Launching the Fireweed Party

Believe it or not, in some places people get so sick of their tired old political parties that they invent new ones.

Believe it or not, in some places people get so sick of their tired old political parties that they invent new ones. To get away from the stigma of the usual political parties, there is a strange trend to name these movements after plants and trees, like the left-of-centre Olive Tree Party in Italy or the right-of-centre Wildrose Party in Alberta.

Often these movements aspire to solving problems that traditional politicians have talked about for years, in a way that holds politicians more accountable and gets citizens more involved in decision making.

I asked a few grizzled veterans of Yukon public life what they thought such a Yukon party – let’s call it Fireweed—would stand for. I’m going to take the next five columns going through the planks of its platform.

It will be kind of like a fantasy hockey pool. I’ll steal ideas from left and right, and throw in a few that no sensible politician would dare to say out loud. I’ll also try to figure out ways to get Yukoners more involved in their government, since, rather sadly for such a small place, it seems to have drifted off somewhere out of touch with regular folk. And I’ll try to keep it simple, so that a Fireweed premier could keep a tattered, coffee-stained list of promises in his or her desk drawer to walk the deputy ministers through every week and tick off things when they were done.

I will avoid standard platform lingo, such as “we commit to partnering with [INSERT EVERY STAKEHOLDER IN PHONE BOOK] to [STUDY/REVIEW/ADDRESS] the issue by [SOME EUPHEMISM FOR ‘A LONG TIME’].

This week’s topic will be how we govern ourselves.

Promise one: Change the voting system to ranked ballots. This means you rank your candidates one, two, three and so on. After counting the first choices, if no one has a majority of the votes, the last place candidate gets knocked out and his voters’ second choices re-allocated. And so on, until the winning candidate has 50.1 per cent of the votes.

Note that this does not mean proportional representation, where if the anti-immigrant party gets five per cent of the vote, it gets five per cent of the seats. It’s more about getting representatives that represent the broadest spectrum of Yukon voters. We need to fix this problem where a party gets absolute control of government with 40 per cent of the vote. Such parties need to be able to appeal as second choices to at least half of voters to win.

Promise two: Fix the election date every four years, and end the ability of the premier at the time to game the election timing. You would need a rule to address the possibility of elections caused by non-confidence votes, but the election would happen as planned unless another election had taken place already that year. I wouldn’t worry about complaints it might cause Yukoners to vote too often. That’s usually only a problem for people who would rather not face the voters at all.

I would pick a day like the last Tuesday in October, and have citizens vote on as many things as possible at the same time; for example, school council, city council and referenda (more about that below).

Promise three: Make every department issue financial statements and an annual report within 90 days of the end of the fiscal year. If everyone from big banks to small NGOs can do this (in fact have to do it, by law), I’m sure departments can too. It was farcical a few years ago when the Department of Education released its annual report in December, almost nine months after year-end.

Even better, every minister and deputy minister should have to have a public accountability meeting and take questions from citizens like in an old-fashioned town hall. Again, much like the annual general meetings our NGOs do every year.

Promise four: Have the auditor general do a report to each department every other year. This would probably involve writing a cheque to the auditor general to get more reports done, but it would be worth it. Many departments have grown so big and complex that citizens and even MLAs have trouble figuring out if they are well run. According to the AG’s website, they have done only seven reports to the Yukon Legislature since 2009.

Seven topics in as many years is clearly not enough scrutiny. Remember that the AG reports on not just whether the financial rules were followed, but also gives advice on the efficiency and effectiveness of each department.

Promise five: Set up an independent budget watchdog, like the Parliamentary Budget Office in Ottawa. This will ensure that citizens know about any accounting shell games the government might be trying to play.

Promise six: Give citizens the chance to call referenda. Our politicians would benefit by getting a clear signal from Yukoners on big, controversial issues like the Peel watershed or fracking. In the future, mega-mine projects or a big power dam might be candidates.

I believe in representative government, so I would make these non-binding. To prevent frivolous votes, you would need signatures from Yukoners numbering greater than 10 per cent of the total vote in the previous election (which would be about 1,500 based on the 2011 election). To prevent fraud, Elections Yukon would need to figure out how to verify that signatories had a Yukon health card or drivers license, or set up some kind of digital government signature program.

I would also throw in a gratuitous vote for “Real Yukon Senator” every four years, just to remind whomever Ottawa has appointed that they are unelected.

If those aren’t enough ideas to ensure the unelectability of the Fireweed Party, read next week’s paper for the next chapter of the Fireweed platform.

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.