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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Legitimacy through public participation in risk policy making : a case study of water quality objectives for tritium in Ontario Petersen, Fiona


The dominant social values and perceptions of the 1970s, which guided the development of institutional and procedural frameworks for risk policy making in Canada, have changed since that time. Over the last decade, the public has signalled problems with the perceived legitimacy of frameworks for risk policy making which involve closed negotiations between government and industry, and which rely heavily on the recommendations of a select group of scientific experts. Consequently, decision makers are adopting participatory policy making processes in attempts to restore public perceptions of legitimacy. This thesis examines the nature of public participation in risk policy making and evaluates the extent to which this type of approach, as it is designed in the context of a case study, addresses problems of legitimacy. On analyzing submissions from a public consultation on a drinking water guideline for tritium, it was found that decision makers failed to recognize the prevalence of legitimacy concerns, and thus did not design the process of public participation to address these issues. In employing a process of public involvement which resulted in no significant redistribution of influence over decision making, and in assuming that public concerns could be allayed by providing more technical information regarding risk assessment techniques, decision makers failed to recognize the changing social context for decision making on risk issues. If present trends in public values and perceptions continue, policy domains like that of radiation health protection, which employ closed, science-based decision processes, will be confronted with more pronounced problems of legitimacy which call for radical changes to both the social and the scientific assumptions which underlie risk policy making.

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