NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 9, 2007

Despite air quality in Canada substantially improving since the 1970s, many people seem to think air emissions in Canada are unregulated and that air quality is getting worse, says Ross McKitrick, senior fellow at the Fraser Institute.

The misunderstanding has lead many to call for new reforms.  But there are some things to be avoided, says McKitrick, including:

  • Imposing a policy suitable for "downtown" problems on the whole country, such as regulations on gasoline formulas, new standards for car emissions and subsidies for public transit, the costs of which will be borne by people who do not contribute to the problem
  • Trying so solve yesterday's challenges -- such as sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide levels, which have already been greatly reduced -- by continuing to employ costlier and more elusive methods.
  • Motivating policy by appealing to perceptions that are exaggerated or known to be false in order to get legislation enacted.

Rather, when addressing air pollution policy, there are several steps the government can take, says McKitrick:

  • Set realistic goals for ozone and aerosols, after critically assessing the evidence, and steer towards using pricing mechanisms where possible.
  • Educate the public about the state of Canada's environment by making data about the current state and past trends available to the public in a useable form.
  • Maintain a decentralized approach to air emissions policy and give people a say in their own local policy framework

Overall, there is no evidence that the system is "broken" or in need of major overhaul. Canada and the United States effectively decoupled air pollution from economic growth over the 1970s and 1980s.  This is one of the greatest technological and social achievements of the twentieth century, yet it  seems to have gone unnoticed and uncelebrated.

For text: Ross McKitrick, "Air Pollution Policy in Canada: Improving on Success," Fraser Institute, December 2006.


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