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Two models of multi-level governance, one model of multi-level accountability : drinking water protection in Canada and the United States Hill, Carey

Abstract

This research examines whether binding national standards produce better policy outcomes for drinking water protection. The study involves consideration of four pairs of cases, one member of each pair in Canada (absence of binding national standards) and one member of each pair in the United States (presence of binding national standards). Through consideration of matched cases in Canada and the U.S., the work makes a compelling argument for greater federal involvement in Canada in this policy area that is largely under provincial control. Three hypotheses are examined and largely supported by the research findings: (1) As a result of the addition of federal involvement in 1974, the United States offers improved drinking water protection after 1974. (2) The United States offers better drinking water protection than Canada after 1974 as a result of binding national standards in the United States. (3) U.S. cities offer greater consistency with respect to drinking water protection than the Canadian cities as a result of binding national standards. This study argues that for best results, drinking water protection benefits from multi-level accountability. Overlap and duplication can be good for policy performance. Multi-level accountability, a form of type I multi-level governance, where governments monitor other governments in a hierarchical chain of principal-agent relationships might be considered an extension of the multi-barrier approach to drinking water protection. The application of a principal-agent framework offers a more sophisticated understanding of the relationships between provincial and municipal governments within Canada. Furthermore, it highlights the degree of hidden information within the Canadian federal system as compared with the U.S. federal system. It also helps identify why binding national standards improve policy performance. The capability of the U.S. federal model to offer enhanced drinking water protection turns on the distance of the federal government from the costs and the proximity of the state government to the local government agent. The study argues that federal involvement matters for policy performance in this policy area.

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