Law stifles citizen participation

Law stifles citizen participation In the Our Towns, Our Future report, only a handful of paragraphs are devoted to the Yukon Municipal Act, essentially saying a full-scale review is a long way off. In the meantime, the rest of us probably need to watch

In the Our Towns, Our Future report, only a handful of paragraphs are devoted to the Yukon Municipal Act, essentially saying a full-scale review is a long way off.

In the meantime, the rest of us probably need to watch our backs.

Whitehorse city council ranged especially far and wide in its eager wish list for the municipal act: more taxing authority, including the ability to impose a sales tax; and all Crown land turned over to them for $1. They mused about providing services for fees to the communities Ð a business venture, of sorts.

The only nod to governance issues from Whitehorse was Mayor Bev Buckway’s perennial complaint about the referendum legislation and how it should be much harder for citizens to use Ð much harder, for instance, than getting voted into office.

The growing evidence of Whitehorse’s deficient understanding of the fundamentals of voters’ rights is getting alarming.

In 1998, the Association of Yukon Communities’ Municipal Act Review Committee wanted to be free of the ministerial controls written into the old act. When YTG asked them about checks and balances, the committee said oversight should instead go to the citizens Ð the people directly affected by the decisions made by municipal government. They proposed citizen-initiated referendums instead of the appeal mechanisms governed by YTG, such as the Municipal Board of Appeal.

Accordingly, the intention of the 1998 Municipal Act referendum legislation was to foster a spirit of consensus between council and citizens, giving citizens the referendum tool to balance the expanded powers of municipal government. Expanded powers of municipal councils without corresponding checks and balances was not contemplated in the act.

The Association of Yukon Communities’ record in upholding the democratic principles in the act is not great.

Once ministerial oversight was replaced with direct democracy legislation in the municipal act, they almost immediately began to resist the measures, with the membership using the considerable resources at their disposal to challenge the same progressive statutes they had proposed.

Within a year of its adoption, Whitehorse Ð whose mayor had been one of the members of the municipal act review committee Ð set to work attempting to neutralize the referendum legislation.

In 2009, through expensive court battles launched by Whitehorse, with the help of the British Columbia Court of Appeal, and a Yukon Party government that looked the other way, Whitehorse finally succeeded in alienating land use from the public votes section.

This is still not reflected in the act itself. That is, the land-use exemption from the public votes section in the act won’t be found in the act. One has to imagine that it’s in there. Instead of legislation, Whitehorse is happy to explain its own interpretation of the court’s decision, and the rest of the act as well, and Minister Lang, an absentee steward of the municipal act, won’t interfere.

Where do citizens fit into this municipal act now Ð this new act cobbled together by a Vancouver court, and never subjected to review in the Yukon Legislature?

Recently, a longtime resident of Whitehorse had to go to council with a plea to have residential zoning restored to the titled property she’s lived on for 50 years; zoning that changed three years before without her knowledge, and that made her property attractive to only one buyer Ð Whitehorse. Council granted her request, narrowly. What were her options if they hadn’t?

Faro told the Our Towns, Our Future review that more training was needed for members of town councils, and that they have difficulty managing much of the legislation in the municipal act, including planning and zoning. There are so many policies and bylaws, Faro said, that they “fall by the wayside.”

When Faro got caught up in a zoning dispute with residents, Whitehorse lawyers stepped into the breach, the way they do. They petitioned the Yukon Supreme Court to evict the residents from their titled property because zoning doesn’t permit them to live there.

Justice Leigh Gower did not disappoint Faro. He evicted the residents, who represented themselves, with unduly harsh language toward them. (One has to go to the sentencing of the two men who were convicted in the murder of a Carcross resident to find his kinder, gentler side.)

Gower’s decision will reinforce Yukon municipalities’ sense of entitlement to an unchecked authority the legislators for the 1998 municipal act never intended to grant, and that citizens never consented to. And citizens’ status as “defeated outsiders” to the court system is further solidified by the tone of the decision.

But let’s leave aside for a moment the unholy alliance forged between the courts and Yukon municipal politicians.

It’s an interesting time to resurrect the ghost of Jane Jacobs, who had so much influence on urban planning.

Jane Jacobs’ gift was to trust her own observations about what made communities thrive, and question the prevailing views of city hall and its technocrats. But her insights weren’t simply accepted through a constrained process of stakeholder meetings and citizen surveys. She struggled to be heard.

The legacy of the Yukon Municipal Act is that changing the conversation, as Jane Jacobs did, has become difficult in the extreme.

It’s truly ironic, the municipal act that was conceived in the spirit of nurturing a creative, open collaboration between citizens and local government is now the instrument for stifling new conversations, and different ways of seeing.

Marianne Darragh


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

Just Posted

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

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

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

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

Most Read