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PSCI 2002B/Q – Canadian Political Environment
Final Essay - 2016/03/24
Ludovica Chiappini #101028674
THE POSITIVE CONTRIBUTION OF INTEREST GROUPS TO CANADIAN
POLITICS: HOW REGULATION DEFEATS THE NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES OF
In every functioning democracy interest groups are ubiquitous and the range of interests
represented covers virtually every aspect of human experience. The myriad organizations
concerning issues as antithetical as abortion and nuclear power link the individuals to public
institutions and seek to influence public policies1. Nonetheless, interest groups engagement with
policy is a debatable phenomenon in pluralistic societies and there are enduring scholarly
discussions whether these groups are positive or negative for the political process of a country.
This paper centers on the role of interest groups in the Canadian democracy and their correlation
with its political system. It lies on the table the ensuing research questions: do they contribute
positively to Canadian policy-making? How important is the regulation of interest group agents in
influencing their role in Canadian politics? Despite the limitless confusion surrounding the
argument, the essay’s response is distinct: interest groups play a positive role in Canadian politics
due to the presence of a specific lobbying regulation that enhances the potential benefits of their
actions, ensuring transparency, accountability and legitimacy in the political process.
The first section of the paper examines the main queries made by academics about the inherent
nature of interest groups and their positive or negative contribution to the policy-making process.
As a result of the literature review, the paper assumes that interest groups have a neutral
connotation and they are potentially harmful or useful depending on the specific political
environment. Based on such premises, the second section focusses on the Canadian political
framework presenting the major arguments that demonstrate how the Canadian context is
particularly suited to observing interest groups playing a useful role. Primarily, the inherent
1 Lehman Schlozman, Kay. "Interest Groups." International Encyclopedia ofthe Social & Behavioral Sciences
(Second Edition),Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, USA. 2015 Elsevier Ltd., 368-70.
tendency to compromise entrenched in the Canadian multiculturalism is brought up. Secondly, the
paper presents the Lobbying Act adopted by the Canadian government as the crucial vector that
enables the beneficial interest group involvement in the policy formulation. To strengthen this
argument, the essay highlights the key elements of the Act and it discusses the approval of the
Product Containing Mercury Regulations to illustrate how the transparent and regulated
interaction among several interest groups allow them to contribute positively to the Canadian
politics. Successively, the third part provides a further evidence to support the paper statement
carrying out a counterfactual analysis with the unregulated Italian political ecosystem. The recent
Expo 2015 scandal and the negative interference of the Italian gambling industry in the policy
formulation are examined as case studies to point out the harmful impact of interest groups on a
non-transparent political framework. Finally, the conclusions will be drawn in the last section.
The inherent neutral character of interest groups
The idea of interest groups is highly controversial and scholars have not yet found a persuasive
thinking whether these groups are inherently positive or negative for the political process. To cut
through the fog surrounding the nature of interest groups, it is useful to frame the analysis
unearthing the two main interpretations: Stanbury’s sceptic view of self-interested groups2 and
Montpetit’s assumption of outward-looking organizations3.
Concisely, Stanbury’s proposition is that politician, public servants and citizens should be
sceptical of the interest groups always advocating policies that award collective benefits. Actually,
the evidence is that greatest utility usually accrues to the members of the group and not to the
2 Stanbury, W. T. "A Sceptic's Guide to the Claims of So-called Public Interest Groups." Canadian Public
Administration/Administration Publique Du Canada Canadian Public Admin 36, no. 4 (1993): 580-605.
3Montpetit E. “Are Interest Groups Useful or Harmful? Take Two”. In J. Bickerton and A.G. Gagnon (eds.), Canadian
Politics. Sixth Edition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014.
overall community. In fact, interest groups “dress themselves in the clothes of altruism”4 while
seeking to influence the government to benefit their members at the expense of the others. Their
real nature is being intolerant of other expressed desires aiming to overcome different interests
rather than to achieve compromises. In essence, Stansbury assumes that interest groups are
inherently negative for the policy-making process. Indeed, they divide the society and obstruct the
realization of an appropriate balance of interests in the final policy. Oppositely, Montpetit defines
interest groups as “organizations created to facilitate the collective action of members who share
interests and ideas with the objective of making a contribution to policy making”5. He claims that
these actors are not strictly motivated by narrow material interests, rather they are driven by the
desire to contribute ideas and expertise in the political process. Hence, according to Montpetit’s
view, interest groups have a positive outward-looking nature. They play a useful role putting their
expertise and knowledge at the service of the policy formulation.
These two antithetical assumptions are the mirror of an endless debate that attempts to categorize
interest groups into saviors or destroyers of the democratic policy-making process without
considering the countless shades. In contrast, the paper embraces a less binding interpretation.
Interest groups serve as intermediaries between individuals and policy makers and they all perform
certain ordinary functions such as providing information and assisting public officers in designing
policy, seeking to persuade policy makers to a preferred course of action. Despite the widely shared
functions, their capacity to penetrate the political system, the techniques used to influence and the
consequences of their action on the policy-making process vary substantially depending on the set
of regulations established to manage the interaction between interest groups and governments in a
4 P.J. O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991): 186,187, 193-94.
5 Montpetit, “Are Interest Groups Useful or Harmful? Take Two”: 331.
specific political system6.
Hence, these fluctuations of interest groups behaviors lead reasonably to assume that they are
not positive or negative under any circumstance. Instead, they have an inherent neutral connotation
and the political environment of a country has a pivotal role in shaping their impact. Indeed,
Interest groups play a negative role in the policy-making process when they seek to increase their
utility at the expenses of other expressed desires being intolerant and trying to overcome them.
Thus, the public policies are the outcome of narrow interests. On the contrary, interest groups
contribute positively to the policy process when they put their ideas, expertise and knowledge at
the service of problem-solving, aiming to public policies based on an appropriate balance of
interests. To conclude, their configuration depends on the political environment in a country and
its capacity to define their performance through regulations.
The Canadian political environment: the useful contribution of interest groups to the policy
Considering the above-mentioned conclusions, it is essential to inspect the specific political
environment of a country in order to evaluate the harmful or useful role of interest groups in its
politics. Therefore, the paper reflects on the Canadian political framework and on the traits that
prove the pertinence of the Canadian context to observe the useful role of the interest groups. In
particular, it draws the attention on two features of the Canadian political landscape: a cultural-
oriented pattern, the multiculturalism, and a more normative-oriented one, the Canadian lobbying
1.Canadian Multiculturalism: the inherent tendency to compromise
Canada stands out to be a “multicultural society”. Ideologically, multiculturalism consists of a
6 Lehman Schlozman, Kay. "Interest Groups.": 368.
“relatively coherent set of ideas and ideals pertaining the celebration of Canada’s cultural
diversity”7 . The pluralism is the essence of the Canadian identity. Hence, the ethos of a
multinational state with linguistic-cultural divides has relevant implications for the way Canada
and its people use to deal with the diversity. For instance, English Canadians have to share their
federation with Québécois who are less attached to a pan-Canadian prospective. For their part,
French Canadians had to accept the compromise of a less developed version of nationalism. In
essence, Canadian multiculturalism leads to an inherent tendency to compromise entrenched in its
This attitude partially shaped the inclination of interest groups in participating in the policy-
making process. They have a bias towards differences tolerating them and aiming to achieve an
appropriate balance of interests that should be taken into account in the final policy. Indeed,
Canadian public policies are potentially the outcome of multiple special interests and groups do
not divide the society having traditionally an inclination to think that neither side can fully achieve
its objectives. Although multiculturalism is a relevant nudge to encourage the constructive
participation of interests in the political process, a mere cultural attitude is not enough to be a
justification. In fact, it is the strict lobbying regulation adopted by the Canadian government that
encourages the beneficial impact of interest groups on the Canadian political environment.
2.The pivotal role of lobbying regulation in giving a positive name to interest groups in Canada
The absence of interest groups public visibility threatens the democratic policy process allowing
the most influential representatives of interests to have the liberty to take advantage of their power
7 Dewing, M. “Canadian Multiculturalism” (Background Paper). Library of Parliament, Publication No. 2009-20-E.
15 September 2009. Revised 14 May 2013.
8 Resnick, P. "Canada: A Different North American Society?" Inroads no. 14 (Winter, 2004): 98-106.
to persuade the government. Before 1989, the secrecy surrounding anonymous interest agents and
their closed-door negotiations with the public office holders were contributing to the erosion of
Canada encouraging bribery, deceits and falsification of information. The unregulated agency of
interest groups was a reason of the consistent number of political scandals and “private-gain”
policies9. Hence, the Canadian government decided to adopt The Lobbyists Registration Act that
came into force on September 30, 1989. It set basic requirements for the registration of lobbyists,
including their commitment providing information about themselves and the subject of their
Over the years, several improvements have been achieved in line with the purpose to ensure the
ethically correct behavior of interest groups enhancing the integrity, objectivity and impartiality
of government decision-making. Finally, The Lobbying Act was approved on July 2, 2008
improving the accountability of the interest agents and the legitimacy of the Government. It
enforces equal opportunities to access public offices stimulating the participation of different
voices to the public decisions. The Act provides for the presence of a public register of interest
groups, entrusted to a super partes authority (Commissioner of Lobbying); the public disclosure
of legislative process; the commitment of both MPs and interest groups to publish the details of
meetings. Indeed, lobbyists are required to disclose certain information regarding their
communications with public office holders (DPOHs). DPOHs, for their part, are required to
confirm to the Commissioner the reliability of the information submitted by lobbyists. Moreover,
The Lobbying Act includes the guarantee of access to any documents and products of public
administration and regulates the phenomenon of revolving doors through the introduction of
9Gatner, J. "In Pursuit of Public Opinion: Politics of Pressure Groups." Canada:Canadian Regional Review 3, no. 3
(September 1980): 32-36.
10 "The Lobbying Act." Government of Canada, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying. Accessed March 15,
cooling-off period meaning a post-employment prohibition on lobbying for five years that is
imposed on all former DPOHs. Finally, monetary penalties and imprisonment for a term not
exciding two years are established for lobbyists who are found guilty of violating the requirements
of the Lobbying Act11.
Since the introduction of such strict lobbying regulation, interest groups have been limited
to act harmfully in the Canadian democracy. According to the official statistics, the control of
corruption in Canada - one of the worldwide governance indicators that “reflects the perceptions
of the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain as well as capture of the state by
elites and private interests” - is at 97%12. Higher values correspond to better governance outcomes.
This means that Canada is ranked as one of the best countries in terms of corruption control and
good governance. Indeed, starting from 1989, the Canadian political environment practically
creates the conditions to stimulate the potential benefits of interest groups promoting transparency,
accountability and legitimacy in the policy making process and increasing the possibility that all
interests could be taken into consideration without any preferences. The statistics confirm that
interest groups play a positive role in Canadian politics and that the lobbying regulation is the
pivotal trait in giving them a positive name.
A concrete example of how the transparent and regulated interaction among several interest
groups play a positive role in the Canadian policy-making process is the approval of the Products
Containing Mercury Regulations. Coming into force on November 8, 2015, it prohibits the
manufacture and import of products containing mercury or any of its compounds. Some
exemptions occur for products which have no technically or economically feasible alternatives.
11 Lobbying Act,§ R.S., 1985, c. 44 (4th Supp.), s. 1; 2006, c. 9, s. 66. (July 2, 2008).
12 "Corruption by Country / Territory." Transparency International. Accessed March 15, 2016.
For instance, in the case of lamps, rather that prohibit, the regulations limit the amount of mercury
contained in fluorescent and other types of lamps13.
Without going into issues concerning the legislation, the attention of the paper is
concentrated on the positive role interest groups played in achieving the policy and how the
transparent structure of the relations between them and the Government helped. In fact, the
political outcome, as inferable from the content of the regulation, is a perfect compromise between
the interests of the environmentalists and health associations and the ones of the business
stakeholders. The balance is in the prohibition of the manufacture and import of products
containing mercury due to their detrimental impact on individuals’ health and the environment
while excluding some products which do not have other economically viable alternatives than
being made of mercury. In this manner, the economic downturn of the industries involved is
Thus, the achievement of the representation of all interests in a political decision through
the compromise is feasible in Canada. The reason lies in the institutional practices that envisage
public consultations with all the stakeholders14 allowing interest groups to publicly put their
expertise and knowledge at the service of the policy makers. The presence of rules that
circumscribe the activity of interest group agents and guarantee the transparency of the policy-
making process is the key point to avoid political corruption and the dominance of the wealthiest
groups of interest. The validity of this argument is further demonstrated through the counterfactual
scenario of an unregulated ecosystem such the Italian one. As presented in the following
13 Products Containing Mercury Regulations, § SOR/2014-254 (November 7, 2014).
paragraph, the impact of interest groups on this environment is detrimental and antithetical to the
The unregulated Italian political ecosystem
The Italian political environment suits to observe interest groups playing a negative role. Italy has
always identified political parties the only entities responsible for representing the interests of the
society. This feature undermined the role of interest groups in the policy-making process and
recognized them as external entities. Indeed, they used to act behind the public scenes. Yet, the
cultural attitude is not sufficient to justify their negative role. It is the lack of a specific lobbying
regulation the essential reason.
Even though almost 50 draft laws15 have been presented to the parliament since the
beginning of the Republic in 1946, no regulation has been passed. Hence, the political framework
in Italy does not embrace any compulsory register of lobbying, any reporting requirement or public
disclosure from the lobbyists. Also, public sector representatives, for their part, are not required to
disclose information on their contacts with stakeholders. In particular, everything remains opaque
when the law is in a draft version. Likewise, when the law passes through the Parliamentary
Commissions, there is no track record of the procedures. Finally, equal participation in decision-
making is not properly enforced. Indeed, the consultations are used discretionally and there is no
guarantee that all interest groups potentially affected by the legislative proposal would be heard16.
In this unregulated landscape, it is not reasonable to assume that the political decisions are
achieved after copious discussions where all groups bring their expertise and contribute to the
policy-making process. In absence of a specific lobbying regulation, interest groups meet the
15 Del Monte,D., C. Putaturo, G. Fraschini, and S. Ferro. "Lobbying and Democracy: Representing Interests in Italy,
Transparency International Report, November 2014." Transparency International Report,November 2014.
16 Petrillo, P. L. Democrazie Sotto Pressione: Parlamenti E Lobby Nel Diritto Pubblico Comparato.Milano:
policy makers informally and engage in closed-door negotiations, encouraging the practice of a
lobbying based on personal relations rather than official procedures and public communications.
An example of this practice relates to vicissitude of the Universal Exposition (Expo) held
in Milan in 2015. The scandal involves a group of interest made up of former politicians who relied
on networks built in the past to create informal connections between companies and public officers
working in the Expo 2015 area 17 . This interest group prevailed above the others in the
governmental negotiations due to the lack of a revolving door normative.
The negative interference of the Italian gambling industry in the policy formulation is
another practical example of the harmful impact of interest groups on a non-transparent political
framework. The sector is linked to politics through funds and revolving doors practices. Several
politicians are involved in the gambling sector and a case regarding slot machines appeared in the
news in December 2013. It concerned a decree law aimed at introducing financial measures to
reduce the debt of local administrations. Nonetheless, an amendment was silently introduced to
the decree. The aim of this favoritism action was to reduce funds to those regions and
municipalities that restrict gambling. A public track record of the meetings held with lobbyists
would have discouraged the negative involvement of the gambling industry in the legislative
process. Furthermore, for both the gambling case and the Expo one, improved regulations on
revolving doors could have better avoid situations of undue influence. In essence, these cases
demonstrate how the lack of regulation on interest groups encourage the dominance of privileged
narrow interest and their harmful impact on the policy-making process. It is not surprising that the
control of corruption in Italy, according to the same statistics mentioned for Canada, is at 57%18.
17 Ibidem, 4.
18"Corruption by Country / Territory." Transparency International. Accessed March 16, 2016.
In reaction to the investigations that aim to categorize the nature of interest groups as inherently
positive or negative independently of the circumstances, the paper carried out a different approach
assuming that the character of interest groups is neutral and their connotation is influenced by the
political and institutional context in which they operate. In line with this assumption, the paper has
observed the specific Canadian political environment. Furthermore, it has presented a
counterfactual analysis with the unregulated Italian ecosystem highlighting the different role
interest groups have in this context. Finally, the paper proved that interest groups play a positive
role in Canadian politics. They make their interests, expertise and knowledge available to policy
makers allowing them to formulate balanced policies. Differently, the Italian ecosystem is
appropriate to illustrate the detrimental contribution of these entities.
The essay observed that the presence of interest groups regulatory measures is the
distinguishing factor in framing their role. To conclude, interest groups play a positive role in
Canadian politics due to the presence of a specific lobbying regulation that enhances the potential
benefits of their actions, ensuring transparency, accountability and legitimacy in the political
"Corruption by Country / Territory." Transparency International. Accessed March 15, 2016.
"Corruption by Country / Territory." Transparency International. Accessed March 16, 2016.
"The Lobbying Act." Government of Canada, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying.
Accessed March 15, 2016. https://lobbycanada.gc.ca/eic/site/012.nsf/eng/h_00008.html.
Del Monte, D., C. Putaturo, G. Fraschini, and S. Ferro. "Lobbying and Democracy: Representing
Interests in Italy, Transparency International Report, November 2014." Transparency
International Report, November 2014. https://www.transparency.it/wp-
Dewing, M. “Canadian Multiculturalism” (Background Paper). Library of Parliament,
Publication No. 2009-20-E. 15 September 2009. Revised 14 May 2013.
Gatner, J. "In Pursuit of Public Opinion: Politics of Pressure Groups." Canada: Canadian
Regional Review 3, no. 3 (September 1980): 32-36.
Lehman Schlozman, Kay. "Interest Groups." International Encyclopedia of the Social &
Behavioral Sciences (Second Edition), Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, USA. 2015 Elsevier
Ltd., 368-70. http://ac.els-cdn.com.proxy.library.carleton.ca/B9780080970868930587/3-s2.0-
Lobbying Act, § R.S., 1985, c. 44 (4th Supp.), s. 1; 2006, c. 9, s. 66. (July 2, 2008).
Montpetit E. “Are Interest Groups Useful or Harmful? Take Two”. In J. Bickerton and A. G.
Gagnon (eds.), Canadian Politics. Sixth Edition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014.
P.J. O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores (New York: Atlantic Montly Press, 1991): 186,187, 193-
Petrillo, P. L. Democrazie Sotto Pressione: Parlamenti E Lobby Nel Diritto Pubblico
Comparato. Milano: Giuffrè, 2011.
Products Containing Mercury Regulations, § SOR/2014-254 (November 7, 2014).
Resnick, P. "Canada: A Different North American Society?" Inroads no. 14 (Winter, 2004): 98-
Stanbury, W. T. "A Sceptic's Guide to the Claims of So-called Public Interest Groups."
Canadian Public Administration/Administration Publique Du Canada Canadian Public Admin
36, no. 4 (1993): 580-605.