Prime Minister Kim Campbell has trumpeted that she stands for the politics of inclusion.  More Canadians, she says, must be brought into the political process.

Despite the rhetoric, Campbell’s real intentions appear to be to usher in an era of political exclusion.   Above all else, she wants to exclude what she calls special interest groups and all those Canadians who support such groups.

When questioned about her stated desire to invite more Canadians into party politics, she has told reporters that it is necessary, otherwise these people would join special interest groups.  In her Vancouver magazine interview Campbell arrogantly dismissed Canadians who criticize politicians and do not join political parties with her now famous “to hell with the SOBs” statement.  Campbell also supported the recently passed Gag Law which would effectively silence special interest groups during federal elections.  (That law has recently been struck down as unconstitutional by an Alberta Court).

Hundreds of thousands of Canadians participate in politics through special interest groups – organizations such as Campaign Life Coalition.  These are organizations which bring together people who share a common belief about such issues as abortion, the environment or law enforcement.

Supporters of such groups are portrayed not only by Campbell, but by many media pundits as somehow disruptive of the political process.  Regularly we hear it said that “single issue groups” threaten the democratic process or that the political process is undermined by their influence.  Participating in party politics on the other hand is portrayed by Campbell and others as meaningful participation in democracy.

Why this slavish devotion to political parties and this portrayal of special interest groups as something akin to demonic force?

The popular special interest groups are in fact an honourable and democratic way for people to affect government policy and the political process.  By “popular” I mean those groups which rely on the sheer number of their supporters to give them power.  (In contrast, there are special interest groups which act anti-democratically.  For instance, some organizations use money as the bargaining chip, and are not representing the views of a large section of the public.)

Properly motivated special interest groups profess to speak for their members only on a very limited number of issues.  Pro-life groups speak for their members only on life issues, and Greenpeace only on issues affecting the environment.  They can rightly claim to speak for their membership because their members are united on a single set of issues.

Special interest groups have the power only insofar as their membership is willing to place money, effort and votes at the service of the issues which they care deeply about.  They are not willing to abandon the constituency they represent because that constituency is built upon a single issue.  Similarly, they can’t start making political trades which sacrifice one political goal for another.

Compare this to political parties.  They pretend to represent large numbers of people and to speak on a variety of issues.  Supporters of a political party, whether they like it or not, end up supporting all that the party stands for, on a vast array of issues, even if personally they do not agree with the party’s stand.  Support for a party involves one in the abandonment of principle in the interest of expediency.

That problem is made all the greater when one considers that Canadian political parties are not guided by any deep rooted philosophy.  Support for a party does make sense where the party has a guiding philosophy which unites its stand on various issues.  In Canada, however, the major political parties decide their stands on various issues based on politically expedient considerations such as what will win an election and what will please powerful groups such as the business community.

Such is the basis of party policy and a member is considered utterly disloyal if he or she does not support the party through all its changes.  There is little to be praised in being a member of the party-faithful today as compared to being a supporter of groups such as Campaign Life Coalition.

Campbell’s position should really come as no surprise.  She is herself a creation of back-room politics.  It was the Conservative Party power brokers who decided that she would be Brian Mulroney’s successor, within days of the announcement of his resignation.  Campbell’s hostility toward special interest groups appears to be nothing other than an attempt to silence those who might disrupt the status quo by which she has so richly benefited.