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The policy cycle of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in Canada Lee, Michael L.


This paper uses the case of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) to examine the dynamics of the public policy cycle in Canada. A process approach is applied to examine the principal stages of the cycle: problem identification, agenda-setting, decision-making, and implementation. In examining these stages, the factors that drive the policy cycle and those that impede its progress are identified. The regulatory history of PCBs is traced to demonstrate some of the complexities of the policy cycle. As one of the better known hazardous wastes in Canada, PCBs have been the catalyst for the introduction of new toxic chemical regulations throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Since the late 1970s, regulatory policies have been developed and implemented for PCB use and handling. After major PCB accidents occurred during the second half of the 1980s, regulations were introduced for their transport, storage and disposal. This case study provides seven major conclusions: (1) before the right policy solution is found and implemented, several stages in the cycle may need to be repeated; (2) public perception is a key determinant of the policy problem; (3) focusing events are a critical factor in setting the agenda; (4) decision-making often takes an incremental approach due to incomplete information and divided policy jurisdictions; (5) successful implementation, particularly in divided jurisdictions, requires sympathetic officials who are supportive of the enabling legislation; (6) constituency group support is a necessary condition for policy implementation; and (7) to deal with public concerns which may impede the implementation process, officials need political and managerial skills.

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