I spend a good amount of my time communicating with government at different levels: local field staff, Edmonton managers, MLAs, ministers, and town and county officials. I am a single, well-informed voice to these folks, bringing the message of safe, responsible snowmobiling and community-friendly activity that drives winter tourism sales in all corners of our province.
But I am a single voice. What helps at the local level is when your local council, MLA or Member of Parliament can put a face to a name or issue. One of my favourite occasions is when I am in a government office, be it Edmonton or Ottawa, and the person I am meeting with knows the local club in their neighbourhood. This does happen on occasion and it makes my job so much easier as they are much more receptive to the conversation at hand. You may not know it, but every time you as a local club or group can get your mayor, MLA or MP out for a ride, you are helping to promote our sport and keep it growing. It pays off on so many levels.
You do not need to be a highly skilled government relations negotiator to get them to come out—just send them an invitation. Usually getting it to their local office is best, followed up with a phone call to see if they got it. It’s that simple. Even if they cannot make the ride on a certain day, they now know who you are and what a friendly bunch as well. The power of an invitation is well known and very effective. Want to entice them even more? Ask them to speak at the beginning of the ride or at the wrap-up meal. Many of our public officials are known to enjoy having a microphone in front of them.
The same holds true for your non-elected officials as well. Local land managers, law enforcement and even local corporate supporters are thrilled to get an invite. The more they know about who we are and what we do, the easier all of our jobs are in promoting our sport and trails.
If you are ever at a loss about where to start, start here:
1. Call your local town or county hall and ask them who to address your invitation to;
2. Look up your MLA: https://www.assembly.ab.ca/net/index.aspx?p=mla_home. From their profiles, you will find where to send the invite and how to address them.
3. Look up your MP (after the election): https://www.ourcommons.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members.
The next step is to actually meet with them in their local offices and explain in greater detail who you are, the history of your club and the local trails, and the issues or trail blocks that you run into. Many clubs face local trail restrictions not based upon hatred of snowmobiling, but rather it’s just sheer ignorance about the many benefits of a trail into town. Once they understand that snowmobilers on the trail will come into town to buy gas, meals at the local restaurant and even stay at the hotel, they begin to see the benefits. The towns and cities where snowmobilers can stage out of the hotel parking lot right onto the trail are singing praises about the winter tourism dollars they see. Often it only takes the simple explanation that sledders merely need the trail to access services—not cruise up and down Main Street—to get the local council on side with access.
We at the ASA, as well as our national association (CCSO), are always on hand to answer any questions that may arise from these meetings, either before or after. We have produced a number of printed items that include good information and talking points for a meeting. The first item I pull out of my case is the current season’s Alberta Snowmobile Trail Guide. Our annual map, when impressively unfolded on their desk, shows the map of Alberta and where all of our trail systems are. You can show them where your system is, and they will be able to see the many communities that can access this volunteer-built, winter recreational snowmobile trail.
I am always proud to point out that the entire trail system is built, cleared, maintained and groomed by local volunteers. With no provincial trail pass, every kilometre of trail requires the blood, sweat, tears and dollars of local Alberta volunteers to build a sport and trail system for all Albertans to enjoy. I always drive home this point, as we need a provincial trail pass to be able to build a world-class snowmobile system in Alberta, as every other province in Canada enjoys.
There are a variety of other printed materials that are available from the ASA, including:
1. A National Health Benefits Study on Snowmobiling, just completed last year;
2. Facts and Myths about Snowmobiling and Winter Trails;
3. The ASA Safety Guide, as provided to all the students in our Safe Riders school program;
4. SnoRiders magazine;
5. And even the last year’s ASA annual report.
If your club has pins or toques, provide them as well. Many times it’s a point of pride for your local officials to be able to wear local club gear when out and about. The ASA office is more than happy to help you get ready for a meeting or ride, or even to start with getting an invitation together. Don’t be shy about calling us. We are all working together to keep the trails open!