The Peel plan is not ‘undemocratic’

If a tourist were to read recent letters to the editor disagreeing with the Yukon government's plan for the Peel watershed, he or she would have to assume that our current leadership forced their way into the legislature...

If a tourist were to read recent letters to the editor disagreeing with the Yukon government’s plan for the Peel watershed, he or she would have to assume that our current leadership forced their way into the legislature and carried out the Yukon’s rightful benign rulers in sacks.

These letters, of which there are many, refer to the “undemocratic” nature of the Peel plan enacted by a government underpinned by a “false majority,” and claim that the Peel plan and the government itself are illegitimate.

Luckily for us (and for our now-wary tourist) no unwashed horde has stormed the castle and our elected government remains intact. The Peel plan, whether one is for or against, is a valid document enacted by a legitimate, democratically elected body.

Across North America we are seeing a rising trend of citizens calling into question the legitimacy of the elected officeholder rather than debating the merits of the policies enacted by same. When U.S. President George W. Bush was elected to his first term in a tight election ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, a “not-my-president” movement emerged throughout the U.S. Citizens claimed that Bush was elected undemocratically through subversion of the electoral process and was therefore an illegitimate president.

President Barack Obama faced, and continues to face, the same calls of illegitimacy, in his case by a group of individuals called “birthers” who claim that Obama’s presidency is illegal due to his alleged place of his birth. In both cases, these groups are not fringe elements of American society, but rather mainstream movements comprised of members of Congress, the Senate and leaders of industry.

Democracy suffers when such movements take hold, as debate turns to the legitimacy of the officeholder rather than focussing on the actual policies enacted. The Yukon government is currently facing such calls of illegitimacy by a chorus of citizens claiming that the government’s Peel plan is undemocratic in nature. This movement argues that the Peel commission’s final plan should have been adopted as submitted and not subject to oversight or amendment by the government.

The issue with such a position is that the Peel commission was, for better or worse, simply an advisory panel. It is the elected officials that must, ultimately, make the tough decisions that we elect them to make. In fact it is that decision-making power that lies at the heart of our democracy, as it is the elected office holders that are ultimately responsible to voters for those decisions at the ballot box.

The irony here is that if the government did download unfettered decision-making responsibility to the unelected and unaccountable Peel commission, one could argue that such a delegation would be undemocratic.

A further argument posited against the government is that a majority of Yukoners oppose the Peel plan, and therefore the government’s decision to adopt same must be undemocratic. But even if a majority of the population is against the Peel plan, there is nothing undemocratic about a legislature taking a principled stand on an issue at odds with popular opinion.

The classic example of a principled stand in Canada is the federal government’s inaction on the issue of capital punishment. Polls over the past decades continually show that a large majority of the population is in favour of capital punishment for certain crimes. Yet the federal government, over the length of many prime ministers, has continually refused to adopt such a measure, a principled stand at odds with public opinion.

No one suggests such inaction is undemocratic. Acting against a majority of voters may be unwise, as elected officials must all eventually face the ballot box, but it is not undemocratic.

I have also seen the phrase “false majority” cropping up in relation to the current government and the Peel plan, shorthand for a claim that the current government is not fit to make decisions because it collected only 40 per cent of the territorial vote in the last election. The problem with that argument is that there is only one electoral system in place in the territory. It is not a system enacted by the current government, but a system that has been in use for centuries, since the mother-of-all parliaments in Westminster.

Arguing that the government is illegitimate because of a majority obtained under that system is kind of like saying our democratic system is not democratic enough, therefore it is not democratic. The logic doesn’t really hold up. One can disagree with the system, and point to flaws, but at the end of the day it is the democratic system we use, and the decisions produced by those elected are, by definition, democratic.

The above is not intended as a defence of the Peel plan. Rather, it is a defence of the legitimacy of the elected officeholders to enact the Peel plan. Whether one agrees with the government’s decision or not, one must recognize that a majority of the members of the legislature, each elected in a free and open vote of all Yukon citizens over 18 years of age, support the Peel plan.

Can you disagree with that decision? Absolutely. Free speech and freedom of association are pillars of Canadian democracy. Does the plan violate the Umbrella Final Agreement? Perhaps. The courts will decide that issue.

But is the Peel plan undemocratic? Absolutely not.

Graham Lang is a Whitehorse lawyer practising real estate and commercial law.

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

Just Posted

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

A sign indicating a drop-off area behind Selkirk Elementary school in Whitehorse on Feb. 25. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Parking lot proposal for Selkirk Elementary criticized

Parents and school council are raising concerns about green space and traffic woes

adsf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Feb. 26, 2021

Ken Anderson’s Sun and Moon model sculpture sits in the snow as he carves away at the real life sculpture behind Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre for the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival in Whitehorse on Feb. 21, 2018. Yukon Rendezvous weekend kicks off today with a series of outdoor, virtual and staged events. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Rendezvous snowpad, live music and fireworks this weekend

A round-up of events taking place for the 2021 Rendezvous weekend

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. The proposed Atlin Hydro Expansion project is moving closer to development with a number of milestones reached by the Tlingit Homeland Energy Limited Partnership and Yukon Energy over the last several months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Atlin hydro project progresses

Officials reflect on milestones reached

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read