Defining the public interest

Apr 11, 2019 | Blog | 1 comment

I was on a panel at the College of Applied Biology conference last week. Our task was to Define the Public Interest.

The panel included Andrew Gage (Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law), Kevin Kriese (Chair, Forest Practices Board) and Jody Shimkus (VP of Environment and Regulatory Affairs, Kirk Environmental.)

It was an interesting group with a diverse set of experiences and approaches. Defining the public interest is an ever-morphing target. It’s been a big part of my pursuit as an elected official. I am always seeking the point where the interests of individuals and the interests of the collective meet. I pointed out that even in that conference room, there are 200 individuals who are unique and each have interests, while at the same time there is the collective interests of the group as a whole.

There are approximately 50,000 individuals in my riding. They each have opinions and ideas. In every decision I make, I know my constituents will fall somewhere in the range of agree to disagree and vice versa. Also, there are countless special interests in my communities, represented by collections of individuals. They also need to be factored in the decision.

Getting connected

The dictionary definition of the public interest is the “well-being of the general public; commonwealth.” That means looking out for the common health of our relationships with each other and the ecosystems that sustain us.

Serving the public interest requires a deep connection with the broad/diverse and narrow/focussed representations of my constituency. Politicians and political parties like to categorize people and ideas, name them and lump them together into big broad groups.

For decades in our province the public interest has been represented by a binary choice: either this or that. This makes the binary choice (yea or nay) of our decisions in the legislature easier. But, easier is not always better. When more voices are added to the mix, the decisions become more complex and more of the public interest is considered in the debate.

At the end of the hour long panel discussion we got about as far as I have got in this post. I’m just scratching the surface. There is so much more to explore in this issue, fodder for future posts.

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1 Comment

  1. Jason Koldewijn

    Thanks for all you, and your colleagues, of all stripes, do for the community Adam and truly appreciate the sacrifices your families give to the cause as well.

    “and the ecosystems that sustain us.” This statement here, to me, seems the most significant of the pursuit of public interests. What defines “public”? Are we considering the narrow view of human public interest, while the ecosystem continues to be a secondary thought? I wonder if we redefined the public interest to that of the ecosystem first (which, surprise surprise, includes the upright walking animals) and our specific human wants, not needs, as a secondary consideration… I wonder what would happen if we learned how to hear the votes and voices of the rest of the living world…?

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