At no time in history has it been more critical for governments to make a sustained effort to avert climate catastrophe. But here in Ontario, due to our flawed First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system, we have yet another false majority government committed to regressive and harmful climate policies, when the majority of voters wanted stepped-up climate action. With Ford in charge, previous progress has been undone. Instead, we will have:
- A greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target (30%) far below the 50-60% needed to keep warming within 1.5 degrees;
- An energy grid that will pump out 40% more GHG by relying on gas-fired power;
- Clean energy installations cancelled at a cost to taxpayers of over $230 million – and none planned;
- Two new highways that will cost billions to build and will gobble up food-producing land and flood-preventing wetlands; and
- Emasculated conservation authorities less able to protect climate-proofing assets.
We can, and should, speak out against these disastrous policies and reversals, but it’s also time to recognize that our FPTP system has to go, to strengthen our democracy, re-engage voters, and support stronger climate action. In fact, the Toronto Star, for decades skeptical of electoral reform, has just come out in support of proportional representation, and a growing number of frustrated Ontarians are calling for a more representative democracy. No wonder, when less than a fifth of eligible voters just elected a “majority” that has all the power. Of those who voted, a true majority (54%), supported parties (Liberals, NDP and Greens) with much more ambitious climate action plans than the 41% who voted for Ford. Yet the Progressive Conservatives gained two thirds of the seats! Simply put, our elected government doesn’t reflect the views of the majority of voters on climate (or much else!).
With proportional representation, seats are assigned based on the popular vote. Beyond strengthening our democracy, proportional representation governments have a track record of stronger climate action, so if we want to choose a better future, fixing our broken democracy is essential to our strategy. Let’s examine why.
Abrupt policy reversals like cancelling clean energy contracts are not only a waste of precious tax dollars, they create instability and lead to short-term extreme actions that undermine any hope of long-term solutions. This is particularly disastrous given our rapidly closing window to avoid catastrophic warming. But with proportional representation, parties must cooperate and make decisions together to develop or reverse policies. In fact, climate policy in economically developed countries with proportional representation has been better protected against economically and environmentally costly policy reversals by right wing populists, than countries with winner-take-all systems like Canada, the USA and Australia, where entrenched partisanship results in policies that “go up and down like a yoyo,” to quote Bob Watson, previous chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
With proportional representation, conversely, cooperatively developed legislation is much more likely to last through changes of government. Greater stability supports better climate-solution investment, which is an economic stimulator too. In fact, the use of renewable energy is approximately 117 percent higher in countries with proportional representation.
Clearly, climate action and electoral reform go hand in hand. Read Fair Vote Canada’s report “Voting Systems & Climate Action: The Evidence” (https://www.fairvote.ca/climate/), then start asking your elected representatives for electoral reform to support strong, sustained climate action.
Jane Jenner lives in Burlington