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Turning a Crisis Into A Major Success - the ONWA Government Relation Story

On June 7, 2018, Ontario elected 124 members of the 42nd Parliament of Ontario. The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, led by Doug Ford, won a majority government with 76 of the 124 seats in the legislature.


For many First Nation communities, organizations, and those in indigenous leadership positions, the results were deflating. Conservatives had a reputation, according to the media, as being unfriendly to First Nations, particularly to organizations like Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA). ONWA was worried as they rely heavily on funding from Ministries such as Indigenous Affairs Ontario and the Attorney General to deliver programs and services to Indigenous women in crisis.

What made things worse for ONWA decision-makers was that the Conservatives got elected on the platform of managing costs through finding efficiencies. Every organization that receives funding from the government was worried that ‘finding efficiencies’ really meant that programs and services would see cuts. 

The question remained for ONWA, how deep would those cuts be? ONWA decision-makers were justifiably worried.

Positioning ONWA in this new Conservative Government Reality

Senior ONWA leadership met with TheCCSGroup in October of 2018 and shared their concerns and fears for the future. All the obvious questions and concerns were raised leading to the most important query:

“How do we navigate this perceived crisis and convince the government to, at the very least, maintain the status quo for the organization?”

Through discussions, TheCCSGroup realized ONWA’s greatest strength is that they, and their Executive Director, Cora-Lee McGuire-Cyrette, are very outcome and results based. Cora-Lee could detail all her success metrics for each program and service they delivered and was constantly looking to improve organizational flow, reporting, metrics and overall accountability.

Proposed Messaging: Capitalizing on ONWA’s Strengths

TheCCSGroup explained that, historically, Conservatives tend to keep the status quo when it comes to the provincial and federal Indigenous Services budgets, especially if there is potential for a vulnerable group (like Indigenous Women) to slip through the service delivery gap and lead to a front page news story accusing the Conservatives of cutting services which caused losses of First Nation lives.

Secondly, if the focus is efficiency in delivering services, it is time for all senior decision-makers within the government’s political and senior bureaucratic positions to hear about ONWA’s obsession with success, accountability and results.

An investment in ONWA would get the government the best value for their dollar for First Nation services and would lead to success in areas of high interest such as trafficking women.

Engaging Provincial (Political and Bureaucratic) Decision-Makers

ONWA worked with TheCCSGroup to meet with elected officials, political staff and senior bureaucrats in the Ministries listed below with the messaging developed above:

  • Indigenous Affairs
  • Attorney General
  • Premier’s Office
  • Health and Long-Term Care
  • Children, Community & Social Services

The Results of Developing these Relationships and Speaking to Conservative Values Started with Small Successes and Eventually Led to Large Very Public Wins

The Conservative government’s first budget, aimed at Finding Efficiencies, saw a small 5% cut to ONWA’s programs. However, things started turning around after the Conservative’s released their first budget which included Ontario’s first set of announcement about the need to address Human Trafficking:

1. Ontario's Actions to Combat Human Trafficking


“The Ontario Native Women’s Association leads Ontario's Indigenous Anti-Human Trafficking Liaisons program in areas known for trafficking, as well as remote areas identified through engagements with Indigenous partners. These liaisons work with local organizations to ensure effective and culturally appropriate services are offered to Indigenous people with lived experience of human trafficking.”

As the relationship continued to deepen and ONWA was given the opportunity to expand their programs and services, they continued delivering results just as they indicated they would during their relationship building process.

Once the trust was built, the investments and support grew from the Ontario Government:

2. Minister of Children, Community and Social Services to Make an Announcement



Ontario Native Women's Association

300 Ray Blvd.

Thunder Bay, ON

The organization also saw capital investments from the government to support the agency capital infrastructure growth.

3. Advancing Accessibility in Ontario: Government to lead by example (February 2020)


“Improving community agencies across Ontario through the annual Partner Facility Renewal program, which includes an investment totaling $11.5 million that goes towards more than 350 upgrade and repair projects. This program includes an investment of more than $1.6 million for building repairs and upgrades at community agencies across northern Ontario so they can continue providing services to children and families. For example, a new elevator will be installed at Ontario Native Women's Association, helping to make the building more accessible.”

Lastly, the work that ONWA did over the years delivering outcomes, particularly their focus on priority areas of Human Trafficking and services to indigenous women on and off the reserve, was something that the Conservatives wanted to continue building and, therefore, created the following Advisory Council:

4. Ontario Announces Members of New Indigenous Women's Advisory Council Members Will Help Address Issues of Violence Affecting their Communities (June 2020)


“The Council will be co-chaired by Cora-Lee McGuire-Cyrette, Executive Director of the Ontario Native Women's Association. The other co-chair will be selected at the Council's first meeting in early July 2020.”

What’s Next for ONWA (COVID and Beyond)

1. ONWA also received $1 Million from the Ontario Government for programs and services that they delivered to their population cohort during COVID19.

2. ONWA is now using the same government relations approach with the Federal Government and has recently secured $1.53 Million for COVID19 programs and services that are being delivered to First Nation indigenous women (urban and rural) and their families during this difficult crisis.

What we can learn from the ONWA Case Study is that an organization that delivers great outcomes and is focused on assisting the governments in meeting mutual goals and objectives, such as putting an end to trafficking indigenous women, can make a huge impact for the people they serve, regardless of philosophical, political and party-line differences.

If you’re interested in having a further discussion on how <organization> can develop your own personal Government Relations strategy to achieve a similar type of success to that of ONWA, feel free to reach out to Josh or myself.

We can be reached at:

Tel: 416-944-8555 


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