The debate on whether the Canadian interest group system has enabled those with business interests to enjoy a privileged position has continued to rage. According to many political analysts, the interest groups are increasingly being used as a tool to advance the collective interests of their members whether political or business. Consequently some of the Canadian business individuals and corporate companies have used the interest groups as a platform of lobbying for their business interests by influencing the critical decision making processes of the Canadian government. As a result of the intensive lobbying activities by some interest groups, laws and policies have been influenced to favor the corporate and business interest of the members of the particular interest groups. In some cases, the members of these groups are sometimes awarded lucrative contracts1.
According to the political theory, interest groups are primarily intended to provide an effective platform through which the individual members of a democratic country can participate in the formulation of public policies. Consequently interest groups often support the collective interests of their members 2. Although the intended role of the Canadian interest groups was to support democracy through enhanced pluralism, they have instead undermined democracy by creating resulted unfair privileges to their members. Business interests have continued to enjoy a privileged position in the Canadian interest group system sometimes at the expense of the ordinary citizens who are not represented by these interest groups.
Just like most of the other world democracies, the Canadian political system emphasizes on interest group representation where by the influence of the society on the government policies is controlled through legislations. The interest groups are usually made up of individuals who come together so as to lobby for their collective goals by influencing the government’s key decision making processes. In this regard, proponents of the interest groups argue that they provide the government with the much needed knowledge and organization for overseeing the diverse demands of the Canadian society. In most cases, the interest groups lobby their demands to the federal and state policy makers.
Although some of the Canadian interest groups are only involved in lobbying for matters of political and social benefits to the general society, most of the interest groups are associated with economic interests of their individual members. Economic association interest groups are often largely compost of professional communities and business individuals who collectively attempt to promote their collective business interests by influencing government policies to favor their business interests. For example the Canadian Manufactures Association (CMA) interest group has always successfully lobbied for the government contracts while at the same influencing the government policies to favor the collective business interest of the association 3. On the other hand however, most of the public interest groups such as the life quality groups only focus on the welfare of the collective Canadian society and therefore do not provide business privileges to their members.
Many critics of the role of the interest groups in the Canadian democracy argue that these groups have an upper hand in their lobbying and this often results in their acquisition undemocratic privileges to their members. In a situation where the business interest of these groups may be conflicting with the interest of the ordinary members of the society, the corporate interests of the lobbying often prevail as they always have connections with politicians and policy makers in the government. Additionally in most cases, some economic association interest groups have been able to use their powerful influence to access the inside knowledge of most of the government institutions and this further gives them unfair privileges to advance their business interests. On the other hand, the collective interest of the society such as the need to ensure social justice or environmental protection can be significantly undermined when the interest groups influence the policies and law to favor their corporate interests.
When the policies of the government are influenced to favor the corporate interests of particular interest groups, then it is highly likely that the other social interest may be neglected. This consequently creates tension within the society as evidenced by the recent protests and demonstrations against the ills of the Canadian interest group systems. It is also worth noting that even in the other parts of the world interest groups have been embraced, they are increasingly being opposed on the grounds that they result in unfair lobbying that help they acquire enormous privileges even at the expense of the other members of the society.
Some of the major privileges that the members of the Canadian interest groups have enjoyed include access to the inside knowledge of many decision making organs of the government as well as the privilege to use their lobbying in the protection of their business interests 4. In most cases, it is the powerful influence that these groups have which enable them to have an upper hand in the decision making processes. One of the reasons why the Canadian government has continued to support the interest group system in the country is that it is widely seen as a complement to the various inadequacies of a pluralism and multi party democracy. Finally some of the policy makers in the government usually believe that interest groups are better placed to engage in more rational economic negotiations than the ordinary members of the society. In summary business interests have always enjoyed a privileged position in the Canadian interest group system.
- Brooks S. Canadian Democracy, 6th Edition. Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 2009.
- Coleman, W., Jacek, H.. The roles and activities of business interest associations in Canada. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 1983 3(16): 257-280.
- Friedheim, D. Interest Groups as Stakeholders: Concepts and Field Techniques. Mimeo, 2000.
- Bickerton, J., Gagnon A. Canadian Politics, 5th Edition. North York: University of Toronto Press, 2009.