My research examines the interaction of ideas and interests, processes of policy learning, and legitimacy in explaining variation in policy outcomes across time and space. Focusing on energy, climate, and other contentious policy areas, my research engages with scholarly debates on how ideas matter in the policy process, why different processes of learning help explain policy change, and how legitimacy influences public acceptance of new technologies.

For a complete list of projects and publications, including works in progress, download a PDF version of my CV here or visit my google scholar profile.

Book Project

Millar, Heather. Fracking Politics: The political economy of risk in Canadian provincial hydraulic fracturing regulation. Book manuscript in progress.

My book project is one of the first comprehensive comparative studies of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) regulation in Canada, an emerging area of energy policy. My research explains variation provincial hydraulic fracturing regulation which ranges from pro-development regulatory frameworks to moratoria and bans. I argue that regulatory design is determined by the preferences of policy elites. These preferences are guided by elites’ perceptions of their material and electoral interests, shaped by their perspectives on the relative strength of the oil and gas industry and environmental mobilization in each province. I suggest that elites’ perceptions of the probability of economic benefits and environmental harms are mediated through ideas about uncertainty. Ideas regarding scientific uncertainty and public concern about risk are used by a range of stakeholders to generate different arguments – which I term “risk narratives” – in support of or in opposition to hydraulic fracturing in public debates. These risk narratives shape policy elites’ perceptions of the policy problem and guide elites to engage in processes of policy learning in some cases and political learning in others, explaining variation in provincial regulation. The book uses process tracing to examine four comparative cases of provincial policy change (British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia) from 2006-2016. I conduct cross-case and within-case comparisons, drawing on media analysis of over 1,000 news articles and 30 semi-structured interviews with government officials, bureaucrats, industry representatives, academics, and environmental advocates.

Peer-Reviewed Book Chapter

Millar, Heather. (2021). “Inter-jurisdictional transfer of hydraulic fracturing regulations among Canadian provinces.” Provincial Policy Laboratories: Policy Diffusion and Transfer in Canada’s Federal System. Edited by Brendan Boyd and Andrea Olive. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

This book chapter draws on my doctoral research to establish the conditions for technical and political learning among government officials working on hydraulic fracturing in Alberta and New Brunswick. The study finds that policy uncertainty, professional fora, and institutional fit guided processes of technical learning and political learning, resulting in more comprehensive regulatory frameworks than would otherwise be anticipated.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

Janzwood, Amy, and Heather Millar. 2022. “Bridge Fuel Feuds: The Competing Interpretive Politics of Natural Gas in Canada.” Energy Research & Social Science 88 (June): 102526

This article explores the interpretive politics of natural gas in Canada by analyzing government climate plans and press releases produced by industry associations and other relevant, primarily non-governmental, organizations in the post-Paris era. We identify three distinct variations of the bridge fuel narrative around the purported clean energy benefits of natural gas driven by industry associations and provincial governments.

Lesch, Matthew, and Heather Millar. 2022. “Crisis, uncertainty and urgency: processes of learning and emulation in tax policy making.” West European Politics. 45 (4) 930-952 OPEN ACCESS

This article examines how ideational factors shape policy making during crisis conditions. We suggest that bounded emulation, in which policymakers copy available solutions without learning, is related to perceptions of policy urgency. To probe the plausibility of the framework the study conducts a comparative analysis of value-added tax reform in Ontario and British Columbia, drawing on 41 semi-structured interviews, policy documents and news articles. The study finds that high uncertainty and moderate urgency facilitated policy learning in Ontario, while moderate uncertainty and high urgency fostered bounded emulation in British Columbia. The article identifies the implications of the findings for future research on ideas and policy change.

Millar, Heather, Eve Bourgeois, Steven Bernstein and Matthew Hoffmann. 2021. Self-reinforcing and self-undermining feedbacks in subnational climate policy implementation. Environmental Politics. 30:5, 791-810, DOI: 10.1080/09644016.2020.1825302 OPEN ACCESS

This article demonstrates how interpretive feedback functions as an intervening mechanism during policy implementation that helps explain variation in subnational climate policy entrenchment. We examine three interrelated climate policy processes in Ontario, Canada from 2001–2018: a coal phase-out (2001–2014), the feed-in-tarriff (FIT) program for renewable energy (2006–2013) and a cap-and-trade program (2008–2018). 

Millar, Heather. 2020. Problem Uncertainty, Institutional Insularity, and Modes of Learning in Canadian Provincial Hydraulic Fracturing RegulationReview of Policy Research. 37(6) 739-841.

This article draws on a cross-case comparison of hydraulic fracturing regulation in British Columbia and Nova Scotia to demonstrate that differences in problem uncertainty and institutional insularity determine different modes of technical, social, and political learning in each province.

Millar, Heather, Adrienne Davidson, and Linda A. White. 2020. “Puzzling Publics: The role of reflexive learning in universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) policy formulation in Canada and the US.” Public Policy and Administration.

This article argues that reflexive learning provides a causal mechanism for how public engagement in policy formulation can trigger policy innovation. Through a comparative study of subnational childcare policy making in Canada and the US we find that policy innovation occurs when publics are engaged in policy formulation through iterative, ongoing public consultation on policy instruments and settings.

Millar, Heather, Matthew Lesch, and Linda A. White. 2019. “Connecting models of the individual and policy change processes: a research agenda.” Policy Sciences. 52 (92-118).

This article develops an analytical framework linking different modes of individual rationality with collective processes of policy change, which we applied to the case of renewable energy policy in Ontario 2006-2016.

White, Linda A, Adrienne Davidson, Heather Millar, Milena Pandy, and Juliana Yi. 2015 “Policy logics, framing strategies, and policy change: lessons from universal pre-K policy debates in California and Florida.” Policy Sciences. 48 (4): 395-413.

This article links characteristics of contentious policy debates with policy outcomes, tracing connections between framing strategies, policy learning, and policy reforms.

Doberstein, Carey, and Heather Millar. 2014. “Balancing a house of cards: throughput legitimacy in Canadian governance networks.” Canadian Journal of Political Science. 42 (2): 259-280.

Through a comparison of homeless governance networks in Toronto and Calgary, this article examines the interaction of different modes and levels of legitimacy in network governance institutions over time.

Millar, Heather. 2013. “Comparing accountability relationships between governments and non-state actors in Canadian and European international development policy.” Canadian Public Administration. 56 (2): 252-269.

Leveraging an international (Canada-EU) comparison, this article examines how increased engagement of civil society actors in policy decision making can influence accountability mechanisms developed by the state, influencing the perceived legitimacy of international development policy.