Natural resource industries and the state in collaborative approaches to water governance: a power-based analysis
Brisbois, Marie Claire
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Collaboration is predicated upon inclusive, equitable deliberation and decision-making amongst state, private and civil actors. Through pooling of knowledge and resources, participants are expected to share knowledge and to develop effective and mutually acceptable solutions to water problems. This approach is increasingly being used by governments to support and enable water governance at regional and watershed scales. However, the ability of collaboration to generate improved social and environmental outcomes can be undermined by power imbalances interacting at individual, watershed, state, and global scales. These imbalances are particularly apparent when natural resource industries participate in collaborative processes. Influential economic actors often have the capacity to exert influence at multiple scales in ways not available to most other actors. Industry actors are also systemically privileged in environmental policy-making due to the nature of dominant socioeconomic systems. The ways in which powerful natural resource industry actors use and affect collaborative approaches to water governance have not yet been satisfactorily explained and accounted for in the literature. More broadly, the role and function of power in general represents an incomplete area of understanding with respect to collaboration for water governance. The purpose of this thesis was to critically examine the roles of the state and industry in collaborative water governance processes through a power lens. The study pursued four specific objectives: (1) to develop a conceptual framework for examining power and its implications for collaborative approaches to water governance; (2) to apply this framework to determine the extent to which relationships of power are explicitly or implicitly identified and addressed in literature on collaborative approaches to water governance; (3) to empirically examine the positions of the state and industry in Canada with respect to power in collaboration for water governance, and; (4) to determine if, or under which conditions collaborative approaches to governance for water can achieve desired social and environmental outcomes. A systematic review was first used to examine the extent and quality of attention to power in literature on collaboration for water governance. Findings from the review revealed that the majority of literature examined did not fully recognize or account for power beyond more visible and obvious expressions. A cross case study analysis of two Canadian instances of collaboration – the Athabasca Watershed Council in Alberta, and the Thames-Sydenham and Region Source Protection Committee in Ontario – was then used to empirically examine the roles of the state and industry. The case studies allowed examination of the ways that power imbalances manifest at distinct state and process-level scales in situations defined by the presence of powerful natural resource industry firms. The cross-case analysis revealed that the state fundamentally shapes collaboration through power exerted external to the collaborative process. Findings also revealed that natural resource sector firms often do not need to participate in collaboration because they are able to achieve their policy goals through avenues of influence external to collaboration. The thesis reveals that power is not fully accounted for in current literature on collaborative approaches to water governance. Moreover, many of the issues disparately addressed by collaborative water governance scholars (e.g., inclusion, participation incentives, outcomes) can be organized into cohesive, transparent relationships by examining collaboration through power. The thesis also reveals that collaboration for water governance is fundamentally shaped by power exerted outside of collaborative processes, significantly at the agenda setting and policy selection stages. Finally, the study provides insight into the motivations of firms with respect to collaboration for water governance. These motivations are inconsistent with the presupposition that collaborative participants will commit to two-way influence, learning and communication. This challenges the ability of collaborative approaches to water governance to achieve the better social and environmental outcomes that often justify their use. While findings specifically address collaboration in Ontario and Alberta, they will be relevant to other instances of collaborative water governance, and collaborative environmental governance more broadly.