What exactly is a special interest?

Decisions in the public interest are often hard to make. Whose interest is it anyway? No matter how we cut it, farmers would be considered a special interest group.

And among farmers, western Canadian farmers would be even more so. How about cattle producers? Then there is dairy. And hog growers. Poultry producers are few and far between. Ontario farmers are a group, but they also are split with crops, dairy and other livestock, and then there is Quebec.

When a politician — let’s take Ontario Premier Doug Ford for instance, but he is not alone — talk about not bending to special interest groups, are they speaking to you or about you?

They use this language to divide us. And it is typically conservatives who use it. So, when we hear the term, we might want to consider any comments that come with it carefully — they are likely making an “us and them” statement.

In the reporting game it’s one of those good, old-fashioned statements that tells you that, whatever the issue or perceived problem with society being raised, it is not your fault. “They did it.”

Special interests are not such a bad thing. They are any assembly of people who can coalesce around a central idea or theme of thought, lifestyle, business or activity.

However, when the term is used in the current political climate, it is often done to imply that there are only a few folks driving an agenda that will be imposed upon the majority, and that the speaker doesn’t believe that this is in the greater public’s interests, which of course, he claims to represent.

By several measures, the number of Canadians who identify themselves as progressives versus those who say they are conservatives is about two to one. So, one-third of Canadians, conservatives, should be considered a special interest.

We need to speak up for and defend special interests because they are not the majority and can easily be crushed by it. And as farmers, we need to defend and support each other and not easily allow politicians or right- or left-wing think-tanks and lobby groups to undermine us.

Whether it is access to our nation’s ports and shipping systems, defending sustainable dairy and poultry farming or ensuring that any carbon emission reduction schemes don’t unreasonably undermine our international competitiveness, we need each other to make our special interest group a little larger and better understood by the majority.

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