Executive Summary

Further Research

The main impediments to research in this area may be divided into two categories: definition and complexity.

The simple question “in what ways, if at all, does the citizen submission process affect enforcement of environmental laws by the parties?” involves several definitions: what does enforcement mean, what constitutes an environmental law, and how does one measure effectiveness?

The Secretariat, the Parties, and the interested public often have quite different definitions of these elements, which introduces profound complexity in the methodological design. The process, to be a useful tool, must successfully mediate between these differing definitions. To measure the process’ effectiveness, therefore, one must first devise a reliable way to measure effectiveness and then apply it to the real enforcement practices across North America. As Tollefson says, the evidence needed to evaluate how effectively the process is working is not readily available (Tollefson/2000).

Establishing the causal link between the CSP and enforcement levels is a challenge beyond the scope of this study and would be the subject of future research. To illustrate: in the course of the Oldman river interview, the interviewee when asked if there had been any changes in enforcement levels subsequent to the submission, averred positively that there had been.

Apparently, the DFO had established an office in Alberta, and as the interviewee said “as a result of the CSP the government is starting to do its job”. A personal communication from Prof. Ellis that this was not at all the case highlights the difficulty inherent in attributing causality. The submitter believed there was a connection and that therefore the process was working. But, even if this is not actually the case (as it was in this instance), perception is everything, as they say in international relations. Either one conducts extensive followup research to positively establish a cause and effect relationship between the CSP and enforcement, or one acknowledges that if a constituency believes the process is effective, then the process is in fact acquiring legitimacy and is therefore an effective tool. Our research has shown us that great subtleties may hide in a simple question.

It would also be interesting to explore the significant asymmetry that seems to exist so far in the usage of the process from country to country. Of the 35 submissions, 13 are Canadian, 8 American, and 14 Mexican. When one considers the population differentials that exist between the Parties, it becomes apparent that Canadians produce an ”overwhelmingly large number of submissions” (Mahant/2000). It would be very interesting to explore what might possibly account for this, as it is relates to our hypothesis governing the relationship between effectiveness and accessibility. If the process is heavily used in one country, it is reasonable to assume the process is serving its intended use as a tool, and one aspect of effectiveness is thereby demonstrated. To this end, if one could discover the reasons that the process is effective in one place, it may shed light on why it is not so useable elsewhere. We would have to expand the scope of the research question to address the reality that awareness, usage and response to the CSP will vary. Moreover, does one attempt to measure this participation by region, by jurisdiction or by issue?

The question of who the CSP is designed to used by is another issue beyond the scope of this study that intimately relates to our question. Is the process really designed to be used by all the citizens of NAFTA? Or is it more intended to be used, as the CEC puts it ‘ by the interested public”? If that is the case, who, then, is the interested public? Tollefson quotes an ex-SEM unit director as saying the purpose of the CSP could be to ‘promote the emergence of civil society in America through the creation of a mechanism that facilitates citizens’ interactions with their governments and others on the continent” (Tollefson/2000). This is an area of study in itself. The implications are wide reaching and fascinating. Does this process promote a new, supranational society? Does the growing legitimacy of the process as the institution ‘learns’ its parameters promote not only the enforcement of environmental laws as they stand, but does it function to increase harmonization of environmental standards in an upward direction? The ‘California effect’
Raised by Vogel (Vogel/2000) implies that instruments such as the CSP, by increasing awareness and participation in environmental law, may in fact contribute to a race to the top. If this is in fact true, then the CSP is indeed fulfilling the NAAEC’s overarching goal of the conservation, protection and enhancement of the North American environment. Also, most agree that the race to the bottom never happened,(Kirton, Vogel, Mahant) so don’t want to bring it up

Finally, it is important to stress that future research is probably best conducted at some point in the near future when there are more submissions and more Factual Records to examine. As a new process, established in 1996, one must allow for the fact that there are several concurrent institutional learning curves being followed. NGOs and the public must get used to using and testing the system. The CEC must learn how best to administer the system. The Parties must also adjust their policy and behaviour to the system. It is reasonable to assume that the process will evolve and adapt to all three of these curves, and that a complex pattern of institutional responsiveness will emerge (Kirton/2000). And as the Independent Review committee suggests, this pattern is best looked at in some years’ time after it has a chance to become more established.

© 2002 McGill School of Environment
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