In 2009, the City of Whitehorse passed an election bylaw in May for the October election of that year. The bylaw was pushed through three readings in about 16 hours, contrary to the schedule that was committed to in public.
That election bylaw allowed a census to be conducted in conjunction with door-to-door registration. Using the voter registration exercise to collect data other than what is related to voting eligibility is not permitted in federal and territorial legislation.
This year the City of Whitehorse took a whole week to pass an election bylaw, again in May of an election year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy to get a copy of the draft bylaw, and little was known about it before it passed third reading. The election bylaw still doesn’t seem to actually be available for anyone but council to view
The time to write an election bylaw is now – not three years from now on the cusp of the next election. But if the process remains the same, it’s likely that once again the election bylaw will simply reflect the priorities of the administration.
In 2009, the planning department wanted some data. This year administration claimed it was after a “streamlined” process. On the election night just passed, the city’s administrative officer told media that the four hours it took for the ballots to be counted somehow suggested to the city that automating the system – voting machines – was in order for the next election.
Issues that are critical from the electorate’s perspective aren’t receiving any attention. There don’t appear to be any rules regarding advertising (unless they’re locked away in a vault somewhere). Many people would like to see robocalling in Whitehorse elections nipped in the bud. How the number of polls and their locations are determined should be addressed. There aren’t any rules about accountability for campaign funds, or spending and fundraising limits. Any mandatory measures that exist for public notification about electoral bylaws are minimal at best.
Maintaining conditions that encourage – or at least don’t obstruct – voter participation, and a level playing field for candidates could be guiding principles for municipal electoral bylaws. And maybe the current arrangement, where the bylaw is ultimately the product of conversations between council and administration, isn’t the best way to go.
We can’t rely on the Municipal Act to guide the City of Whitehorse. The territorial government has clearly abandoned the field where the aspirations of that act are concerned.
It’s time for the Whitehorse community to get serious about municipal elections, starting with a transparent, consultative process for drafting the bylaws that govern the conduct around them.