Governing under Pressure: The Special Interest Groups: 14th National Seminar


281 pages
ISBN 0-919400-97-3




Edited by A. Paul Pross
Reviewed by Arthur M. Goddard

Arthur M. Goddard taught in the Department of Political Science at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C.


This publication consists of five papers and a summary of discussion from the National Seminar of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada on “Governing Under Pressure: The Special Interest Groups” held on October 5-7, 1981, in Montebello, Quebec. The purpose of the seminar was to examine interest groups in Canada, the changing environment and role, their pressures on the executive, their participation in the legislative process and the future options for their involvement in the collective management of the state, economy, and society. The articles are in their original English or French version and the summary is in both French and English.

The following five papers are included: Khayyam Z. Paltiel discussing the changing environment and role of special interest groups; the J. Hugh Faulkner and Sally M. Weaver papers discussing issues raised by “pressuring the executive”; James Gillies and Jean Pigott looking at problems and opportunities presented by participation in the legislative process; and Dominique Clift on options available for the future.

The Paltiel paper argues that Canada has experienced an explosion of pressure group intervention in the policy process and the state itself is the progenitor and prime mover in both the fostering of intervention and the formation of the groups. “Etatisme,” this approach argues, is inspired from within the machinery of government, but must be buttressed and made legitimate by individuals and groups that are part of the general public — hence the emergence of bureaucratic patronage and the fostering of supportive interest groups in Canada. While there could be disagreement over the nature of this relationship between pressure groups and the state, few would disagree with the Gillies-Pigott paper that political parties and consequently Parliament had diminished in importance in the policy process. The explanation can be found in the vastly expanded activities and influence of the executive and the bureaucracy. The Faulkner paper sees this centralization of power in a positive light, while Gillies and Pigott see it as a threat to ministerial responsibility and accountability because the long-standing lines of communication between interests and policy-makers have been disrupted. A clear illustration of this is provided by Sally Weaver’s account of the National Indian Brotherhood failure to work with the cabinet committee system. The N.I.B. was simply ill-equipped to handle consultations of this sort. The solution, at least for Gillies and Pigott, is to make Parliament relevant to the process once again.

The final paper, by Dominique Clift, presents an essentially pessimistic interpretation of the “slow mutation affecting the state in Canada.” Clift assents that the Canadian state is now dominated by its “dynamic element,” the public service, which coopts those elements (groups, businesses, parties) that it can, and destroys those that oppose it. The result is a state in which “the kind of consensus that guides contemporary society comes not from the people, but is sponsored by the state itself.” It’s a pessimistic view, to say the least. As a whole, while the book suffers from disjointedness, I would recommend it for the more sophisticated reader and for those having a specialized interest in the increasingly important role interest groups play in Canadian society.


“Governing under Pressure: The Special Interest Groups: 14th National Seminar,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,