The year 2011 was a year in which Western democracies cheered as we watched the power of special interest groups and social media topple one Middle Eastern dictatorship after another. Street persons removed Heads of Government who had, for a lifetime, held office without regard for the desires and needs of the population.
In 1974 there were 13 special-interest groups that tried to influence the Canadian government. By the year 1993 that number had swollen to near 100 and today there are literally thousands of special-interest groups.
Groups with special interests do a lot of good. They help to focus the public on an issue, raise awareness on matters of concern and mobilize citizens and governments into action. Such groups however, can reflect some distorted objectives. Often, to get attention, they project the extreme rather than the practical. They usually micro-focus on their single issue and do not reflect on the nation as a whole.
A few special-interest groups do undertake pure research and are directed by the results, but most advocacy groups do library research and put the favorable studies on the right side of their desk and the unfavorable ones on the left and then throw the left side away. In short, they only advance those positions that favor their predetermined issue and solution.
It is normal for any special-interest group to seek perfection. A variety of groups may advocate for perfect health care, protection against violence, the removal of plastic products, save the seals, save the fish, ban hunting, and protect native rights. These might be worthy causes except there isnt a nation in the world that has a tax base that will meet thousands of varying groups notions of perfection. Moreover, some groups are in direct conflict with others in their advocacy. Additionally, many advocacy groups are locally based such that what they advance for their region, religion, community, language or culture may be considered harmful elsewhere.
This is why advocacy groups need to be watched with cautious regard as they advance their interest and their demand for financing or action as they may very well disrupt the noble objectives of others.
In the case of the Northern Gateway pipeline it is easy to understand that those along the pipeline route, and others, would, and should, have a concern for environmental damage, but they have likely left unstudied the advances in pipeline technology over the past thirty years and the fact that China is today the nation that does the greatest damage to our worlds environment.
A project that stands to create huge opportunities for employment and generate between 80 and 100 trillion dollars of financial benefit across the lifetime of the project allowing the financial capacity required to care for so many other worthy causes needs to be part of the balance.
Balance is a democratic requirement and advocacy groups are too singularly focused to seek the compromise required for balance to occur. Advocacy groups are great for starting debate but seldom do they create a finished idea. Advocacy groups have their place, their rights and they should be heard; but they are not a mechanism for balancing national needs, giving consideration to other regions, finding the available capital and determining the priorities of a nation whole.
Advocating is a part of democracy and democracy is a blended collection of advocated ideas.
Arnold Malone, Invermere