Monday, December 17, 2007

Lack of Action on Environment Blamed on "Winner-Take-All" Voting System in Canada

Our "Winner-Take-All" voting system has ensured that significant votes for the Green Party have never translated (and mostly likely will never translate) into any kind of representation in our legislatures in Canada. While this site supports the Liberal Party, we also recognize the lack of representation for the Greens makes it more difficult to raise environmental concerns on an ongoing basis.

For voters who are growing increasingly concerned about lack of action on the environment, they should know our voting system - which hands one party all the power with as little as 40% of the vote - actually makes it easier for the winning party to be complacent on this issue and many other issues. If Stephen Harper wins a majority with only 40% of the vote next time, can you imagine the damage he could do not only to Canada's environment, but to the planet? The following release was issued today by Fair Vote Canada:

Growing voter frustration with footdragging on the environment -- another symptom of Canada’s electoral dysfunction

FAIR VOTE CANADA: DECEMBER 17, 2007 -- Pointing to a landmark study on voting systems and policy outcomes, Fair Vote Canada today said growing public anger with current and former federal governments’ inaction on environmental problems has its roots in Canada’s dysfunctional electoral system.

“A bad electoral system almost guarantees bad politics,” said Stephen Broscoe, President of Fair Vote Canada.

“Canadians are increasingly aware our first-past-the-post voting system skews election results. Some parties are given far too many seats, others too few and some are shut out altogether,” said Broscoe. “It’s time to connect the dots on how that affects the daily lives of our families, communities and our environment.”

The urgent need for substantive action on environmental issues has been apparent for the past two decades, yet Canada’s federal governments – both Conservatives and Liberals – have been slow to act, with policies and programs falling far short of public expectations.

Arend Lijphart, a leading international expert on electoral systems, noted two relevant studies in Patterns of Democracy, his landmark comparative assessment of electoral systems in 36 nations.

He cited a 1997 study that measured environmental policy performance through a composite index based on carbon dioxide emissions, fertilizer consumption, and deforestation. On a zero to 100 scale, countries with proportional or fair voting systems scored 10 points higher than those with winner-take-all voting systems.

Lijphart also studied energy efficiency, using the World Bank’s figures for GDP divided by total energy consumption for the years 1990 to 1994. He concluded the correlation between countries using proportional electoral systems and energy efficiency is “extremely strong”, even when controlling for the level of development.

“A fair voting system, in itself, cannot create better environmental management,” said Larry Gordon, Executive Director of Fair Vote Canada. “But what it does create is a truly representative parliament, which better reflects the views of the electorate. Here in Canada, new parties, such as the Greens, would have the seats and voice they deserve in Parliament. Studies have also shown parliaments in proportional voting countries also do a better job of passing legislation that represents majority views. For many years, public support for environmental action has been far ahead of any Canadian government’s willingness to act. When you connect the dots, you can see why the voting system we use really matters to our quality of life, our communities and the environment.”

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Stephen Broscoe

Larry Gordon

1 comment:

Wilf Day said...

Electoral reformers just got a nice Christmas present from Quebec's Chief Elections Officer:

It's a technical report which does not overtly recommend anything. It assumes MMP because the government's draft bill and the Citizens Committee both recommended it. In fact nothing but MMP is really on the table in Quebec.

It then discusses how to apply it in Quebec, without overt recommendations, but with apparent leanings.

It discusses the number of regions and regional calculation methods. It finds that Quebec-wide calculation, with parties' seats then allocated to their regional lists in proportion to the regional distribution of the party's votes (the federal German method), with nine regions, provides the best representation. This seems to me to be a solution that almost everyone in Quebec will accept.

As the press release states "this nine-region scenario would be a good compromise for those people looking for both proportional results and a territorial base for list members." It notes the risk that some regions with low turnouts, or with lots of wasted votes cast for parties getting less than the threshold, could end up slightly under-represented as has happened in Germany, but it says this risk is reduced when "overhang" seats are not added, and when only nine regions are used. It notes that the risk of a region losing a seat through a low turnout should produce higher turnouts.

On open lists, closed lists, or flexible lists, it notes that no MMP model but Bavaria uses open lists. It relegates no-list MMP to a small footnote. It notes the Citizens' Committee recommended closed lists, as did most submissions from groups (union and women's groups) for the usual reasons: to allow parties to balance the lists by gender and by cultural minorities. It notes that the Select Committee received 31 briefs favouring closed lists and only 11 favouring open lists.

However, it notes that the ACE article on the topic states the disadvantages of closed lists: voters have no way to influence the choice of their regional MNA, and no one can react to developments during the course of the election campaign. It notes that, in 2000, a survey of New Zealand voters showed the majority wanted open lists. (It fails to mention the similar surveys in Scotland noted in the Arbuthnott Report. Remarkably, in 260 pages it never mentions the OCA, not the BC CA, nor the referendum results in PEI, BC or Ontario.)

Finally, it makes a point of noting the Jenkins Commission in the UK and the Law Commission of Canada both recommended flexible lists. Reading between the lines slightly, I infer that flexible lists sound like the best of both worlds. (It does not mention the recent report on an elected House of Lords for the UK which also recommended flexible lists.) Even without making inferences, one can say that flexible lists are clearly on the table in Quebec.

Since many of us had expected the Ontario Citizens' Assembly to design a regional flexible-list model, this report may help to remind people across Canada that the OCA's MMP model is not the only one on offer.