I recently heard Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Scott Kent announce that the Yukon government would be appealing the recent court decision on land use in the Peel watershed, stating that “public governments need to make decisions about public lands on behalf of all Yukoners.”
I applaud Minister Kent’s thoughtfulness, and the consideration the government gave to the matter before reaching their decision to launch an appeal. However, his statement, well intentioned though I believe it is, raises two points which we must all acknowledge.
The first is the issue of public governments truly representing the interests of the populace that elects them. With our multi-party politics and our current electoral system it is usual for governments to be elected with the support of a minority of the voters. This has been the case for decades.
Brian Mulroney claimed to have a clear mandate for his majority Conservative government policies when 57 per cent of Canadian voters did not vote Conservative. Hardly a mandate to act on behalf of all Canadians.
In the years that followed, the Liberals had free rein to govern as they wished with 60 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons but only 41 per cent of the popular vote.
The same thing happens in the Yukon today: we have a majority government with 58 per cent of the seats in the legislature but only 40 per cent of the popular vote. In other words, a majority of Yukon voters did not choose our current government.
In light of this discrepancy between voter support and the makeup of governments, both federally and territorially, one might expect our politicians to acknowledge that in order to act in the interests of the entire population they may need to temper their policies and pay more heed to opposing views. To claim to have a mandate when their governments have been elected by a minority of the voters is disrespectful and, I believe, irresponsible.
As governments change, policies can swing dramatically from left to right, leaving a majority of voters feeling that their interests have been abandoned. This brings me to the second point elicited by Minister Kent’s statement.
Governments are not allowed to do whatever they wish, but are required to act within the laws of the country. To have court decisions that are too restrictive, as our Yukon government claims is the case in the Peel decision, is perhaps safer than to have decisions that are too lenient.
Furthermore, governments are to act under the scrutiny of the electorate by way of official monitors. It is disturbing to see in recent years the muzzling and in fact firing of people who are supposed to be looking out for the interests of our citizens. Without an informed populace, there can be no true democracy.
One would hope that in the pursuit of truly representative government we might see our politicians at all levels of government begin to push for electoral changes which would give voice to all voters rather than just the minority who voted for the one winning candidate. That way we may achieve a government that can in fact act on behalf of the entire electorate.