At the election forum at the High Country Inn last Thursday, mayoral candidates Bev Buckway and Al Fedoriak were asked how they would treat any petitions that came in to city hall.
Neither one referenced the Yukon Municipal Act in their response. How could they? Since the BC Court of Appeal gutted the public votes section of the Yukon Municipal Act with its decision that outlawed the McLean Lake Park petition for referendum, nobody can make any sense of the legislation. The Yukon government has done nothing to address the confusion since the decision came out, instead allowing Yukon municipal elections to proceed without coherent legislation.
Whitehorse has rushed in to fill the vacuum. Buckway’s response reflected their flawed interpretation of their powers under the municipal act when she said that, when a petition “asks” for something, City Hall would review it, rule on its legality and decide if it could go ahead.
As usual, her response was riddled with patronizing allusions to citizens’ limited capacity to understand “complex” issues.
She speaks the jargon of technocrats.
In this view, so at odds with the spirit of the municipal act, it’s not enough that 2,654 people (24.5 per cent of the city’s population) sign a petition, as happened with the McLean Lake Park petition for referendum, to gain city hall’s attention.
That’s why we needed the legislation for citizen-initiated public votes. The public-votes section was the backbone of the Yukon Municipal Act, which enshrines public participation as a core principle.
A petition for referendum is not a “request” citizens make to city hall. It’s a call for a referendum that municipalities are required to hold upon receiving the prescribed number of signatures.
In the 2008 municipal act review, the Association of Yukon Communities proposed a number of amendments to the act, including adding more limits to the types of bylaws eligible for referendum.
Of all the amendments that the review put on the table, that proposal to dilute the public votes section was the most strongly opposed by Yukon citizens who participated in the public consultation.
Accordingly, the Yukon government refused to impose any more limits, saying that such an amendment could be seen as “unduly limiting the democratic process”.
Another citizen asked Buckway how the city could reduce the number of court actions that it’s involved with.
She failed to point out that court is the only other option besides a referendum, when there are protracted disputes between citizens and city hall. Every matter, from Con Lattin’s signage issue to protected areas, if it’s not resolved satisfactorily by city council with citizens, can only be resolved by a referendum or the Supreme Court.
The incumbent mayor and council have proved they’ll stifle a referendum, and citizens, by rolling the dice and taking the petitioner to court.
Buckway puts this in lofty terms of protecting the “taxpayers” from themselves (and she can spend our own money against us to do so).
During the 2008 municipal act review, citizens raised issues, which were not on the table, to do with more, not less, oversight of municipal government.
Reinstate the municipal board of appeal, they said. Allow citizens to register complaints with the ombudsman. Lift Yukon municipalities’ exemption from the access to information legislation.
The September 15, 2009 CASM minutes record that the incumbent Whitehorse council was, once again, discussing going for another municipal act amendment Ã this time to increase the number of signatures required on a petition for referendum.
Buckway has only said during this campaign that she wants to see the municipal act amended to allow for Ã wait for it Ã a hotel tax.
Rarely do we get to stand up in municipal elections on such fundamental matters as the right to vote, and to protect our own municipal act from systematic attacks on the progressive legislative tools that were intended to empower all citizens, not just the people we elect.
It seems to me I have that chance when I cast my vote in this election. Fortunately, there’s a fine array of new candidates to choose from, and I only need to pick one or two.
Here’s to anyone but an incumbent.
See more letters page 8.