UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An evaluation of the effectiveness of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Uranium Mining Abbott, Rebecca Jane


The purpose of this study is to evaluate a commission of inquiry process in British Columbia to determine how successfully it helps elected representatives reflect more accurately their constituents' preferences in the formulation of government policies. It is hypothesized that public participation, as solicited by a commission of inquiry, may serve to transmit a wider range of informed public opinion to decision makers than is otherwise possible. Furthermore, members of the public may provide governments with important information. Hence, it seems worthwhile to assess how well commissions of inquiry facilitate the type of public participation that will help elected representative reflect more accurately their constituents' preferences. In this study, the procedures adopted by the British Columbia Royal Commission of Inquiry into Uranium Mining (RCIUM) are so evaluated. While the analysis is case specific, I make some general recommendations that should be of use to future commissions of inquiry. The criteria used in the evaluation stem from a participatory model of representative government. They reflect, also, the special nature of both the uranium issue and RCIUM's terms of reference (namely, that the RCIUM Commissioners should recommend standards for worker and public safety as a result of uranium exploitation in British Columbia, first examining existing standards and receiving public submissions on these matters). The evaluation framework postulates that RCIUM should design a public participation program that meets the following broad criteria: 1) secures a relevant body of accurate information; 2) informs the public of its findings; 3) elicits public views upon its findings; 4) communicates its findings and the range of informed public views to the final decision makers. Since RCIUM was still in the process of collecting information when the thesis research terminated, only the first two criteria are applied. The most significant RCIUM activities in acquiring a relevant body of accurate information are community and technical hearings. Because of limitations in the general public's ability to participate in the community hearings, RCIUM learned less about local concerns than it might have done. A considerable volume of relevant information is being reviewed at the technical hearings. However, many of the participants at these proceedings are pressed for time and have insufficient funds; hence there are shortcomings in RCIUM's collection and testing of all relevant evidence. Extension of the technical hearings and formation of coalitions between participant groups are recommended as ways of remedying these deficiencies. It is argued that a commission of inquiry, when faced with an issue as controversial as uranium mining, should perform a thorough public education job. Although the RCIUM Commissioners do perceive their role to be partly one of education, little attempt is being made to instill understanding of the issues in the public. Increased use of the media is recommended; for example, periodic, televised discussions between RCIUM participants. As an alternative to the procedures adopted by RCIUM, an approach is outlined that involves the public in the design of the RCIUM process. This approach appears to be fairer than that used by RCIUM; probably, it would serve to transmit a more complete and accurate body of relevant information to the final decision makers than will actually be the case with RCIUM.

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