Went to Victoria, BC this week to meet with regulators about a mine we are working for. Met with staff from the Ministry of Energy and Mines and staff from the environmental ministry. A great meeting. They were attentive to our presentations, asked penetrating questions, made intelligent comments, and impressed me.
This is but the second time in Victoria and the first meeting the BC mining regulators. Don’t know what the Fraser Institute says of the ease of dealing with regulators in BC, but on the basis of a single interaction, I say that if you have your story well prepared and skillfully presented, the BC folk are the best I have every come across.
For we worked hard to prepare our story. We culled excess words; arrange and rearranged the slides that tell our complex story; and sought to get to the heart of the issues fast & furious.
My points are those that I have learnt again and again over forty years of interacting with regulators:
- Be well prepared.
- Have good information.
- Tell only the truth.
- Be brutally honest—I had to intervene when the congenial meeting instinct was to deny and I had to say “It will fail in the goodness of time, but there is a way to respond.”
- Warn your client before-hand of what can be asked and what can go wrong–in our case they asked for things we had not prepared, but the client was well prepared with a proper and honest answer.
I have dealt with regulators for forty years. On the UMTRA Project we interacted with the folk from the Nuclear Regulatory Agency. Tough but super-informed, and we did a better job in response. We dealt with ten state agencies. Highly variable in skill; but all sincere and eager to listen and learn.
I have dealt with the U.S. EPA. She was large but super-bright. She turned to me and said: “Jack. I hear you. I trust you. Now make it happen. But never forget if you are wrong and it does not work, that I have the power and will come down hard.” We exceeded her expectations and our clients were happy—although they paid a lot for our expertise.
The fact is that it is expensive to interact with regulators. You have to do the analyses; prepare the slides; compile the reports; shave away the superfluous; hone the message; prepare the presenters; and be relaxed and happy the day of the meeting. This takes time, effort, and expertise. The young and bold have to be tamed. The garrulous shortened and shut up. The client advised to be discrete and sincere. And you have to be super-prepared.
In our meeting this week, the regulators noted that what we were telling them is not what previous consultants had told them. We could not say the obvious: that previous, cheaper consultants had been wrong for a variety of reasons ranging from ignorance, sloppy intellect, bad thinking, and ignorance, to prejudice. So we shook our heads and groaned. The regulators knew what we were telling them, for they knew—the regulators are inevitably smarter and better informed than the average consultant cares to admit.
This is but the beginning of the story for this project. But I am sure it will play out as previous similar stories in the USA and most recently in Guatemala. Make sure that you, as a consultant, believe in the project and its approach; make sure the client supports you; and approach the regulators as intelligent moral folk. It works, I guarantee.