Canada's existing air quality regulations are doing
a good job and any future regulations should focus on local
needs, not broad, sweeping national programs, according to
Air Pollution in Canada: Improving on Success
, a chapter from a forthcoming book on Canadian environmental policy released today by The Fraser Institute.
Written by Ross McKitrick, a Senior Fellow at The Fraser
Institute and a professor of economics at the University of
Guelph, the chapter examines Canadian urban air pollution data
back to 1974, reviews Canada's existing policies on air quality,
and points to the lack of easily understandable public
information on both.
"Many people seem to think air emissions aren't regulated and air
quality is getting worse. Neither perception is true," McKitrick
"There's a real need for clear, objective information about the
state of the environment to help counter unfounded public anxiety
and unrealistic expectations about what needs to be done."
McKitrick points out that Canada has made significant
improvements in reducing air pollution since the 1970s. Notably,
carbon monoxide levels remain low while levels of sulphur
dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, suspended particulates and atmospheric
lead have all decreased, in some instances dramatically.
"Most Canadian cities, for most months, have air quality that
meets or exceeds Environment Canada's guidelines," he said.
While progress has been made in many areas, McKitrick notes that
there has been little change in ozone levels since the 1970s
although the annual average ozone levels in Canadian cities
remains low compared to national standards.
Overall, McKitrick concludes that Canada's air-quality
regulations have served the country well and there is no obvious
need for major changes. He suggests guidelines to help with
future policy formation, among them:
• Don't impose a policy on the entire country to address
"downtown" problems. These types of regulations result in a large
portion of the costs being borne by people who do not contribute
to the problem.
• Maintain a decentralized approach to air emissions policy and
give people a say in their local framework. One-size-fits-all
regulations on a national level do not do justice to the
variation in preferences and priorities across the country.
• Steer towards using pricing mechanisms where possible. The
United States and countries in Europe have shown that market
mechanisms such as emission taxes and tradable permits can be
effective methods for pollution control.
• Set realistic goals for ozone and aerosols after critically
assessing the evidence. It is unlikely that major improvements in
ground-level ozone (smog) can be achieved in the near future.
This is not to say that improvements are impossible but since
ozone concentrations have been largely unresponsive to policies
up to now, the difficulty in finding a "silver bullet" should not
be underestimated. One possibility is to implement a temporary,
revenue-neutral "smog surcharge" on motor fuels and stationary
emission sources during high ozone episodes that occur mainly in
"Future initiatives should be flexible and efficient, they should
be responsive to local preferences and needs and they should work
with, not against, our market economy. As we continue to improve
the current Canadian environmental policy mix, it is important to
be both realistic and optimistic, and to remember that we are
building on success," McKitrick said.
He also emphasized that more effort has to be made to provide
Canadians with truthful, objective, and understandable
information about all aspects of environmental quality, including
current conditions and long-term trends so further discussion
about the environment can take place in a context of facts and
understanding, not rumours and rhetoric.
He points out that with the proposed new federal
Clean Air Act
, Canadians are debating major new proposals for air-pollution
policy in an information vacuum, making decisions on the basis of
little more than slogans and propaganda.
"Claims of a health crisis due to air pollution have been
repeatedly shown to be overstated. But if the alarmist claim gets
debunked, does that mean we shouldn't try to improve air quality?
No, it just means that we should make policy based on facts, not
fears, and especially not on fears based on exaggerations and
hyperbole," McKitrick said.
"If there's a good rationale for a policy decision, it should not
require falsehoods or fear mongering to get public support."
Air Pollution Policy in Canada, Improving on Success
is taken from the forthcoming book,
A Breath of Fresh Air: Market Solutions for Improving
, to be published by the Fraser Institute in early