Environmental issues take a back seat in Canadian elections

Despite evidence showing that environmental issues influence Canada’s voters, the five main political parties largely ignored the environment and concentrated on more traditional vote winners, such as jobs and taxes in the general election, held on 27 November.

For the election, which was won by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s ruling Liberal Party, slightly increasing its majority, only one major party, the left-leaning New Democratic Party produced a broad, detailed environmental platform, but the party came fifth on 8.5%, winning 13 out of 301 seats. This was despite a recent survey by polling firm Environics showing that 25% of Canadians thought the environment would be a major factor in their voting decision.

Under Canada’s first-past-the-post system smaller parties are usually squeezed out. Such is the case with the Green Party which took no parliamentary seats and achieved less than 1% of the national vote, although this was up 100% on 1997’s result.

Environmental groups, such as WWF say that under Chrétien’s leadership, which won 41% of the vote and 172 of the seats, the Liberal Party has consistently succumbed to big business’ interests and failed to pass any significant new environmental legislation after two terms in office. Because this election was called early, Canada’s proposed Endangered Species Act was abandoned for the second time.

The second-placed, right-wing Canadian Alliance Party, which took 66 seats and 25.5% of the national vote, barely mentioned the environment at all in its manifesto and campaign literature. The third-placed Progressive Conservative Party, which won 12% of the vote and only 12 seats, proposed green taxes, but got little media attention. The Bloc Québécois, which came fourth nationally, but which won in Quebec, Canada’s second most populated province, taking 38 seats, has won praise from environmentalists for its tough stance on pesticides and toxins, but is rated bottom of all the parties on green tax reform, environmental accountability and wildlife protection.

A coalition of national environmental groups recently graded Canada’s political parties on their environmental platforms and awarded the New Democratic Party a B-plus, the Progressive Conservatives, a C-plus, the Liberals, a D-plus, the Bloc Québécois, a D and the Alliance Party a lowly D-minus.

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