Harrison on bureaucrats and the courts


in Canada, Law, Politics, The environment

In Chapter 2 it is suggested that even if politicians are inclined to shirk their environmental responsibilities, they could be undermined by zealous bureaucrats in ministries or departments of the environment. The picture that emerges from Chapters 3 through 6, however, is one of conscientious bureaucrats severely constrained by limited administrative resources and political support. Since new regulations require cabinet approval, bureaucrats could only accomplish so much within the confines of hollow enabling statutes. Similarly, when regulations turned out to be flawed, as was the case with the regulations issued under the Fisheries Act, bureaucrats’ hands were tied in the absence of cabinet support for regulatory reforms. (p. 172 hardcover)

Thus far, relatively little attention has been paid to the role of the courts. Although historically the courts have been a bit player in Canadian environmental policy-making, in the aftermath of Oldman Dam the role of the courts clearly demands greater attention. As an institution, the courts do not fit neatly within the categories of federal and provincial governments. Moreover, because there are no mechanisms to hold judges accountable to either politicians or the public – indeed lifetime tenure is designed to insulate the court from the whims of popular opinion – the institution of the courts may be especially responsive to institutional or ‘good policy’ motives of its members. ‘Rogue judges’ may ultimately exercise greater influence than ‘rogue bureaucrats.’ (p. 173)

Harrison, Kathryn. Passing the Buck: Federalism and Canadian Environmental Policy. 1996.

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. August 12, 2013 at 3:37 pm

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