Airshed Improvement: Stakeholder perspectives

Anna Rankin and Chris Ling
Published February 5, 2007

Case Summary

Quesnel is a forestry-dependent community facing tremendous challenges due to the devastating Mountain Pine Beetle infestation caused by climate change. Public participation in determining a vision for Quesnel’s future is important in order to determine workable and appropriate solutions for the community as local action has the potential to be more effective than a top-down government approach to problem solving.

The Quesnel Air Quality Roundtable (QAQR) is implementing a consensus-based airshed management plan based on results of a comprehensive air quality assessment completed by the BC Ministry of Environment (MoE). The roundtable shares a concern with the MoE that poor air quality is affecting the health of the population within the community.

This case study examines the QAQR process for its capacity to create social capital and community agency considered key components for meaningful, tangible change. The study reveals strong social bonds, trust and other elements of social capital within the stakeholder group that contributed to the development of consensus around a detailed action plan. Despite these strengths, the study revealed barriers to community-wide collective action that may impede air quality improvement.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

Resource-based communities are confronting increasingly complex, uncertain and controversial issues related to community sustainability. In these communities, stakeholder consensus building is becoming an increasingly popular approach in the development of feasible strategies to assess environmental impacts (Dale, 2001; Innes & Booher, 1999).  

How and whether public participation processes such as stakeholder roundtables facilitate the capacity to develop and implement sound environmental policy is not well understood (Fiorino, 1990; Innes & Booher, 1993; Rydin & Pennington, 2000). Some have argued that the inherent complexities of environmental issues require a technocratic approach to policy development, and that professional expertise is required to uncover societal values and preferences. Others argue that the development of public policy is a democratic right and that it should reflect societal values and preferences (Rydin & Pennington, 2000).

Public participation has become the norm for many environmental issues (Rydin & Pennington, 2000; Wall, 1995). Many jurisdictions worldwide are implementing various degrees of public consultation or participation related to public policy development and increasingly the public is demanding it (Dale, 2001; Innes & Booher, 1999; Rowe & Frewer, 2000). Decisions that integrate economic, social and environmental issues are becoming an imperative in public policy. The perceived inability of public institutions to respond to emerging environmental issues and the growing support for sustainable development as a governance approach has caused a shift toward collaborative processes involving diverse stakeholder groups such as the Quesnel Air Quality Roundtable (QAQR).

Holistic and democratic approaches to sustainable development issues such as air quality cut across government sectors. The vertical and isolated nature of institutional bodies and their separateness from each other provides little opportunity or incentive for applying a holistic systems-analysis approach to sustainability issues. On the contrary, they serve to reinforce the isolated, narrow, and specialized approach to policy making, with the current structure of our socio-political institutions serving to preserve the status quo (Dale, 2001). As governments find new ways to define the public interest, initiatives such as the QAQR have emerged which attempt to engage the public and to address some of the structural barriers inherent in the government bureaucracy.

It is not always clear how including the public in local environmental issues might actually lead to improvements in public policy, and more importantly, environmental and human health: “Despite high levels of ‘green’ attitudes, environmental concern has failed to translate into widespread environmental action” (Dunlap, 1991 cited in Wall, 1995, p.466). Research in the U.S. and Australia has revealed that stakeholders are reaching consensus on problems and objectives, but are having difficulty implementing this consensus due to a “lack of strategic direction, limited public participation, and lack of stakeholder commitment to implementation” (Margerum, 1999, p. 181). Given the significant challenges and resources that air quality improvements require, what effect can a stakeholder process like the QAQR really have? What elements are necessarily present to achieve community agency?

Rich social networks develop despite diverse values held by members of stakeholder groups. Value judgments are a fundamental part of consensus-based decision-making. Values, judgments, and their impact on working relationships are important considerations when diverse stakeholders participate in processes like the QAQR. “Human relationships are pivotal in public policy decision making and in working related conflicts” (Wade, 2004). Value judgments happen at all stages of environmental risk management processes including during the process of deciding which risks to evaluate (Rowe & Frewer, 2000).

Expending the time and resources necessary to collect and process information, and attend meetings has a personal cost. Individuals assess this cost compared to the benefits of participating. Where the impact of participation is uncertain, or small, it is unlikely that becoming informed would be worthwhile (Rydin & Pennington, 2000). The incentive to participate in time-consuming and technical processes is likely to vary among groups. If time is available and ideological commitment is present, members of Environmental Non-Governmental Organisations (ENGOs) will participate in stakeholder processes (Rydin & Pennington, 2000). Commitment to participate and the incentive to collaborate may not make sense, however, if there is a perception that one party is dominating the process and the outcomes. In that case, it is likely stakeholders will be reluctant to participate in the first place, or may become alienated from the process. If multi-stakeholder bodies do not reflect the values of all stakeholders and instead “serve only to legitimize existing hierarchical structures”, they will ultimately fail to implement concrete actions or change the existing system.

Examining the structure of incentives facing the public at large provides some insight into the problem. For example, in the case of air quality where the source of pollution is diffuse no individual car user for example, has the incentive to reduce car use because the cost far outweighs the perceived benefit. The inconvenience of not having a car will probably not be compensated by any significant improvement in air quality for an individual. The incentive to “free-ride” is high because avoiding participation is anonymous (Rydin, 1998). Likewise, just as policy failure can be spread across a non-mobilized community, improving air quality benefits all residents whether they participate in planning and implementing solutions or not.

Critical Success Factors

  1. It is important to identify the criteria for acceptable information at the beginning of stakeholder processes such as the QAQR based on the recognition that there is no such thing as perfect information or value-free information and that more information does not necessarily imply better information. Agreeing to the ‘right’ type, amount, and source of information is critical for subsequent acceptance of decisions and action plans.
  2. There was recognition by stakeholders in the QAQR process that absorbing the technical information often controlled the pace of progress during deliberations. Participants needed to be well informed in order to base decisions on scientific reasoning and technological information as well as emotive and socio-economic factors; providing the appropriate time, resources and expertise to educate stakeholders is an important part of a successful process.
  3. In Quesnel, there is a dense network of social relationships that are enabled by the relatively small size of the community. Civic-minded individuals encounter each other repeatedly at social functions and around town providing ongoing opportunities to dialogue and network.
  4. The existence of a champion that has pre-existing bonds with the community, the municipality and industrial stakeholders (in this case a champion organisation in the form of the Quesnel Environmental Society) to drive the process forward.

What Worked?

  1. Stakeholders were fully committed to the roundtable process, with high levels of goodwill and trust between members.
  2. The skill of, and respect given to the Chair of the roundtable ensured the process was successful.
  3. Deep connections existed between the roundtable and other organisations and committees involved in Quesnel’s environment.
  4. In the case of the QAQR both a deep ideological commitment and the willingness to devote adequate time led to the participation of ENGO’s and subsequently to development of an action plan.
  5. Starting the process without the presence of the government (provincial or municipal) led to a feeling of pride between the members that the process was being led by the community and industry stakeholders, rather than imposed by the government.
  6. The adoption of an adaptive process during the life of the roundtable, with stakeholders developing a deeper understanding of the data, technical issues and the positions of the other stakeholders led to the development of consensus.
  7. The absence of an external facilitator did not provide any problems due to the quality of the chair.

What Didn’t Work?

  1. The desire to preserve relationships has the potential to present barriers to formulating a more adaptive approach to implementing action.
  2. The influence of the technical experts may subordinate the values of less technical stakeholders because some less technical stakeholders feel they do not have the depth of understanding required to challenge results.
  3. Some industrial stakeholders do not believe that reductions in permitted emissions will significantly improve air quality. This diverges from the public perception and may negatively influence efforts to build relationships with the public, which has the potential to affect public agency. The public may not engage in individual behaviours required to improve air quality because they may perceive their actions to be inconsequential compared to industry action.
  4. There are divergent opinions about the health impacts and safe levels of PM 2.5 that may divert the focus from actions to discussions about the ‘right’ targets.
  5. The free-rider issue is a significant challenge and one that requires some attention by the QAQR to improve collective action.
  6. Stakeholders are not convinced the plan adopted is sufficiently adaptive, and therefore may be difficult to implement successfully.
  7. Using no net reduction in employment as a frame of reference for the process is seen by some involved as a possible barrier to change.
  8. Some stakeholders were concerned about the quality of the data upon which decisions were based. This concern was with both air quality data for Quesnel, and also health data that informed the Federal and Provincial Air Quality standards.

Detailed Background of Case Study

In 1999, after a preliminary meeting between the Quesnel Environmental Society (QES) and industry representatives, members of the QES and representatives of the BC Ministry of Environment (MoE) convened the QAQR with a view to fully understanding air quality in the area through a thorough air quality assessment. There was a concern that frequent inversions in the valley exacerbated industrial and other sources of air pollution, combining to produce inferior air quality. The MoE received complaints from the public on a regular basis and possessed historical data on fine particulate concentrations that demonstrated that Quesnel experienced some of the highest levels in the province.

 “In 1998, Quesnel was ranked the poorest for PM10 levels in BC out of 28 communities that had continuous monitoring stations. This trend continues to date, with Quesnel ranking among the three worst communities in the province for PM10 from 1999 to 2002” (Quesnel Air Quality Roundtable, 2004, p 26).

The Quesnel Environmental Society (QES) was concerned about air quality based on visual observation in the downtown area. The MoE approached the QES to ask them to assess the level of community concern and gauge the degree of community interest in making improvements. The QES subsequently began a dialogue in the community to present information about air quality and to ask stakeholders if they would be interested in participating in improving air quality. Industrial stakeholders acknowledged the air quality challenges and accepted an opportunity to become involved in a holistic approach for improvement. Concern among industrial stakeholders regarding the MoE’s intention to shut down the remaining beehive burner in the Airshed motivated them to join the group to explore acceptable alternatives.

Stakeholders included: Quesnel Environmental Society; Baker Creek Enhancement Society; Quesnel Waste Disposal Ltd.; West Fraser Mills Ltd.; Argo Road Maintenance; BC Ministry of Forests; C & C Wood Products Ltd.; Weldwood of Canada Ltd. (later acquired by West Fraser Timber Ltd.); Cariboo Pulp and Paper Co. (jointly owned by Weldwood of Canada Ltd (later West Fraser Timber Ltd) and Daishowa Marubeni); Cariboo Regional District; Tolko Industries Ltd.; City of Quesnel; Quesnel River Pulp Co. (a division of West Fraser Timber Ltd); BC Ministry of Environment; HMC Services Inc.; Slocan Forest Products Ltd. (CANFOR); BC Ministry of Transportation; North Cariboo Share Our Resources Society; West Pine MDF (a division of West Fraser Timber Ltd.); and Northern Health Authority

Frames of reference were established, specifically that air quality improvements should result in no net job loss. A unique feature of this process was the absence of a formal external facilitator. The roundtable agreed that the Chair should be a representative of community interests and so they appointed a QES representative.

The Ministry of Environment began a detailed study to model emission sources and levels of PM10and PM 2.5 using data from air quality stations located around the region, combined with an emissions inventory and modeling data using CALPUFF software.

The group met at intervals over a five-year period to share information from the study and to educate itself on the implications of the data. A technical expert from the BC Ministry of Environment was responsible for collecting, analyzing and presenting the data and the results. A health professional from the Northern Health Authority attended one meeting to share the health impacts associated with particulate matter. Results of the air dispersion modeling study were prepared for the QAQR by the MoE in a report entitled ‘Fine Particulate Source Apportionment for the Quesnel Airshed Using Results from a CALPUFF Modeling Exercise’ (Plain, 2004). The report indicated the relative contribution of each pollutant based on source and the impact of particulate matter on fifteen separate receptor locations. The QAQR drafted a consensus based action plan with recommendations in a document entitled ‘Quesnel Airshed Management Plan 2004-2014’ (QAQR, 2004) based on the comprehensive air quality assessment. This study commenced at the point where stakeholders were beginning to implement the Airshed management plan.

In the executive summary of the Airshed Management Plan signed by the Chair on behalf of all stakeholders, it states that “air quality in Quesnel needs improvement” (QAQR, 2004). The summary concludes that poor air quality is the result of local topography and the combined impact of a large number of sources of particulate matter. Specifically, the summary states that air pollution is not just an industry problem and therefore “we are all part of the air quality solution”.

Air Quality Assessment

The air quality assessment that formed the foundation for development of the Quesnel Airshed Management Plan 2004-2014 included four components: air quality monitoring, an emissions inventory, computer dispersion modeling, and source apportionment. The air quality assessment examined “ambient measurements (from all different angles), pollution rose (combining ambient measurements with its corresponding wind direction), photographic evidence, dispersion modeling, past particle speciation analysis (1995), and source apportionment based on modeling results”. Air quality stations located around the region provided data on actual particulate levels measured. An inventory of emissions from all sources within the Quesnel Airshed boundary produced for 2000 is illustrated in Table 1.

Table 1: Summary of Air Emissions by Category - 2000 (Tonnes per year) 


Permitted Sources 4488.39  1882.00   518.01 22.42  1039.43 3362.97 2027.76  1362.31
Commercial Sources  469.52  21.90  2.38 0.00   249.49 192.78  44.05  31.61
Residential Sources  1401.42  34.34  6.18 0.00   555.62 187.75  187.49  177.87
Natural Sources  0.00  1.31  0.00 0.00   495.25 0.00  0.00  0.00
Mobile Sources  4223.62  661.94  24.29 0.00   456.00 28.16  27.86 23.21
Paved Road Dust            3847.05  928.59  230.80
Unpaved Road Dust            1853.86  834.17  220.06
TOTAL (tonnes/year)  10582.95  2601.50  550.85 22.42  2795.80  4049.93  4049.93  2045.86


(QAQR, 2004, p. 14)

Emissions Inventory

The data show that industry is the main source of particulate matter. Since the purchase of Weldwood of Canada by West Fraser Timber Ltd in 2004, emissions from all sources owned by West Fraser in the Quesnel Airshed account for over 80% of the permitted emissions of PM 2.5 in the community (QAQR, 2004).

Modeling results and source apportionment data compiled by the MoE showed that meteorology and topography contribute directly to impacts. Conclusions from the plan state:

The air quality problem in Quesnel is the result of the combined impact of a large number of sources. Analysis indicates that there is no one source that can be targeted to completely solve the air quality problem. To improve fine particulate levels in the community, reductions are required from permitted sources as well as fugitive and road dust sources, residential sources, commercial sources and the transportation sector.” (QAQR, 2004, p. 29)

Airshed Management Plan Objectives

Between 2004 and 2007, the committee focused on achieving short-term Airshed plan recommendations. Scenarios for improvement were modeled and used to set the long-term goals in the plan. Long-term goals were established based on PM10 reductions of 30-58% and PM2.5 reductions of 20-35%. The scenarios included road dust control, beehive burner closure, burning restrictions and permitted point source reductions. The goals were to be “incorporated into community and industry planning as opportunities arise.” (Plain, 2006)

Environment and Health Imperatives

The Quesnel Airshed Management Plan 2004-2014 states “there is no risk free level of exposure for particulate matter” (p. 32). It also states that “the Federal Health Reference Level is set based on an estimate of the lowest ambient PM level at which statistically significant increases in health responses can be detected and not a level where impacts will not occur” (CEPA/FPAC, 1999 as reported in the QAQR, 2004, p. 32).

Air pollution affects both the respiratory and cardiac systems, and although no costs were attached to the impacts of poor air quality, the report acknowledges, “society pays for the health effects of pollution in many ways” (QAQR, 2004, p. 32). The Airshed plan references studies that have shown that soil-related matter (e.g. road dust) is less potent than combustion-related particles (e.g. vehicle exhaust, diesel emissions, smoke, industrial emissions, etc.).

The plan states that Quesnel monitoring and mortality data resulted in estimates of two premature deaths per year can be attributed to fine particulate air pollution. The report also discussed the possibility that these visible outcomes likely indicate a much greater burden of illness in the general population and may potentially impair the quality of life for citizens in Quesnel (QAQR, 2004, p. 31).

Social Imperatives

In 2005, the population of the Quesnel area was 25,164. Within city boundaries, the population is closer to 10,000 (Quesnel and Community Economic Development Corporation, 2005). Poverty and unemployment are significant social issues in Quesnel. In most age categories, Quesnel has at least twice the rate of citizens depending on government benefits than British Columbia on average. Quesnel's population aged between 19 and 24 is over 4 times more likely to be receiving government benefits than other British Columbians. 4.9% of the population aged between 25 and 54 depend on the social safety net compared to 2.1 % in B.C. as a whole.  

In Quesnel, there is a strong commitment to citizen participation. In addition, the Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition (CCBAC) formed “by drawing on proven community cooperation and spirit to work with government in addressing the significant threat posed by the pine beetle” (QCEDC, 2006). There is a dense network of social relationships that is enabled by the relatively small size of the community. Civic-minded individuals encounter each other repeatedly at social functions and around town providing ongoing opportunities to dialogue and network.

Economic Imperatives

Almost one third of jobs in Quesnel depends on forests i.e. (logging, forest services or wood processing) (QCEDC, 2005, p. 15). Forestry firms and the public sector account for the largest portion of employment in Quesnel.  One job is created per 1,000 m3 of timber processed in Quesnel (QCEDC, 2006). Wood processing facilities include several saw mills, one kraft pulp mill, one mechanical pulp mill, a medium density fibre board plant, a plywood plant and other value added industries.  In 2004, West Fraser Timber became the largest private employer in Quesnel when it purchased Weldwood of Canada. West Fraser Timber now employs over 1700 Quesnel residents (QCEDC, 2005). Local forest company sales in 2004 exceeded $500 million. Forestry drives the Quesnel economy and contributes significantly to the health of the provincial economy. Quesnel is one of the least economically diversified communities in B.C. (QCEDC, 2006).

Public Perceptions

Results published by Michalos & Zumbo (2002) in a ‘Quality of Life’ survey conducted for the City of Quesnel indicated that the public has a significant concern about air quality. The most frequently mentioned “worst thing about living in Quesnel” was the air quality, cited by 30% of respondents. Traffic congestion and retail issues followed a distant second (9% each). The most frequently mentioned thing that would “improve quality of life in Quesnel” was air quality (17%).

A public survey carried out for this case study revealed that residents of Quesnel and area have a good grasp of what is required individually to improve air quality. The majority of respondents felt that they could personally make a difference to improving air quality. Individuals responded with the following:

  1. Cut down on driving: car pool, walk more, ride bike more, use buses more
  2. Drive small engine car
  3. Run propane powered vehicle
  4. Make sure vehicle has good emission controls
  5. Burn clean fuel in vehicles
  6. Reduce or stop burning wood

Despite the concern revealed by these two surveys, attendance at two public forums hosted by the QAQR in 2006 was poor. “We had an open house, people say they are concerned, but it wasn’t well attended”. Given the stated level of concern with air quality, is the public interested in participating in solutions? ‘Free-riding’ behaviour may interfere with a commitment to individual action. The free-rider issue is a significant challenge and one that requires some attention by the QAQR to improve collective action.

The public survey conducted for this case study revealed that most respondents knew nothing about the Quesnel Air Quality Roundtable. There is also a good deal of confusion about the health impacts surrounding PM2.5 and PM10. Many respondents felt that Total Reduced Sulphide (TRS) is the largest health concern.

When asked how others in the community could contribute to improving air quality, the majority of respondents stated pulp mills and/or industry in general should reduce emissions. The next highest rate of response was for “others to reduce driving”. Asked what would make the most difference in improving air quality in Quesnel, members of the public responded with the following comments revealing the perceived trade-off between jobs and health.

  1. Pulp mills and saw mills… but we need those so…..
  2. I suppose not to have the pulp mills but we have to have them for the economy.

Comments such as these indicate that people are well aware of the community’s dependence on the forest economy. Most people however implicated industry unequivocally. An indicative comment being:

  1.  “Industry has got to do a better job. The pond at the bottom of the hill stinks. At 02:30 it’s prime time to let ‘er rip. Pulp mills are the primary cause. Limits should be better. The little guy has to get rid of woodstoves but the big guys get away with it. We have a catalytic combustion device on our wood stove.”

Although individuals believe they can make a difference to improving air quality, and they know what actions are required individually, they feel industry could improve air quality the most.

Roundtable stakeholders are aware that the public believes that industry is largely responsible for poor air quality. “People point to industry. They say if emissions improved that air quality would improve”. Some industrial stakeholders, however, disagree with the public perception that industrial upgrades would make any difference to air quality: “We aren’t after the right things, they are expecting all of the permitted sources to make a difference, but they all have controls now, if you reduced it by half the difference would be miniscule”.

Issues of public trust of the QAQR conclusions emerged as a concern. One stakeholder noted that frequently during educational discussions with public service groups, members of the audience were not open to the idea that air quality is everyone’s responsibility. The stakeholder expressed frustration that members of the public often challenge solutions to air quality as stated in the management plan. The stakeholder stated that at times people have become quite aggressive and simply do not accept that the solution to poor air quality could be anything other than reducing industrial emissions.

The source apportionment work using the CALPUFF output also supports the public impression that industry contributes significantly to poor air quality in the region. Despite the weight of evidence approach taken by the QAQR based on the complete air quality assessment, this kind of data may support public doubts about the conclusions of the QAQR “that air pollution comes from many sources, not just major industrial sources” (QAQR, 2004, p. 2)

Public opinion, whether justified or not, demonstrates a significant challenge for the roundtable in achieving its objectives. There is a significant disconnect between the roundtable conclusions and the public perception of the solutions to air quality. Results of the survey suggest that at least a portion of the community may perceive that their personal sacrifice will be futile given the relative magnitude of industrial emissions. In addition, important elements that combine to produce social capital are absent in the relationship between the QAQR and the public. In particular, relations of trust, reciprocity, and the networks required to achieve public agency (Putnam, 1999, as cited in Rydin & Pennington, 2000) do not appear to be present between the QAQR and the public. If the QAQR is unable to get the public to buy in to personal change, then many of the actions developed in the plan will not succeed. The roundtable appears to have an understanding of this challenge and has attempted to address the issue through education and media articles, however, as one stakeholder observed, “It’s a hard thing to educate because it’s very technical”.

Stakeholder Perspectives

The QAQR stakeholders share a common commitment to the objective of improving air quality. Unanimously, the stakeholders that were interviewed agreed that air quality in Quesnel needs improvement. Respondents reported that this commitment was evident in the early meetings and sustained throughout the roundtable process. Similarly, individuals all cited personal commitment to the process and a desire to seek a consensus-based action plan.

All members shared the positive feelings towards the process. The interviews revealed a high level of trust amongst stakeholders and the data revealed that most stakeholders experienced respectful dialogue as evidence of the cooperative nature of the process. “Goodwill and a lot of sincerity” characterized the relationship between stakeholders according to one interviewee.

Developing these relationships of trust within the stakeholder group was important, but there were also connections between this group and other groups that reinforced the social networks. Another stakeholder remarked on the reasons the QAQR distinguished itself from the many other committees she was involved with - linking its success with the deep connections the group had with other committees like the City Environmental committee. At least three members of the QAQR also sit on the City Environmental committee and each member represents very different interests.

The Quesnel Environmental Society has developed sub-committees reaching out into the community focusing on specific issues. The QAQR is only one example of the work that the QES has initiated. The Baker Creek Enhancement Society and the regional recycling program are two other examples cited by one member. “Our way of acting for change is to see a need, educate the public and increase awareness and then hand it off to someone who will do something”. In this way, the QES has developed strong bonds within the community, with the municipality, and with industry. There are clearly strong networks between individuals and groups and a density of relationships within networks demonstrating the existence of strong social capital (Rydin & Pennington, 2000).

Several stakeholders discussed the importance of having consistent attendees from representative groups. The main problem identified was when attendees rotated and the time and effort required educating those new to the process. As well, some questioned the level of commitment when representatives from a stakeholder group rotated often. “Some participants rotated members and they were less committed. What can we carve out of it? …rather than the group perspective”. An additional problem was identified by one stakeholder when “Some companies just sent a rep, they weren’t able to make decisions”. These comments indicate that there may have been a weaker network connection among the wider group than the tight social networks established between core members. Sanctioning this free-riding behaviour did not seem to be important to the core members. The comments appeared to be observations rather than serious concerns causing barriers to planning for action.

A distinguishing feature of this roundtable was the way it developed. Initially, members of the QES approached industry about air quality.  Specifically, the QES asked members of Quesnel Waste Disposal, a consortium of forest companies responsible for the beehive burner operation, to meet with them. There was a degree of surprise and pride involved in achieving this first meeting without the involvement of the state, “At the first meeting there was just industry and the environmental society, it was a very unique situation”. Government became involved later when they approached the QES to convene a wider stakeholder body. From the beginning, the process was democratic, not top down and certainly not dictated by government. Government in this roundtable process acted as a ‘facilitator’ rather than a ‘controller’ having not been involved at the start of the project:

  1. …engaged all the stakeholders, not the MoE dictating. Engaging everyone in the community and they were all basically brought up to speed on the problem and put their heads together to mitigate the problem. The information is now out there in the community. The plan came from the community not the Ministry.”
  2. Having a multi stakeholder committee you get a better idea of what the community as a whole needs rather than if industry and Ministry are sorting it out on their own; you’re missing a lot of aspects.”

There was a perception among less technical stakeholders that they were vulnerable to the influence of the judgments of the technical experts throughout the process because they did not have the depth of understanding required to challenge the results. “I wonder if influence is limited due to our lack of technical expertise”. This stakeholder also expressed the problem associated with knowledge contributing to influence, “Those that put in more effort learning and understanding have more influence. It is very complicated to understand”.

Stakeholders grappled with reconciling the technical issues with their own values. The process was adaptive as stakeholders developed deeper understandings of each other’s viewpoints. The adjustment of perceptions over the course of time characterizes a critical factor in successful consensus based processes. Feedback loops and iterative approaches served to strengthen the result. These processes emerged within the QAQR once trust had developed and stakeholders began to feel comfortable freely expressing their values. Stakeholders made the following comments:

  1. One of the things that something like this does is it gets a lot more people knowledgeable about the issues. Interest and knowledge breed results.”
  2. It brought the community together and gave everybody the opportunity to learn what the other side is thinking and doing.”

Although the planning process was adaptive, there were a few stakeholders interviewed who expressed concern about the lack of the adaptive nature of the action plans. Almost half of stakeholders expressed doubt that they would achieve air quality targets over the planned timeframe. “As for reaching the goals I think there are some real roadblocks”. Another stakeholder was sceptical that targets would be met, but was positive about the groups’ commitment to modifying their approach if results were not satisfactory. “We are all grappling with how to make a difference, I’m somewhat optimistic, but I am concerned about the logistics of implementation”. The QAQR agreed that stakeholders would submit annual written updates on their activities and plans for air quality improvements. After two annual updates, some stakeholders expressed concern that there is no mechanism to assess critically the action plans and discuss changes that may be required if a change of course is necessary to achieve the objectives in the plan. “Annual meetings may not be enough, we may need to revise the process of reporting out and include more critiquing and more discussion about how to meet goals”.

Free-riding is an issue of concern within the stakeholder community as well as the public:

I don’t think it will happen 100% voluntarily. There could be a problem if 3/5 of the contributors are spending money for example on washed aggregate, and the others are doing nothing. If there is a dust episode, no one knows who is doing what to prevent it. Then someone has to step in and say how can we level the playing field?”

The frame of reference for decision-making emerged as concern for some stakeholders. Despite having agreed that no net job loss would result due to air quality improvements, there was concern that this presents a significant barrier to improvements. Of course, this kind of compromise is part of consensus-based decision-making. Others felt that including a cost-benefit analysis to determine meaningful targets was a critical part of achieving success, and expressed disappointment that this was not a requirement in the frame of reference.

Divergent opinions emerged around the quality of data. Agreeing on the data was important: “Having a good scientific basis eliminates a lot of potential for disagreement, if everyone agrees on the scientific assessment they are more likely to agree with the recommendations”. While some stakeholders believe the scientific data formed a strong foundation for proceeding with conclusions and recommendations, others, however, were less convinced: “There are places where numbers weren’t available and only the model is used and that bothers me because you plop this into the model and say this is what would happen”.

There is also some evidence to suggest that development of social capital may have been both an opportunity for consensus and a possible constraint for action. The desire of an individual or group to maintain their reputation in a close-knit social context can lead to co-operative behaviour which might also lead to inaction as stakeholders put the cohesion of the group ahead of meaningful action.

Research Analysis

There is a deep level of respect between the roundtable members and a sense of justifiable pride about their achievements to date. Although diverse stakeholder backgrounds and values guided their perspectives on the roundtable, there was clearly evidence of an iterative process leading to development of shared social capital. Most members interviewed stated that agreeing to an action plan was the group's greatest success. Other notable successes were respectful dialogue throughout and the absence of an external facilitator. Government administrative and technical support facilitated development of an action plan that considered local values. The plan has tremendous potential to succeed, however, there are barriers to action.

Values and Relationships – Social Capital: The next few years will be a critical time for the QAQR to evaluate progress. If the air quality targets are not being achieved the group may have to evaluate critically the action plans of individual stakeholders in the context of progress. The risk to all stakeholders of this critical evaluation is the potential to damage relationships. This group possesses a depth of maturity and strong bonds that will facilitate taking these kinds of critical risks. Due to the ability of experts to control assumptions from the information, the values of more technical stakeholders may subordinate the values held by less technical stakeholders. The group should be aware of the influence of technical judgments if revisions of action plans are required.

Action plans and public agency: Community perceptions of the causes of poor air quality diverge from the QAQR conclusions and this may affect public agency. The QAQR recognizes that individual actions would cumulatively amount to significant air quality improvement, however, if residents are not convinced that industrial stakeholders are committed to improvements, there may be little incentive for them to make personal changes. This may force the state to take a more controlling role essentially applying an environmental management approach to ensure full participation by all members, including the public. To avoid that situation, leadership on the part of industry is required.

Information and targets: There are divergent opinions about the quality and meaning of air quality and health impact data. Despite having set targets in the plan, some stakeholders believe that they are arbitrary. The risk presents itself, therefore, that re-evaluation of targets, rather than re-evaluation of actions may become the focus of discussions if the QAQR fails to meet ambient particulate targets.


If the roundtable stakeholder approach in Quesnel is going to work the following points need to be addressed:

  1. Leadership is required from industrial stakeholders. The community is unlikely to participate in individual behavior to improve air quality unless industry provides united, clear, public, accountable leadership in improving air quality.
  2. West Fraser Timber Ltd. accounts for over 50% of the total community emissions and over 80% of the permitted emissions of PM 2.5. It is reasonable to suggest that they carry out a cost benefit analysis of air quality improvements across all divisions of the company to determine the most efficient plan for capital expenditures. Commit publicly to specific capital expenditures to improve air quality over the proposed QAQR timeline.
  3. Move forward based on the consensus that air quality needs improvement by re-committing to air quality targets in 2007.
  4. Continue to provide clear and public recognition that all stakeholders are accountable for air quality improvements. 
  5. Develop partnerships with an objective (academic or private technical consultant) third party who is not a stakeholder at the table. They should review the technical data compiled to date and provide a short, readable summary for the public. This may serve to build trust and transparency with the community.
  6. Use an adaptive management approach for implementation of actions plans. Require a consistent format for reporting emission reductions to the stakeholder group. Meet more than once a year and provide a mechanism for the group to question reporters and provide feedback. Brainstorm alternative actions.
  7. Summarize the air quality priorities for the public in a short, readable pamphlet. Consider including current industrial permitted emissions (T/yr) and targets for improvement.
  8. Establish a website for an individual air emissions calculator based on lifestyle choices. Express emissions as kg or T/yr and include a hypothetical ‘cumulative emissions’ summary for all individual households based on the Airshed population.
  9. Provide an educational component on the website.
  10. Establish a weekly emissions challenge in local newspapers offering suggestions for individual emission improvements. Advertise the website in the newspaper and on local radio. Challenge the public to improve their emissions results. (Include a component for greenhouse gas emissions).
  11. Publish regular updates in the local newspaper for industrial emissions expressed as T/yr. Include estimated dust emissions and the emissions from other sources i.e. transportation sector.
  12. Develop a plan to share progress on air quality improvements province wide.
  13. Develop strong electronic or face-to-face networks with communities near and far that have developed sustainable alternatives in their communities.

Resources and References

Dale, A. (2001). At the edge: sustainable development in the 21st century. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Fiorino, D.J. (1990). Citizen participation and environmental risk: A survey of institutional mechanisms. Science, Technology and Human Values, Vol.15, 226-243.

Innes, I.E. and D. E. Booher. (1999). Consensus building and complex adaptive systems. Journal of American Planning Association, Vol. 65, 412-423.

Margerum, R.D. (1999). Getting past yes from capital creation to action. Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 65, 2, 181-192.

Michalos, A. C. and B. D. Zumbo. (2002).Quality of Life in Quesnel, British Columbia. (Paper No.ESQBS-2002-1). Prince George, BC: University of British Columbia. Edgeworth Laboratory for Quantitative Behavioral Science.

Plain, E. (2004). Fine Particulate Source Apportionment for the Quesnel Airshed Using Results from a CALPUFF Modeling Exercise. Williams Lake: BC Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection.

Plain, E. Powerpoint presentation: Quesnel air quality roundtable meeting stakeholder reports, 2006.

Quesnel Air Quality Roundtable, 2004. Quesnel Airshed Management Plan 2004-2014, Quesnel: City of Quesnel.

Quesnel Community Economic Development Corporation, (2005). Quesnel and Area Community and Economic Profile, June 2005, Quesnel: QCEDC

Quesnel Community Economic Development Corporation, (2006). Prosperity and Sustainability: Taking action now for Quesnel’s future, Quesnel: QCEDC

Rowe, G. and L. Frewer. (2000). Public participation methods: A framework for evaluation. Science, Technology and Human Values, Vol. 25, No. 1, 2-29.

Rydin, Y. and M. Pennington. (2000). Public participation and local environmental planning: the collective action problem and the potential of social capital. Local Environment, Vol 5, No. 2, 153-169.

Wade, S.O. (2004). Using intentional, values based dialogue to engage complex public policy conflicts. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Vol 21, Issue 3.

Wall, G. (1995). Barriers to individual environmental action. Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 32.4, 465-489.