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Setting the Environmental Agenda in Canada and the United States: The Cases of Dioxin and Radon*

  • Kathryn Harrison (a1) and George Hoberg (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 10 November 2009

This article uses the case of toxic substance regulation to examine the process of governmental agenda-setting. Two kinds of comparisons are employed: across-national comparison of Canada and the United States, and a comparison of two toxic substance controversies. In the case of dioxins from pulp mills, the issue emerged on the two Countries' agendas at approximately the same time. In contrast, the issue of indoor air pollution from radon reached the US regulatory agenda in 1986, but as of mid-1990 had yet to emerge as a significant regulatory issue in Canada. The comparative case analysis yields four major conclusions: (1) changes in science and technology can be important driving forces behind the emergence of an issue, but as necessary, not sufficient conditions for agenda-setting; (2) the interdependence of the two countries produces an interdependence of their regulatory agendas; (3) policy entrepreneurs play a fundamental role in forcing issues onto the governmental agenda; and (4) the incentives and influence of policy entrepreneurs is shaped by the institutional structures and political cultures of the two countries.


Cet article évalue la formation de l' « agenda » politique en etudiant la réglementation des substances toxiques. Les auteurs comparent la reglementation de deux substances toxiques, la dioxine et la radon, au Canada et aux États-Unis. Le problème du rejet de la dioxine des moulins a papier est apparu simultane merit dans les deux pays. Au contraire, les risques d'exposition au radon ont atteint l'agenda des offices de réglementation américains en 1986 alors qu'en 1990, ils n'avaient pas encore attiré l'attention des offices canadiens. Quatre conclusions se dégagent de cette étude: (1) les changements dans la science et la technologie peuvent mener á l'émergence d'un enjeu mais ces éléments sont insuffisants en soi quoique nécessaires; (2) l'interdépendance des deux pays conduit à l'interdépendance de leur agenda de réglementation; (3) les entrepreneurs en politiques publiques jouent un rôle fondamental dans la mise á l'agenda des problémes; (4) les institutions et les cultures politiques des deux pays façonnent à la fois les stimuli et l'influence de ces entrepreneurs.

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Charles Peters , American Public Policy: Promise and Performance (2nd ed.; Chatham, N.J.: Chatham House Publishers, 1986)

E. G. Letourneau , “Limitation of Exposure to Natural Radioactivity in Canada,” The Science of the Total Environment 45 (1985), 647656

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Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique
  • ISSN: 0008-4239
  • EISSN: 1744-9324
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-political-science-revue-canadienne-de-science-politique
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