March 12th, 2013
We are thrilled to see our fearless leader and company President Mike Van Soelen profiled in The Hill Times as one of the Top 100 Lobbyists of 2013. Mike and Playbook have been lauded as growing presence among movers and shakers in both Ottawa and Toronto. We’re proud to see the skills and hard work of Mike and our team publicly recognized. We’d also like to give a shout out to the photographic skills of team member Meaghan Rusnell, whose eye-catching photo accompanied the profile.
The text of the article is pasted below, but you can also find it here on The Hill Times website.
Newcomer Van Soelen growing new company, ‘exciting experience’
By BEA VONGDOUANGCHANH |
Published: Monday, 03/04/2013 12:00 am EST
In 2007, Mike Van Soelen was running public affairs firm Playbook Communications out of the spare bedroom in his Toronto home. Today, the former Conservative staffer has a team of seven, has moved into an office at Yonge and Bloor streets and has expanded with an office in Ottawa. He’s come a long way.
“It was pretty scary when you get up and your feet hit the floor in the morning and you think, ‘Where am I going to find work today?’ but it’s also very motivating,” Mr. Van Soelen, 42, toldThe Hill Times. “I’ve wanted to create a company and do something entrepreneurial for a long time. It’s been a very rewarding and exciting experience.”
Prior to starting his business, Mr. Van Soelen was the communications director to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird (Ottawa West-Nepean, Ont.) when he was at Treasury Board and Environment. While on the Hill, Mr. Van Soelen helped the Conservative government implement its Federal Accountability Act, which, when he left, subjected him to a five-year ban on lobbying the federal government.
“I thought the Federal Accountability Act was a very bold and important piece of legislation, so it had my 100 per cent support. I helped Minister Baird bring it in when we were at Treasury Board so it was very important to me to live by the letter and the spirit of that legislation,” Mr. Van Soelen said. “It has shaped what we do at Playbook because I put a very high premium on making sure we have a high ethical standard in how we approach all of our work.”
Coming off the five-year ban last August, and now a registered lobbyist, Mr. Van Soelen is a new addition to The Hill Times’ Top 100 Lobbyist List. Insiders said he is knowledgeable about the inner workings of government—both federally and in Ontario having been a staffer to Mr. Baird when he was the provincial minister of community and social services and then provincial agriculture minister Brian Coburn—and is an effective communicator.
Mr. Van Soelen holds a bachelor’s degree in history and philosophy from the University of Guelph and a master’s in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He previously worked for Environics in Toronto and attributes his experience working in two governments as the push to start his own public affairs business.
“I don’t know that I would’ve been qualified to [to create the firm without it]. Certainly having worked both federally in the Harper government and having previously worked at Queen’s Park, those are experiences instrumental in helping me shape the services and the work we do at Playbook,” he said.
Although he is based in Toronto, Mr. Van Soelen said he’s in Ottawa approximately two to three times a week. “I’m very familiar with the Toronto Island and Ottawa airports,” he joked. “It’s very easy because really the cities by plane are so close and it’s very easy to be in Ottawa whenever I need to.”
New to lobbying, but not communications or politics, Mr. Van Soelen said his style is straight up “honest counsel” from day one with clients.
“After that it’s being very willing to roll up our sleeves and get to work. I think it’s the combination of the smart counsel and the expert execution that’s key,” he said.
As an up-and-comer in the government relations industry, insiders said Mr. Van Soelen has the chops to sustain success. The Guelph, Ont., native said that’s what he intends to do. “My goal is to continue to grow and build Playbook Communications. I’m very committed to building the company and working with my clients to help them achieve their goals,” he said.
March 11th, 2013
Playbook Senior Strategist and resident policy guru Erik Waddell weighs in Senate reform in his newest article in The Hill Times. Erik presents a nuanced argument that increased transparency and new appointment structure is what is needed, not abolition. For your reading pleasure we’ve pasted the article below, but you can also read it here on The Hill Times website.
Senate needs a makeover, big time
Published: Monday, 03/11/2013 12:00 am EDT
OTTAWA—The Senate is in need of internal reform, including more transparency and a less partisan environment, but it should not be abolished.
Over the past several weeks the Upper Chamber of Parliament has taken quite a beating in terms of its public image, insofar as it had a public image to start with. If, as former prime minister Pierre Trudeau once put it, Members of Parliament are “nobodies” as soon as they step 50 yards from Parliament Hill, then Senators are nobodies as soon as they step foot outside the Senate Chamber.
This is not to say that Senators don’t do valuable work. It’s just that, as opposed to the daily televised antics of Question Period and House of Commons committee meetings, Senators work largely without fanfare behind the walls of the Senate Chamber and the East Block of Parliament Hill.
The recent whirlwind of media coverage has been a shock to the system in the Senate, unaccustomed as it is to sustained scrutiny by the fourth estate. Now, suddenly in the spotlight, the Senate is trying to prove that it deserves to continue existing.
It is becoming clear, with Senators Mike Duffy, Mac Harb, and Pamela Wallin as examples, that it doesn’t take much scratching beneath the surface to find individuals bending or breaking the rules. However this, on its own, is not enough to justify abolishing this enduring institution.
In politics, whether in the House or the Senate, there will always be scandals—both real and imagined. Steps can be taken to lessen their frequency and severity, as the Harper government did by passing the Federal Accountability Act into law.
While there may be some truth to the argument that individual cases may be symptomatic of larger problems in the Senate, a moment of sober second thought makes it clear this is not reasonable justification for dismantling a 150-year-old institution.
Truthfully, abolition of the Senate is likely impossible. The constitutional amendment it would require, which would include discarding the principle of regional representation in Parliament, is a bag of snakes into which no sitting Prime Minister would be willing to reach their hand.
What the Senate really needs is some basic internal reform on transparency and how Senate offices are managed, as well as a more fundamental change in how Senators are appointed. The former has already begun to take shape through a series of internal and external audits into expenses and residency claims. The latter, the appointment process, requires a bit of creative thinking to solve.
Luckily, a model for choosing non-partisan Senators already exists in Canada—the Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments. First created in 2010 by Prime Minister Harper to find candidates for Governor General, this committee was later given an extended mandate to oversee selection of lieutenant governors in the provinces and commissioners in the territories.
The committee consulted with hundreds of people across the country before settling on David Johnston, Canada’s current Governor General. By all accounts it was a successful, non-partisan selection process that produced an exemplary result.
Why not apply this model to filling vacant Senate seats as well? A non-partisan Advisory Committee on Senate Appointments could consult widely in regions for which there are Senate vacancies and then present to the Prime Minister a shortlist of qualified candidates willing to take on the role of regional representative in the Upper Chamber of Parliament.
As former Conservative Senator Michael Fortier lamented recently, the current Senate is extremely partisan, which is detrimental to it being able to stay above day-to-day political concerns in reviewing the effectiveness of federal legislation. It also undermines the principle of regional, as opposed to party, representation as Senators too often become government representatives to the regions rather than the regional representatives to the government they should be.
By instituting a permanent advisory committee on Senate appointments Canada could begin to move toward an Upper Chamber that embodies not only strong regional representation, but also true sober second thought free of hyper partisanship and cronyism.
Erik Waddell is a senior strategist with government relations firm Playbook Communications and a former policy advisor to President of the Treasury Board Tony Clement.
The Hill Times
November 27th, 2012
We’ve had a busy year at Playbook Communications and we’re in the midst of planning for 2013.
In reflecting on the year we’ve had, it’s clear our success comes from our team’s effortless ability to move between GR and PR projects, our ability to identify and deliver programs that can best achieve our clients’ objectives, and our commitment to delivering tangible results.
The reality is our team has been tackling an increasingly broad-range of government relations projects, covering everything from procurement to policy advocacy to profile building. And on the public relations side, our communications strategies have become increasingly integrated. While media outreach is still a cornerstone of our PR work, our programs are also employing more social media, website development and targeted advertising, than ever before. Our aggressive campaign-style approach to both GR and PR projects helps ensure we deliver meaningful results for our clients.
With success, comes growth. With this in mind, we want to begin identifying future team members. You can find our most recent posting on the careers page of the website. What might be helpful in addition to the posting, is my view on the DNA make-up of the typical Playbook team member, which I’d characterize this way:
- No. 1, our team is made up of smart people, who get stuff done.
- We are political animals. Today, we do not have a single consultant who has not worked in the political arena on some level.
- We know media. Our team is made up of many former journalists and folks with long histories of engaging media and opinion leaders.
- We are networked. Our team members’ professional experiences mean they know how to reach out to the people our clients care about most.
If you are interested in an exciting new opportunity, please take a look at the most recent posting on our careers page. If you think you possess some of the Playbook DNA, please be sure to reach out. We are committed to building a team of smart people who get stuff done!
July 23rd, 2012
In his most recent Hill Times column, Playbook team member Erik Waddell discusses the federal government’s immigration strategy and the likelyhood that a revamped Federal Skilled Worker Program is on tap before the 2015 campaign.
The full text of Erik’s article is pasted below….
Wins on the immigration file are important to the Conservative government. It’s a sure bet that delivering onthis commitment will be a priority before the 2015 election.
Published: Monday, 07/09/2012 12:00 am EDT
OTTAWA—A lot of folks in official Ottawa have been parsing the results of the last election in hopes of gaining insight into what the next democratic event will look like. While there are many different readings of the tea leaves on offer, one thing is certain—success on the immigration file will be key to Conservative election hopes in 2015.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is one of the hardest-working ministers in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Cabinet. He has overseen a number of significant reforms at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, including reducing the time necessary to process refugee applications, taking action on immigration fraud, and tackling the very serious issue of human smuggling; all this while maintaining record high immigration levels.
As Kenney and other members of the government head back to their ridings over the summer, however, there remains some fairly significant work to be done by the public servants at Immigration Canada on a number of important files.
Key among these will be delivering on a promise to implement changes to the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP). This program is intended to help find people abroad who possess skills and work experience underrepresented in the Canadian workforce, bring them to Canada, and then fast-track them to permanent residency so they can then contribute to the betterment of Canadian society and the Canadian economy.
The government has been making incremental changes to the FSWP for the past four years, largely in an effort to eliminate the massive backlog in processing applications that had dogged an otherwise good program. Thanks to Kenney and his officials, this backlog has now been dealt with and the FSWP can finally shift into high gear.
Immigration Canada plans to “create a just-in-time system that recruits people with the right skills to meet Canada’s labour market needs, fast track their immigration, and get them working in a period of months, not years.”
This is a laudable goal. There is no doubt that Kenney wants to see it met and in a timely manner. The real question is, will Immigration Canada be able to deliver?
Once Immigration Canada is made aware of what specific skill sets are lacking in Canada, immigration officials around the globe will then try and entice the right kind of worker to emigrate to the True North Strong and Free. In doing so, these officials would certainly like to rely on Canadian embassies and consulates to facilitate this work. However, with the reduction in staff and services at Canadian embassies, coupled with the recent job cuts at Immigration Canada and other departments like HRSDC, it seems reasonable to ask whether Immigration Canada has the capacity and expertise to implement a renewed skilled worker program without a backlog creeping back into the system.
After all, the key to a successful FSWP is being able to quickly identify the workforce needs, and then to quickly fill those needs.
As of July 1, 2012, Immigration Canada put a temporary stop on accepting applications for the FSWP, with the expectation that the program will be back and open for business in early 2013 after new regulations take effect. This also gives the bureaucracy a chance to try and retool its internal processes to avoid falling into the same red tape morass that bogged down this program last time around.
Wins on the immigration file are important to the Conservative government. It’s a sure bet that delivering on this commitment to a renewed and effective Federal Skilled Worker Program will be a priority before the 2015 election. Whether a promise made becomes a promise kept remains to be seen.
Erik Waddell worked as a communications and policy adviser for federal Conservative Cabinet minister Tony Clement from 2006-2012. He is now a public affairs and communications consultant.
July 3rd, 2012
We’re pleased to announce Playbook team member Erik Waddell is now a regular contributor to The Hill Times — Parliament Hill’s paper of record. For his inaugural article Erik weighs in on supply management, a sleepy policy issue catapulted to centre stage last week by Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay.
Erik’s take on the issue is pasted below for your reading pleasure….
OTTAWA—Is supply management doomed? Maybe.
Once-and-future Liberal Martha Hall Findlay set the agriculture lobby abuzz last week with the release of a paper appealing directly to the political class to put an end to supply management in Canada. Released by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, “Supply Management: Problems, Politics—and Possibilities,” is a call to action for Parliament to bring an end to the decades-long practice of domestic quotas and punishing import-tariffs in the dairy, egg, and poultry sector.
Since its release Hall Findlay has been doing the media circuit, including some lively debates on Twitter, basking in the support she is being given from some quarters, and dodging the rotten eggs being thrown at her from others.
Depending on who you ask Martha Hall Findlay is either the newest hero of sound economic and trade policy, or she is a villain of the worst sort, preying on that last bastion of true patriot love—the family farm.
Wherever you fall on that spectrum, one thing is clear—the time is right for a serious national discussion on whether supply management should be scrapped, and Hall Findlay deserves the credit for getting people talking.
The long-standing cold war between the Dairy Farmers of Canada and rival blocs like the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association has turned hot, with shots being exchanged openly and with increasing animosity as both sides sense a possible shift in the balance of opinion among senior decision makers in Ottawa.
Some of Hall Findlay’s arguments against supply management are not as strong as others. For example, her assertion that Canada won’t get into the much lauded Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade zone without abandoning supply management seems based more on generalities about negotiating tactics rather than solid evidence.
Hall Findlay also underestimates the political influence that can be wielded by the dairy farmers, and their cartel-mates in the egg and poultry business. Some 300 well-organized people in one federal riding, with money to spend and an influential national lobby organization at their disposal, can do quite a bit of damage to an unwary politician. If you then consider that supporting the family farm is a bread and butter issue for most politicians, particularly of the governing Conservative variety, it’s easy to see why rural MPs are not yet marching down to the farm to declare an end to taxpayer largesse for the cows and chickens. (Hmmm… close, but… ).
However, none of this takes away from the fact that Hall Findlay’s paper finally had politicians talking seriously about Canada’s supply management cartel and whether it has outlived its usefulness.
Although there is some disagreement on whether the price of a three litre bag of milk in Canada is actually triple that of the U.S. price or only double, what is clear is that prices of dairy, eggs, and poultry in Canada are much higher than they should be and that this price gap has widened considerably over the past decade. Is it reasonable to force millions of Canadians to pay hundreds of dollars more every year for staple foods just for the benefit of 13,000 dairy farmers?
While some may think fighting against protectionism and harmful government interference in the free market is clearly in the Conservative Party’s wheelhouse, the fact that the artificially high prices resulting from supply management amount to a regressive tax on lower-income Canadians is also the kind of policy issue that could come home to roost at NDP headquarters. It is likely that both parties will take the Parliamentary summer break to think hard on their official supply management policies.
One thing is certain: rural MPs from all parties will be getting an earful from their constituents as they do the barbecue and county fair circuit this summer.
Erik Waddell worked as a communications and policy adviser for federal Conservative Cabinet minister Tony Clement from 2006-2012. He is now a public affairs and communications consultant.
The Hill Times
June 18th, 2012
As we mentioned last week, we’re thrilled to have Erik Waddell join our team. The Hill Times, a must read for anyone in federal politics, wrote a piece about Mr. Waddell coming aboard in this week’s Hill Climbers column. As it’s behind a paywall, we’ve pasted Erik’s portion of the column below….
Waddell now working for Playbook Communications
Erik Waddell, previously a senior policy adviser to Treasury Board President Tony Clement, is now working as a senior strategist for public affairs at public relations and affairs agency Playbook Communications, a hotbed of former Hillites and other political staffers.
Mr. Waddell’s last day in Mr. Clement’s office was May 4—Star Wars day (May the fourth be with you), as Mr. Waddell playfully pointed out to Hill Climbers—and he was quickly soon after snapped up by Playbook Communications, where he began working on June 4. The agency announced his addition on June 11.
Mr. Waddell—who was born and raised in Ottawa, in addition to studying both his bachelor and master of political science at Carleton University—is working out of Playbook’s Ottawa office in the former CBC offices on the seventh floor of the Fairmont Château Laurier Hotel.
Former Hill staffer Mike Van Soelen founded the company in 2007, and now serves as president of the agency, which also has offices in Toronto. Mr. Van Soelen served as director of communications to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in 2006 and part of 2007, when Mr. Baird served as Environment minister and Treasury Board president, respectively.
“We’ve got a good team of people here, colleagues from all three levels of government—federal, provincial, municipal—who have worked on campaigns big and small…I’ve had a lot of experience in communications work in the last several years as well as policy development, and now I’m getting to use those skills in a new way,” said Mr. Waddell.
Mr. Waddell cut his communications chops as a media analyst at the Privy Council Office, where he began working in May 2004. Come the 2006 federal election, Mr. Waddell was hired on to work in then Health minister Mr. Clement’s political office as his press secretary.
“I’d been a political nerd for so many years that I jumped at the chance to join a political office when the opportunity arose and it’s something I’ve never regretted. Working for Tony was a great experience,” said Mr. Waddell.
Though short stints and high rotations are common among political staffers on Parliament Hill, Mr. Waddell stayed with Mr. Clement for a number of years and through a number of Cabinet shuffles. In 2008, Mr. Waddell was promoted to serve as director of Parliamentary affairs and issues management to then Industry Minister Mr. Clement. In January 2010, Mr. Waddell became Mr. Clement’s director of communications, but almost a year later was shuffled to serve as senior policy adviser to the then minister of industry. When Mr. Clement was shuffled into the Treasury Board portfolio in May 2011, Mr. Waddell stayed on to serve in the same role.
“He’s a really smart, dedicated politician. He’s passionate about what he’s doing, passionate about Canada and Parliament, and his enthusiasm fuelled myself and I think everyone who works for him to do their best and to work hard…it was just fun to be a part of a team working for a minister who’s really trying to make a difference,” said Mr. Waddell.
But after six years of working on the Hill, Mr. Waddell told Hill Climbers that he felt the time had come to move on.
“I’ve done a few tours of duty and I’ve had a really good experience as a ministerial staffer, but there comes a time when you just need to move along and pursue new things, so I decided to strike out into new territory,” said Mr. Waddell.
While Mr. Waddell said he wouldn’t rule out returning to work as a staffer on the Hill “some years down the line,” he said that right now, he’s happy where he is. That said, Mr. Waddell said there are some things he’ll miss about working on Parliament Hill.
“I’ll miss some of my colleagues. I built some really good relationships with some great people over the years…when you’re a Hill staffer, you’re often too busy to stop and look around and see where you are, to realize that you’re walking up to Parliament Hill every day to work, and I’ll miss being able to sort of stop and look around the halls in Centre Block or East Block and sort of drink that all in, in those brief moments where you get to pause and look around and realize where you are,” said Mr. Waddell.
June 11th, 2012
Find a job you like and you add five days to every week.
~ H. Jackson Brown
Playbook Communications is thrilled to announce a new addition to the team: Erik Waddell has come on board as Senior Strategist for Public Affairs.
So who is this Erik chap? Let us tell you a bit about him….
Ottawa born and raised, Erik has spent a lifetime getting to know every corner of Canada’s capital, most recently through eight years of experience working within the federal government. Beginning as a media analyst at the Privy Council Office in 2004 he then moved to Health Canada to take on a new role as Press Secretary to the Minister of Health in 2006. He managed media relations for the newly minted Minister for over a year before being promoted, in 2007, to Director of Parliamentary Affairs and Issues Management.
In this new position Erik managed a focused team of professionals to develop and implement strategic plans for key Parliamentary issues, including preparation for daily Question Period, introduction and management of government legislation, and managing the work of Parliamentary Committees. Erik performed this role first at Health Canada, and then later at Industry Canada following a cabinet shuffle.
In 2009 Erik was promoted to Director of Communications for the Minister of Industry, where he developed and implemented communications plans and provided strategic advice on high-profile issues including the government’s Economic Action Plan, the government’s work with Canada’s automotive sector, the reforms to federal Copyright legislation, and played a key role in the government’s handling of the Investment Canada Act and the BHP Billiton bid for Potash Corp.
In late 2010 Erik took on new responsibilities as the Minister of Industry’s Senior Policy advisor, with responsibility for a number of files including telecommunications and wireless spectrum management; the CRTC; Canada’s Digital Economy Strategy; the Canadian aerospace industry; the automotive industry in Canada; military procurement; and foreign investment and the Investment Canada Act. Erik continued in his policy role when he moved to Treasury Board in 2011, where he gained expertise in regulatory reform, cyber security, open government and expenditure management.
Basically, Erik has what we like to call the Playbook DNA. He gets government, he gets communications and he is a pleasure to work with.
Please join us in welcoming Erik to our growing team. If you’d like to get in touch with Erik, or congratulate him on his excellent judgement in joining Playbook, you can reach him at erik (at) playbookcommunications (dot) com.
June 6th, 2012
Just last week Playbook had its Spring 2012 team meeting at our Toronto office. We had a great afternoon brainstorming new business strategies and future blog posts. (Stay tuned, there was a lively debate about the value of blogging about political strategy and parliamentary procedure.)
The Playbook team capped off the day with some after hours socializing. And while what happens at Playbook meetings stays at Playbook meetings, we did want to share this team photo with you.