Interest Groups and Parliamentary Committees: Leveling the Playing Field

Interest Groups and Parliamentary Committees: Leveling the Playing Field

Parliamentary committees in Canada are undeniably important resources for interest groups – particularly in terms of gaining information, articulating one’s message on public record, and establishing oneself as a legitimate stakeholder in the eyes of politicians, government and the public. However, one of the intended functions of standing committees — to serve as a venue for non-governmental influence on policy — has largely proved to be a canard in Canada’s House of Commons. The first part of this article prioritizes the challenges facing non-governmental actors who wish to exert policy influence through parliamentary committees. It asserts that standing committees’ function of carrying out studies has more surmountable challenges than the function of legislative reviews. The second part of the article emphasizes that two developments are imperative in order to realize the potential committee studies hold: first, the open-ended nature of studies and the inadequacy of follow-up mechanisms should be addressed (with the scope of questions designed to feed into a pipeline of future legislative activity wherever feasible), and second, long-overdue accountability mechanisms should be introduced to ensure that the government responds to committee reports upon request.