Canadian Journal of Political Science

Research Article

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

Kathryn Harrisona1 and George Hoberga2

a1 University of British Columbia

a2 University of British Columbia


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.

Kathryn Harrison, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1W5

George Hoberg, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1W5


* Research for the article was partially funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. We gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments on earlier drafts by William Andrews, Roger Eaton, Peter Nemetz, Renate Kroesa, Trevor Ruthman and William Sinclair, although none bears any responsibility for the analysis or conclusions. Research assistance was provided by Timothy Collins, John Duffy, Sherida Eberherr and Jeffrey Waatainan.