Canada’s weak environmental legislation, the Senate expense scandal and the government’s resistance to evidence-based policymaking is causing the country to slip in a global sustainable governance ranking.

The report by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation, released Thursday, states that Canada has traditionally had high-quality government structures and policies, but the actions of the Conservative government since winning a majority in 2011 “may have jeopardized this situation.”

A team of Canadian experts compiled country’s scores and analyzed its policies for the Sustainable Governance Indictors (SGI) 2014 report. 

The report states the Senate expense scandal and the cover-up of a $90,000 payment Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright made to Sen. Mike Duffy had a “significant negative impact” on the government’s reputation.

The report also noted that the tensions between former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, who was often critical of the government’s spending decisions, developed into an “open hostility over time” and damaged Ottawa’s commitment to greater accountability.  

The Conservative’s “tough on crime” agenda is used to exemplify a lack of commitment to evidence-based decision making, as the crime rate in Canada continues to drop.

But the “most egregious” example of this is the government’s decision to replace the mandatory long-form census with a voluntary survey, which led to the resignation of Canada’s chief statistician.

“Canada’s reputation in the international statistical community, which was once very high, suffered greatly from this decision,” the report said. The researchers noted that the response rate plunge from 94 per cent with the mandatory long-form census to 68 per cent with the voluntary survey.

“In a staggering one-fourth of Canadian communities, the data was unusable due to the lack of sufficient response,” the study noted.

Canada placed 20th out of 41 developed countries in overall policy performance, 17th in the quality of its democracy and 10th in governance in the 2014 rankings.

The worst ranking was on its environmental policies, where Canada ranked 38th out of 41 countries.

Environmental policy has tarnished government's reputation

The report says it’s Canada’s environmental policies that have done the most damage to the government’s reputation, both domestically and internationally.

Major environmental legislation changes introduced in the government’s omnibus budget bill, Bill C-35, didn’t allow for the measures to be properly debated or analysed, according to the report.

“A case can be made that the biggest challenge lies in finding the appropriate balance between environmental protection and resource development,” the report states, pointing to the proposed Gateway pipeline and the government’s failure to adopt a carbon tax.

But it wasn’t all bad news for Canada’s government.

The report noted that Canada’s 2013 federal budget included good economic initiatives in venture capital financing and in connecting Canadians with jobs.

Andrew Sharpe of the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, Simon Fraser University economics professor Anke Kessler and political science researcher Martin Thunert of Heidelberg University served as the SGI Canada experts.