April 16, 1999

The Honourable Lloyd Axworthy, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Foreign Affairs
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario K1A OG2

Dear Mr. Axworthy:

The March 13, 1991, the Canada-United States Air Quality Agreement (Agreement) assigned the Intemational Joint Commission a Reference pursuant to Article IX of the Boundary Waters Treaty for the purpose of assisting the Governments of Canada and the United States (Parties) in the implementation of the Agreement. The Commission' s responsibilities are:

  1. to invite comments, including through public hearings as appropriate, on each progress report prepared by the Governments' Air Quality Committee;
  2. to submit to the Parties a synthesis of the views presented as well as the record of such views if either Party so requests;
  3. to release the synthesis of views to the public after its submission to the Parties;
  4. to respond to other joint references that the Parties may deliver for the effective management of the Agreement.

This letter provides the Commission's report to governments under the above reference in relation to the 1998 Progress Report of the Air Quality Committee that was released in October 1998. While the report was widely distributed and the notice for comment reached hundreds of people, no substantive comments were received by the Commission.

As with previous Progress Reports of the Air Quality Committee, a prominent notice requesting comments on the report was included in the report. Following release of the report, the Commission published notices requesting comment in the United States Federal Register and the-Canada Gazette. A mailing list of several hundred names of groups and individuals was provided to the Air Quality Committee to ensure that the report reached appropriate destinations. The Progress Report and the request for comment were also made available via the Internet on the Commission's web page. The comment period was open from October 1998 to February 26, 1999.

Only one comment was received. This was from Joan Chiasson, Dalhousie University, Killam Memorial Library. Ms. Chiasson commented that the "report is an aid in understanding bilateral and multilateral agreements and our environment". A copy is attached.

The International Joint Commission strongly supports public participation in both theory and practice and feels that the provision of such an opportunity in relation to activities under the Canada,-United States Air Quality Agreement is an important part of the process. On various occasions, citizens and interest groups have voiced concern to the Commission that their time is not unlimited, and that they must be selective in choosing which public participation or comment opportunities to pursue. Our experience since receiving the reference under the 1991 Air Quality Agreement has been one of diminishing returns, despite our ongoing efforts to invite comment each time a progress report of the Air Quality Committee is released. It is our conclusion that while members of the public care deeply about air quality issues, they do not perceive that commenting on the progress reports has any significant impact on government efforts aimed at addressing known transboundary air quality issues. The lack of response to the Commission's request for comments on the report reinforces the notion that this process is not perceived as an effective way for public concerns with respect to air quality to be brought forward with the with the expectation that they will addressed by governments in a timely manner.

The Commission will continue to solicit public comment on reports of the Air Quality Committee through similar means used over the past several months. The Commission would also be prepared to assist governments in the upcoming five-year review of the Agreement. Governments may also want to consider broadening the role of the Commission under the Agreement to include a more active role in assessing progress and provision of recommendations for consideration by governments.

A similar letter has been sent to United States Department of State by the Secretary of the U.S. Section of the Commission.

  Yours sincerely,
 
 
 
Murray Clamen
Acting Secretary
Canadian Section