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Proportional representation good for the environment

February 1st,2023 | Valley Voices

By Michael Obrecht

Among the many positive actions that one might take to help slow the rate of global warming and thus help reduce the difficulties that future generations will have to face is to advocate for proportional representation.

How so? Countries with electoral systems that allow people to see their votes reflected as a voice in their national decision-making body tend to be more environmentally responsible.

Data? The evidence has been around for quite a while. A study in 2004 found that countries with proportional representation set stricter environmental policies, while a 2010 study found that countries with proportional representation ratified the Kyoto accord more quickly than other countries and that their share of world total carbon emissions had declined. (References are available online at Fair Vote Canada, a national citizens’ campaign for proportional representation.)

More evidence? There is a well-established rubric for measuring a country’s stewardship of the environment: the Yale Environmental Performance Index. A study in 2012, using data from 36 countries over a 55-year period, found that the mean environmental performance score for countries with proportional representation was six per cent higher than for countries that, like Canada, use a non-proportional electoral system.

By the way, when countries of the world are ranked according to their environmental performance, Canada places 49th. The country in first place, Denmark, uses proportional representation.

Enough already? Okay, just one more slice of data. A 2014 study found that between 1990 and 2007, when carbon emissions were rising everywhere, the mean per cent increase in emissions was significantly lower in countries with fully proportional systems. The study also found the use of renewable energy to be approximately 117 per cent higher in countries with fully proportional electoral systems.

The benefits of proportional representation are not limited to environmental stewardship. Research also indicates that countries with proportional representation tend to have higher voter turn-out, less income inequality, greater spending on social programs, less military spending, better population health, more women parliamentarians, less prejudice and intolerance, and lower incarceration rates.

Proportional representation also tends to be associated with stable economies, lower corporate taxes and greater economic growth.

If proportional representation is so good, why does Canada continue using first-past-the-post? Good question! Proportional representation has long been recognized as beneficial. Over 100 years ago, in 1921, Mackenzie King promised to introduce proportional representation if elected. Once elected, he broke his promise. Forty-four years ago, just after resigning as prime minister, Pierre Trudeau spoke out in favour of proportional representation. Later, in 2015, his son Justin took up the torch, vowing that if he was elected, Canada would never again see a first-past-the-post election. Once elected, he changed his tune. B-flat.

Michael Obrecht is a resident of Wakefield.

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