It’s time for Yukon to adopt fixed election dates

Barring an alien invasion or some other kind of apocalyptic scenario, we know the next Yukon election is only a matter of months away.

Barring an alien invasion or some other kind of apocalyptic scenario, we know the next Yukon election is only a matter of months away. Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski has decided to max out his five-year mandate – the second time in a row that the incumbent Yukon Party has decided to govern for as long as the Yukon Act permits it to do so.

At this point, it almost feels like we have a fixed election date. Maybe not in the sense that we know the exact date on which we will go to the polls—the premier still has the discretion to pick a day. But his ability to call a snap election to take advantage of an ill-prepared opposition – as Jean Chretien did in 2000 to take advantage of newly anointed Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day’s lack of experience – is gone. As is the premier’s option to hold off any further in hopes that his political fortunes start to look up – perhaps until after the announcement of some positive news in the mining sector, or to see if the Supreme Court of Canada hands him some sort of qualified victory on the Peel.

For me at least, the certainty feels good. The ability of an incumbent politician to choose the timing of our next trip to the polls has always struck me as an odd feature of our system of government. Governing already provides one with a number of perks and advantages over opponents. So why should our leaders also get to decide the timing of our next trip to the polls?

Fixed election dates are a relatively minor and easy tweak to our electoral system. Our last federal election date was “fixed” and we knew when it was going to be years in advance.

Critics of fixed election dates argue that they are undesirable because they extend the period of time that politicians spend posturing and give a sense that we are perpetually in campaign mode. And there is some evidence that suggests this is true.

But does that potential downside justify maintaining a system where only one party knows if it ought to be in campaign mode while the others are caught flat-footed when the governing party pulls the trigger? I would say no.

Besides, an extended campaign period gives a greater amount of time to roll out new ideas so they can be evaluated and debated. During the last federal election, for example, each party rolled out its own childcare plan over the course of a year in the lead-up to the election, which left lots of time for extensive analysis instead of the usual hasty debate we are accustomed to.

It is actually somewhat disappointing to me that we haven’t seen anything similar in the Yukon. Neither of the Yukon’s two opposition parties have taken advantage of the long lead-up to the next election to define themselves policy-wise. All they have really told us at this point is that they are not the Yukon Party – which is probably enough for some voters.

Critics also argue that our Westminster system of government – which requires that the leader and cabinet maintain the “confidence” of the legislature – does not really jive with regularly scheduled trips to the polls. A minority parliament could bring down the incumbent government early and – while we don’t have much precedent for it in this country – even the governing party’s own members could revolt against its leader.

But perfection ought not be the standard. The fact that such scenarios can happen should not preclude a general rule that elections cannot be triggered by the leader of the majority party except at prescribed intervals.

Politically, I can’t really blame Pasloski for waiting until the bitter end to pull the trigger on an election. The political winds are, at best, uncertain and he was likely hoping that events would transpire to increase his party’s chances of victory. If I was a betting man I would still put my money on the Yukon Party winning this fall. But it would be one of those gambling moments where you hesitantly move your chips into position with a twinge of instant remorse. How this all shakes out is anyone’s bet.

But really, we shouldn’t be here. That we know the timing of the next election at all is simply because the government has opted to run out the clock. Democracy belongs to voters, and the timing of elections should not be manipulated to serve the political whims of the prevailing leadership. The next legislative assembly, regardless of which party forms government, should introduce a fixed election law to bring certainty and fairness to the process.

Kyle Carruthers is a born-and-raised Yukoner who lives and practises law in Whitehorse.

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