Council of Pokemon

Last week you may have noticed groups of people around Whitehorse, strangely fixated on their smartphones and huddled at apparently random street corners.

Last week you may have noticed groups of people around Whitehorse, strangely fixated on their smartphones and huddled at apparently random street corners.

They were playing a new “augmented reality” game called Council of the Federation.

You could tell they weren’t playing Pokemon Go because they were middle-aged, wearing blazers and some of them were using — gasp! — Blackberries.

In Council of the Federation, there are thirteen teams and the objective of each player is to find a topic that they can get players from the twelve other teams to agree to issue a “communique” about. Most of the time you play at home, but once a year all the players travel to a city in Canada for that year’s final round.

You get points for each word in your communique, and more points per word as you get closer to the end of the final round. If you can get a short communique done on Day 1, it probably was about something easy.

Even though Council isn’t in the Canadian constitution, game organizers set up official-looking venues, events and gaming sessions (called negotiation meetings) like the European Council of Ministers or the United Nations. To keep it fresh, the gaming moves from one venue to another. In the case of Whitehorse, gamers moved from the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre to the Arts Centre to the golf course.

They even threw in a gaming session in Haines Junction, complete with fog and cancelled flights. The challenge in Haines Junction was to keep playing without getting spotted using your smartphone when you were supposed to be paying attention to the cultural program.

The first team to score a communique was the governance team, with a short but nicely executed 351-word communique called “Premiers work to improve the state of the federation.” They scored some bonus points for fitting six acronyms into one sentence, announcing premiers would meet with aboriginal groups including FPTIF, AFN, ITK, MNC, IPAC and NWAC.

But 351 words on Day 1 is nowhere near a high-scoring communique. After all, it’s too easy to get a communique just by promising players more meetings in the future.

The softwood lumber team scored early too, with a 257-word letter to the Prime Minister (you get points for those too), asking him to stand up to the Americans in forestry trade. A short letter asking someone else to do something difficult doesn’t score many points. It’s kind of like a two-letter word in Scrabble.

At least they did better than the pipeline team. They failed to even get a communique. Even their attempts to get the word “pipeline” into the “Growing Canada’s Economy” or “responsible energy development” communiques didn’t work.

Ouch. All that travel to Whitehorse and you’re still stuck at Level 1 when you go home.

The winners were the inter-provincial trade team, who scored the last communique just before deadline. They lulled the other teams into a false sense of security with a relatively short 194-word communique, but then followed up with an “in your face!” bonus attachment of 437 words. This is kind of like pretending to shoot for two points in the NBA, but then slam-dunking and jumping into the crowd to celebrate.

Of course, this is nowhere near a real trade deal like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is 2,056,560 words. But it was good enough to win the Whitehorse round.

Some colour commentators from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute complained in their post-game analysis that the trade communique was just a vague agreement in principle. “It’s a patent attempt by the premiers to whistle past the graveyard by calling this infinitesimal movement progress,” the said. “Until we see chapter and verse on what barriers will actually be removed and how the new agreement will be enforced, serious doubts must remain about what real progress has been achieved.”

They are right of course. But this is kind of like hockey commentators complaining that the neutral zone trap makes for boring games. The point is to win the Stanley Cup and if a few people get bored along the way, who cares?

Back in the real world, the Whitehorse round of Council provided some good lessons. One is about the federal government. It can be a distant and annoying body, especially for a small jurisdiction like the Yukon so far from the Montreal-Toronto power axis. But watching the premiers play Council reminded me why creating a federal government with strong powers in some areas was important to our nation’s founders in 1867. The mind boggles at what would be happening if Council were running the nation’s army, banking system or foreign trade.

It’s also a reminder of why the Europeans, who designed their confederation a hundred years after we did, didn’t leave internal trade up to the member states to negotiate among themselves. Their analog of our federal government has strong powers over what they call the Single European Market. The Canadian constitution seems to give the federal government strong powers to regulate interprovincial trade, but it has traditionally been extremely passive (by European standards) in using them.

The next round of Council is in Edmonton next summer. More communiques will be issued and more points scored. But I’ll be more interested to see if the cranky commentators from Macdonald-Laurier think any real progress has been made.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He won last year’s Ma Murray award for best columnist.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

The Yukon Department of Education building in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. Advocates are calling on the Department of Education to reverse their redefinition of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that led to 138 students losing the program this year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Advocates call redefinition of IEPs “hugely concerning,” call for reversal

At least 138 students were moved off the learning plans this year

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21, 2020. Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help recover from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Details released on relief funding for tourism and culture non-profits

Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive… Continue reading

Most Read