Here is a very interesting document from the Max Bell Foundation which outlines some of the difficulties and opportunities for Canadian charities and NGOs to engage in more meaningful and effective public policy discussions.

Canada’s Voluntary Sector and Public Policy by Max Bell Foundation.  It was prepared by Allan Northcott
Here is the link:
http://www.maxbell.org/sites/default/files/FINAL%20REPORT%20-%20VSO%20AND%20PUBLIC%20POLICY%20SYMPOSIUM.pdf

Here are a few quick excerpts that I found interesting but I would recommend people read the whole report if you are interested in the topic:

“And there was a clear consensus that the benefits of government-VSO collaboration significantly outweigh the risks. For Canadian society as a whole, such collaborations represent an opportunity to reinvigorate democracy, to engage citizens in a deeper understanding of the choices and trade-offs facing their governments, and to develop and fine tune policy decisions that will ultimately lead to a better society for all Canadians.”

“Rather than focus only on the final implementation of a policy choice, we need to recognize and celebrate success at each stage as appropriate. And apart from the impact of specific policy interventions, many argued that engagement itself is a success, as building trust is creating a store of political capital that can be drawn upon in the future. Organizational credibility, future willingness of decision-makers to consult, the creation of strong networks of collaborators – these are also indicators of success.”

“VSOs often struggle to see their particular policy aspirations in the larger context of competing public priorities, in the way that governments must understand issues. As a result, these same VSOs often lose patience and withdraw from the public policy field too soon.”

“VSOs frequently overlook the public service as a place to establish working partnerships with government, and as a result too often politicize their public policy issues inappropriately or prematurely.
Governments themselves are evolving such that there will be increasing need for contributions to public policy from a robust and well informed civil society.

“VSOs tend to dramatically misjudge the kinds and amount of advocacy they are able to do within current CRA guidelines. We have much more latitude than is commonly believed. Because of the enormous potential to improve Canadian society by engaging in public policy, VSOs have an obligation to inform themselves and each other.”