This article explores trends in participation and environmental policy in Canada and the United States over three time periods: from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s: from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s; and, finally, over the past few years. The article examines possible interactions among the two variables within each country over these periods and searches out overall tendencies toward convergence or divergence. The article argues that there was divergence between the two countries in the first period, with the U.S. providing more participatory opportunities earlier than Canada and establishing a more developed regulatory framework. An overview of progress over the second period, showing some convergence among the two countries, is then provided. Canada seemed to be catching up to its southern counterpart in terms of both participatory opportunities--although they took a distinctively Canadian form--and policy decisions. More recently, however, the trend has been toward divergence. The article explains that, over the past few years, participatory opportunities in Canada have been diminished and the environmental regulatory framework has been scaled bac k. Although there have been some changes in the U.S. case, the scale of these changes has not been as extensive. The final section of the article then attempts to relate these broader trends in participation and policy decisions to the political context in each country. It is argued that institutional frameworks in the two countries have played a key role in the identified trends. In particular, Canada's institutional structure--specifically the concentration of power in the executive and its federal structure--has hastened these recent developments, while the U.S. institutional framework--with its multiple power centers--has acted as a brake on those who advocate significant change to the existing environmental policy regime.
Environmental degradation is a systemic problem, and major environmental problems are linked to imbalance in the fundamental interrelations between individuals, society, and the natural world. However, the structure and process of our government institutions were not designed to take into account the interrelatedness of human and natural systems or even to deal with large-scale systemic problems. Neither were they designed to question the political and economic arrangements characteristic of modern industrial society. Realizing this, those concerned about environmental degradation, especially environmental interest groups, have sought changes in governmental institutions that would better reflect the needs of ecosystems management. More specifically, underlying both these demands for change and the subsequent modifications to institutions and procedures has been the belief that if the process of decisionmarking was made more inclusive of a wider range of interests, these broadened deliberations would result in better environmental policy decisions.
Governments in Canada and the U.S. have not been immune to such ideas, or to such demands for broader public participation. In fact, both Canada and the U.S. have become considerably more participatory in the way they formulate environmental policy. However, these two countries have differed in the rate at which they have adopted participatory processes, the type of processes they have adopted, and the degree to which these processes have become entrenched. This is to be expected, given that participatory processes in Canada and the U.S. have developed within distinctive political contexts. It is thus important to understand how participation has developed within these contexts over time and, in turn, whether participation has been influential in promoting environmental protection goals in different country contexts. In light of this, two major questions are posed here: First, how has participation in Canada and the U.S. varied and changed over time, and what policy developments have occurred over the same p eriod? Second, how might these changes and differences be related to the political contexts in the two countries?
This article sets the stage for this evolutionary study by first characterizing, in a very general manner, the political contexts of the U.S. and Canada. The article then explores trends in participation and environmental policy decisions in Canada and the U.S. and searches out overall tendencies toward convergence or divergence over three time periods: from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s; from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s; and, finally, over the past few years. During the first period there was divergence between the two countries as regards both variables, with the U.S. providing more participatory opportunities earlier and establishing a more developed regulatory framework. The second period shows some convergence among the two countries; Canada seemed to be catching up to its southern counterpart in both participatory opportunities--although they took a distinctively Canadian form--and policy decisions. More recently, however, the trend has been toward divergence. Over the past few years, participa tory opportunities in Canada have been diminished and the environmental regulatory framework has been scaled back. Although there have been some changes in the U.S. case, the pace and scale of these changes have not been as extensive.
The final section of this article then attempts to relate these trends in participation and policy decisions to the distinctive political contexts in the two countries. It is argued that the institutional frameworks in the two countries have played a key role in the identified trends. In particular, Canada's institutional structure--specifically the concentration of power in the executive, the lack of a strong oversight mechanism such as active judicial review, and its federal structure--has hastened these recent developments. Meanwhile, the U.S. institutional framework--with its multiple power centers and active system of judicial oversight--has acted as a brake on those who advocate significant change to the existing environmental policy regime.
Political Context in Canada and the United States
Differences between Canada and the U.S. as regards participatory process are to be expected:
....the issues involved [in participation] are of all but mind-paralyzing complexity.... Above all, we need to recognize that participation takes place in the context of a country or a society and must be related to that context (Waldo, 1971, p. 264).
Diverse expressions of participatory process evolve out of the distinctive mix of political culture, institutional frameworks, and interactions among policy actors that together constitute the "political context" in a given country. Indeed, the composite pictures that emerge from the brief analysis below reveal quite different political contexts in Canada and the U.S.
The American political culture is depicted as consisting of an "unusually extreme" strain of individualism (Merelman 1984, pp. 1-2), a deeply rooted suspicion of political power as well as the institutional organization thereof, and a marked emphasis on popular sovereignty and political participation. Landes (1998, p. 266) notes that, "To define the nature of American political culture, therefore, is to describe the main tenets of liberalism." In keeping with the American preoccupation with protecting individual citizens from the excesses of government through active participation political protest movements and interest groups have been present for as long as the country has existed (Webler & Renn, 1995, p. 20). Certainly, the environmental movement has had a venerable tradition in the US. Buoyed by relatively consistent levels of public support for environmental protection,  ecology activists have pursued their goals through vigorous lobbying efforts.
These political-cultural attributes are expressed in the horizontal and vertical fragmentation of the American institutional framework. Its separation of powers system provides for coequal executive and legislative branches that are designed specifically to check one another. Moreover, the legislative branch consists of two, competitive chambers, each with policymaking capacities on a par with those of the executive and active committee systems open to the public. In addition, the presence of a powerful "third branch" of government in the U.S. that practices full judicial review and provides an avenue for interest groups to challenge government policy has a further horizontally fragmenting influence within the system. The vertically fragmenting effect of federalism is lessened somewhat in the U.S. by the policymaking dominance of the national level, although the 50 states vary considerably as regards their political interests and resources. Thus, the fragmentation of decisionmaking power among a number of po litical institutions in the U.S. provides numerous access opportunities for policy interests.
The American political process--which feeds on this system of multiple institutional veto points as well as extensive public access to information and vibrant interest group activism--has been described as "pressure," or "interest group," pluralism. It also has been described as the most open of Western industrialized nations; one group of comparative analysts has noted that, "The U.S. administrative process provides by far the most generous opportunities for even marginally interested groups to take part in regulatory proceedings" (Brickman, Jasinoff, & Ilgen, 1985, p. 43). Interactions among policy actors are adversarial, largely because litigative avenues have provided interest groups with formidable means to influence public policy. For this reason, Hoberg (1997, pp. 348-350) has characterized the American political process as one of "pluralist legalism."
With respect to Canadian political culture, Nevitte (1996, p. 301) notes that, "... if there is one well-entrenched self-image it is the idea that Canadians are 'deferential,' that they are relatively passive, that they are attracted to 'order' and are unusually acquiescent to elite direction." A number of studies have depicted Canadians as having more trust in government than Americans, being more supportive of using government to achieve collective ends, and exhibiting rather "quasi-participatory" orientations. Indeed, elitism is said to underlie the traditional pattern of core beliefs in Canada (Landes, 1998, p. 249). However, Canadian political culture has undergone considerable change, both as a result of broader forces characteristic of postindustrial societies as well as developments closer to home such as the introduction of a Charter of Rights. In fact, recent studies of political culture in Canada point to an increase in individualism, lower levels of deference to authority, and high levels of supp ort for more open government as well as for protest activity (Graham & Phillips, 1997; Nevitte, 1996; Perlin, 1997). Indeed, Canadians have embraced new causes such as protecting the environment with the same enthusiasm as (some observers argue more enthusiasm than) their American counterparts.
The Canadian institutional framework, however, is firmly rooted in its elitist origins. The parliamentary fusion of executive and legislative branches, the dominance of the lower house, strong political parties, as well as hierarchical structures of ministerial responsibility in the administrative branch provide a high degree of concentration of policymaking capacity in the political …