Canadians' views on the prorogation of Parliament reached a fever pitch over the last month, as they took to e-mail, phone and Facebook to express their concerns. We explain the best way to get your voice heard when you're reaching out to an elected representative.
1. Get personal
Soon after Parliament was prorogued, Myrrhanda Novak had to sort through a new batch of reactionary e-mails sent in by constituents of the Winnipeg South riding.
Ms. Novak is the communications director for Rod Bruinooge, a Conservative MP, and handles much of her boss's e-mail, snail mail and phone correspondence. While some of the letters are multipage handwritten notes, many are the less-preferable form letters.
"Mass e-mails aren't the best way to get a personal response from your MP," she says. "We don't always have the capacity to respond."
Nanos Research surveyed 44 current MPs and 7 former ones in spring 2009 about the ways in which they interacted with their constituents and about 88 per cent said they were motivated to act politically on a message that came through in a personal letter, versus about 45 per cent who said they would based on a form letter.
Join the conversation
Alain Roy, Program Director, Amnesty International (Canada) takes questions on how to communicate with your local representative at 2 p.m. ET on Tuesday
2. Be civil
Erin Bried, author of general instructional guide How to Sew a Button, says you don't have to temper your emotions in letters or e-mails - just make sure you stay civil.
"There's something to be said for being cordial," she says. "If you're angry, say you're angry. But you don't have to show it by name-calling."
On rare occasions, Ms. Novak comes across e-mails or letters to Mr. Bruinooge that she just ignores.
"I'll get letters saying that Jack Layton is an absolute nutball or Stephen Harper is an absolute nutball and I don't see the point of responding to that if you're not asking me a question about [Mr. Bruinooge's]views," she explained. "It's just an angry attack on an individual rather than a view on an action or bill or anything."
3. Don't underestimate e-mail
"We often hear feedback [from volunteers]that e-mail is too easy and is not taken as seriously," says Alain Roy, program director for Amnesty International Canada who has organized and participated in many letter-writing campaigns. "But if it's a personal e-mail, it's seen as having an equal impact as something that's handwritten."
The Nanos survey suggests e-mail is in fact the best way to get in touch. MPs ranked it higher than face-to-face, mail, phone and fax communication as the way they preferred to hear from constituents.
Ms. Novak notes that turnaround time for replies is usually much shorter for e-mails. While she handles most of the snail mail that comes into the constituency office, both she and Mr. Bruinooge regularly read and respond to e-mails that come in within a few days of receiving them.
4. Follow up
Mr. Roy says the initial point of contact is important in getting your local representative's attention, but "a follow-up letter is quite key."
"Thank the [member]for taking the time to respond to your initial query and commend them on the initial steps taken," he says. But then, he instructs, hammer home the end result you want, or any issues you feel have not been addressed - a second communiqué shows that you're invested in an issue.
"If you follow up, you're taken more seriously."
After the initial written communication, Ms. Novak encourages constituents in her riding to follow up by phone. If you're really concerned, you can usually set up an in-person meeting with your representative or a member of his or her staff. When Mr. Bruinooge is in his riding office, he often meets with at least one constituent a day, Ms. Novak says.
*And don't do this:
Send a letter to a representative outside your riding - unless it's a minister, there's a slim chance you'll even get a reply.
By the numbers
Parliamentarians were surveyed about their interaction with the public
92.2% said an online campaign has never changed their mind on an issue
55.4% said their written communication is mostly handled by administrative staff
94.3% said they save contact information and communications they receive from people
54.5% said they have profiles on MySpace and/or Facebook
Source: Nanos Research