UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Federal choice of policy instruments in the Canada green plan Albert, Karin H.


The Green Plan, Canada's six year environmental agenda, has now guided Canadian environmental policy for over a year and a half. In that time span, a large number of environmental initiatives have been announced under the Green Plan, and an even larger number are still promised. However, not every initiative contributes equally to preventing or abating pollution. The extent to which an initiative contributes directly to an improvement in environmental quality depends on the level of coercion of the policy instrument it employs. Initiatives which involve relatively coercive policy instruments, in particular regulatory action, are more likely to achieve their goal in the immediate future than initiatives which rely largely on persuasion such as guidelines and public education. The classification of the policy instruments in the Green Plan reveals a strong preference on the part of the federal government for non-coercive over coercive instruments. Only 13 per cent of the Green Plan initiatives involve regulatory action. The majority involve increasing capacity which means that the initiatives centre around research, studies, monitoring and plan development. The Fraser River Action Plan, a Green Plan initiative announced in June 1991, reflects the same federal preference for capacity increasing instruments as the larger Green Plan. Several variables help to explain this preference: constitutional constraints, pressure from other levels of government, opposition from industry, and environmental interest group pressure. Both the events leading up to the Green Plan and the implementation of the Fraser River Action Plan, suggest that the strongest motivating factor for the choice of policy instruments is the concern to avoid blame from the interests affected by a particular initiative. In practice, this means that the federal government is reluctant to make use of its regulatory authority to impose clean-up costs on the polluting industry. It also avoids to interfere with provincial jurisdiction over natural resources. In order to avoid blame from environmental groups and the public, who demand tighter pollution controls, the government relies on symbolic actions. Symbolic actions enable the government to show its concern but postpone pollution abatement to a later date. Federal reluctance to make use of its full constitutional authority in the area of environmental policy making combined with the large budget cuts the Green Plan has seen during its relatively short period of existence, belies the federal commitment to protecting the environment.

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