Lobbying for democracy: Interest groups in Canada’s parliamentary system

Date created: 
Interest groups
Government accountability
Democratic representation
Legislative studies
Public policy
Political behaviour
Political communication

Political scientists have long been interested in how interest groups influence policy—especially the information they provide to elected officials. In the American presidential system and in European consensus-parliamentary systems, information is increasingly understood as a subsidy from groups to their allies in the legislature. However, in majoritarian parliamentary systems (i.e. “Westminster” countries), such a perspective remains underdeveloped. The central motivation of this project is to understand how interest groups use information to intervene in the Westminster policy process. As an empirical case, I focus on a prominent majoritarian parliament: Canada. I generate quantitative evidence from three original datasets. First, I use aggregated Canadian lobbying registrations spanning fifteen policy areas from 1990-2009. Second, I use a dataset of 41,619 individual-level lobbying records from the House of Commons between 2010 and 2017. Third, I use a large dataset of committee utterances by Canadian parliamentarians and witnesses between 2006 and 2018, totalling 1.09M utterances. I present three major findings. First, lobbying from “cause” groups—representing diffuse interests like climate change—strengthens government responsiveness to public opinion. Lobbying from “sectional” groups—representing industry and professional associations— has no observable effect. Second, interest groups are more likely to communicate with government frontbenchers than with opposition or backbench members. This gap diminishes as agenda control diffuses to the opposition (i.e. during minority government). Third, interest groups—although nominally non-partisan—talk about policy issues in much the same way as partisan elected officials. Although we might expect legislative committees to help parliamentarians find common ground, the evidence suggests they often provide a venue for rival parties to learn about and develop competing issue frames.

Document type: 
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes. Copyright remains with the author.
Senior supervisor: 
Mark Pickup
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Political Science
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.