here are some tips on building relationships:

  • Remain positive, and show your appreciation. Thank whomever you are meeting with for their time and remain positive throughout the meeting. Building relationships is more than asking people to do things for you – in order for someone to want to help you they have to feel like you aren’t only using them for the services they can provide. If possible, have a few meetings before you ask them for help where you can get to know the person you are meeting with and build a relationship outside of the campaign. (This may be easier on outside organizations or community members vs. politicians, however it is still important to remain sociable throughout all meetings.)
  • Find common ground. An important part of building a relationship is finding things both parties agree on or believe in. People are more likely to support your campaign if even a part of it aligns with their belief system (which is support from various community organizations can be so important) 
  • Compromise can be good, but know your boundaries. Although finding common ground is important, you do not want to sacrifice the basis of your campaign in order to make it more agreeable for someone else. Know your worth and the importance of the issue you are fighting for, and stand your ground when needed. 
  • Relationships go two ways. Although it may sometimes be frustrating, listen to the point of view, feelings or beliefs of the other person (unless they are dangerous and extreme, of course). Reputations are important and people can spin stories to paint you are the person/group that only cares about their agenda and will not listen to anyone else’s thoughts or opinions on the subject. This also reinforces the idea that you are building a relationship with the person – it is more than a transaction. When you show you care about what the other person is saying it will strengthen your relationship and you can even use what they say to form counter arguments or maybe even get them to view your campaign in a new light. 

How you present yourself matters. The way you dress, speak and conduct yourself can make a difference in how council and others view your campaign. See the talking to the media tool to learn more about how to present yourself in a way that strengthens your campaign and image.

Remember that municipal governments are elected, so public pressure can be very impactful. 

  • Once your group has a strong, clear ‘ask’, engage any and all supporters you can. These are ‘natural allies’ like friends, family, those a part of your organization and those in organizations working towards similar goals (be they environmentalist/nature-focused, mental health, social activism, etc.)
  • However, there are many allies that may seem ‘unnatural’, but can be very beneficial. Gaining the support of outside organizations like those listed as part of the ‘key players’ list can add so much momentum and power to your presentation, and apply even more (subtle) pressure to your Mayor + Council. 
  • When engaging outside supporters, it is important to establish a strong base of natural allies and continue to check up on them. However be careful not to preach to the choir or spend all your time and resources convincing those who are already in support of your project!
  • Take everything as a learning opportunity. Like mentioned just above, there will be opposants (or nay-sayers) to your project. Remember to push past pushback and instead use their resistance as a way to strengthen your counter arguments.
  • Lead with positivity. Many people, especially those without much knowledge about or experience in the advocacy world will be turned off or stressed out by campaigns led by fear, anger or anxiety. Maintaining a strong, positive presence while notifying your supporters of the importance or urgency of the problem is the way to go. 

If you know who opposes your project, watch for when they are making their moves. If you are fighting an unsustainable development, see when the developers are talking to council about their proposals. You can get some counter arguments ready and submit them at that meeting to keep fighting even when you’re not the one presenting to council.

Freedom of Information (FOIs)

The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) provide individuals with the right to request personal information about themselves as well as from certain public-sector institutions in Ontario

Anyone can request information through a Freedom of Information request, no matter your age (yes, youth can request FOIs!). 

Through a FOI, you can request any record for information, including the following:

  • Print (letters and reports)
  • Film (computer tape, microfilm, videotape)
  • Electronic documents (including emails)
  • Sound recordings (such as voicemails)

You can submit a FOI request if you wish to:

  • Access general records held by institutions (for example, Ontario government ministries, colleges, universities, agencies, municipalities)
  • Request your own personal information
  • Correct your personal information
  • Access another individual’s personal information (with appropriate authorization or consent of the individual)

FOIs can be incredibly useful while you are building/researching for your campaign – they allow you to find out more information about the issue you are fighting, especially if it involves municipal policies, actions or documents. 

Acquiring information through a FOI is not free. If you are requesting information (that is not your own personal information) it is processed through FIPPA. With this there is a $5.00 processing fee that can be made via cheque or money order (*note – do not send cash with your application). 

Depending on your request, more processing fees may apply (the more you ask for, the more likely it is the information will be more expensive). Fees over $100 may require a deposit.

Once the Ministry, municipality or other public body processes your application fee, they will then follow up with a fee and estimated number of pages that fee will result in.  You are under no obligation to pay this fee and proceed with your FOI.  If it is too expensive, you can see if you can narrow down your search via dates or just specific types of files. 

Your FOI should also make it clear that you want them to eliminate any information that is already publicly available.

If these are not options for your search, then you can also write back to the FOI administrator requesting a fee reduction due to belonging to a small community group and searching for info that is of net public benefit.  You can also appeal the fee to see if that will lower it, but realize that this will slow down your delivery.

Depending on the information and the public body you are trying to get information from, FOIs will usually take several months, sometimes much longer.  Consider when you need the information in relation to your campaign needs.

Another alternative to FOIs is to see if there are other public bodies that are involved in these documents and see if you can simply request them to be released to you. 

For example, a municipality may not want to release reports sent to the province and could drag their feet intentionally. 

Alternatively, the province may have no issue releasing that info because it doesn’t threaten their political standing or objectives (sometimes). So figure out who else may have gotten this info and see if a simple request gets you what you want.  The more specific, the better.

  • Identify the information/records you want. You can access the Directory of Records that describes the kinds of information held by provincial ministries and agencies under FIPPA and MFIPPA. 
  • Identify the institutions relevant to your request. If you need more information, the Directory of Institutions has a list of all public-sector organizations covered under FIPPA and MFIPPA
  • You can complete and submit a FOI request two ways:

Online: Submitted by completing an eRequest form (only for Ontario government ministries or institutions covered under FIPPA).

By Mail: Submit a request by mail to any institution under FIPPA or MFIPPA:

  • Complete the Access or Correction Request form (or submit a written letter that outlines sufficient information to identify the records you want);
  • If you are submitting an FOI request to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, complete and submit this form;
  • Refer to the Directory of Institutions for the relevant institution address(es) to submit your completed form or letter.
  • Put your request in writing—and be specific about the information you want as well as the time period for which you are seeking records. The more details you provide, the easier it will be for an employee to identify the information/records you are requesting.

When submitting a FOI request, please include a detailed description of the records or information requested. This could include different record formats and media such as:

  • Paper records (for example, reports, plans, drawings)
  • Electronic records (for example, emails, slide decks, spreadsheets)
  • Multimedia records (for example, film, voice recordings, photographs)

Example:

Here is a general example of a thorough FOI request that is general in nature and is trying to establish what information forms a decision:

  • All records, studies, notes, emails, documents, meeting minutes, modelling, stated assumptions, data and other calculations that investigate, calculate, comment on or speculate (about a topic) between (dd/mm/yy) and (dd/mm/yy)

If you’re going to be following an issue for a long time or are watching it develop, then you can omit the dates at the end and reword it so you will also be notified of future documents related to your topic.  E.g.

  • All past (starting dd/mm/yy) and all future records…. 

With a request like this, you may receive lots of information. Designating roles to ensure all the information is properly looked at is important to make the most of a FOI.

You may require less information than this example, and can edit your request accordingly. 

Ideally, the more specific the request, the cheaper it will be and potentially the quicker you will receive your request. 

FOIs can be game changers in your campaign, but they are time consuming and expensive. So before you submit an FOI consider what information is crucial to have to hand.

Exposing a lie or misinformation is a good reason to request a FOI. 

Understanding what information went into a decision is also good if you think it will change the public perception of the issue. 

Remember, FOI use within a campaign is about getting information that will increase media attention (corruption, misinformation, deception) and shift public perception your way.

After you submit your request, institutions have 30 calendar days to process your request (except under specific circumstances). 

Once you receive the information you requested, do not be surprised if there are blacked out, reacted sections of the documents. There may be personal or other information that LAO cannot share within the document, so those parts (that are not relevant to the information you requested) will be redacted. 

If you receive the response regarding your request and are unhappy with the decision, you can file an appeal with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario  within 30 calendar days of receiving it. You will need to fill in and submit an appeal form  (or a written letter) to the Information and Privacy Commissioner Registrar. There is typically a $25 appeal fee. 

If you would like to file a complaint regarding your request (or your own personal information), more information can be found here.

If you have more concerns, you can contact the Freedom of Information and Privacy Coordinator at the institution that holds the information. 

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Governments have failed to act to protect our communities and the futures of our children and grandchildren, and they continue to treat our environment as if it’s incidental to life, rather than a foundation for it.

We need strong community organizations to fight for our future, now more than ever.

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