Whitehorse needs a ward system

Recently I wrote a column comparing property taxes paid in the Riverdale and Granger neighbourhoods. 

Recently I wrote a column comparing property taxes paid in the Riverdale and Granger neighbourhoods. My research revealed that the Granger residences I had investigated paid, on average, 25 per cent more property tax than similar residences in Riverdale. It also revealed that those individuals on the periphery of town, Wolf Creek and Cowley Creek area particularly, were paying twice as much property tax as homes located a few hundred feet away outside of city limits.

My opinion piece was followed up by a subsequent news report and editorial in the Yukon News. You would think this type of clear unfairness would raise some action from our elected city councillors.

Unfortunately, you would be wrong on that count. Council has been silent on the issue.

Where is the hastily called press conference of an outraged councillor promising to right the wrongs of an unfair tax regime? Or at least a lukewarm letter to the paper promising to look into the matter? There is political hay to be made, yet no one is making it.

The reason no one is making the hay is because, by virtue of our current municipal electoral system, there is really no connection between a given councillor and a specific neighbourhood.

Our current system allows every citizen six votes for councillors on election day. Whichever councillor obtains the most votes city-wide is elected. So each councillor represents the city as a whole, with none tasked with representing a specific area.

In short, no one councillor represents Granger, Copper Ridge or the periphery.

I would suggest a revamp of the city’s political system by introducing wards into the electoral equation. The Municipal Act allows for the city to be broken into separate electoral areas, each represented by their own councillor. Elections would be held much like at the territorial level, with individual vying to represent the constituents of a local ward.

Such a system would result in elected individuals who directly represent specific areas of the city and who would, hopefully, be taking strides to look into area specific problems, such as the ongoing Granger property tax mystery.

Tying individual elected representatives to a specific constituency gives them not only the incentive to deal with area problems, but identifies clearly the area for which the elected officials are responsible, clearly demarking the elected individual’s scope of duties.

Further, a ward system would encourage potential councillors to go door-to-door during city elections. Under the current system there is very little incentive for municipal candidates to go door-to-door at election time due to the sheer number of doors one would have to knock to make a numerical difference in the outcome.

Under the current system a councillor needed 1,534 votes in the last election to win the sixth seat. The time it would take to hit enough doors to get 1,534 votes would either take one person far more time than the 30 days allotted for the election or a massive organization, either of which is hard to justify when running for a part-time councillor position.

To put this in perspective, in order to get elected as a territorial MLA for Riverdale North in the last election the winner needed only 366 votes of 986 cast. Using that same ratio and assuming an individual must knock on roughly at least three times as many homes as votes received, a potential city councillor would have to knock on roughly 4,600 doors during the election to garner 1,530 votes. In a 30-day election cycle that amounts to 150 houses a day, a very difficult feat for an individual hoping to win a part-time councillor position.

Finally, a ward system would identify the individual whom a citizen contacts when faced with an issue within a given neighbourhood. Currently a citizen would simply spin a wheel and pick a councillor at random and hope he or she addresses his or her problem.

It would make more sense and be much more efficient to have one elected person fielding calls for one area, rather than each councillor randomly addressing issues across the city. By clearly identifying the lines of communication there then exists an individual to hold responsible at election time when an issue is not dealt with to a constituency’s satisfaction.

I would suggest breaking the town into six distinct areas, much along the same lines as territorial ridings. Riverdale, Porter Creek/Crestview/Arkell, Downtown/Marwell, Granger/Copper Ridge, Takhini/McIntyre and the periphery (being the country residential on both sides of the city). Our city is already broken into fairly homogenous areas by virtue of our city planning, the boundaries are already fairly evident. The result will be a more responsive and accountable city council.

In closing, I just did a quick spot check on local real-estate listings. Heads up 10 Tiger Eye in Granger, you are paying $2,480 in property tax while 37 Alsek in Riverdale, which is selling around your asking price, is only paying $1,850. This is a difference of $600 a year, for no discernible reason other than location.

I did not comb through properties looking for a situation that fits my theory – these are the first two properties I found. If I lived in Granger I’d be asking questions of my elected officials, with the first being, “Do any councillors even live in Granger?”

Graham Lang is a Whitehorse lawyer and long-time Yukoner.

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

Just Posted

Wyatt's World for Oct. 28, 2020.

Wyatt’s World for Oct. 28.… Continue reading

Yukon Child Care Board chair Amy Ryder says the board could be playing a bigger role in childcare policy making if they had more financial support from the Yukon government. (Submitted)
Yukon Child Care Board asks for larger role in annual report

The board is asking for a larger budget to increase outreach and advice

Yukon’s clocks will no longer change in March and November but will remain permanently on Pacific Daylight Saving Time. (Courtesy Yukon government)
Off the clock: Yukon prepares to end seasonal time changes

Starting on Nov. 1 Yukon will be one hour ahead of Vancouver and two hours ahead of Alaska

Dawson City as scene from West Dawson. Art Webster, the vice-chair of the Dawson Regional Planning Commission resigned last month over the Yukon governments unwillingness to pause speculative staking. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Vice-chair resigns from Dawson land-use planning commission

NDP warns that not pausing mining activity is the road to a second Peel decision

The opening ceremonies of the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg on July 28, 2017. The 2021 Canada Summer Games have officially been rescheduled for Aug. 6 to 21, 2022, exactly one year from the date the national competition was originally set to take place in the Niagara region of Ontario. (Canada Summer Games/Flickr)
Canada Summer Games dates set for 2022 but uncertainty remains for Yukon athletes

Yukon athletes continue waiting to get back into schools

A proposed Official Community Plan amendment would designate a 56.3 hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. Whitehorse city council passed first reading on a bylaw for the designation change at its Oct. 26 meeting, prompting an upcoming public hearing on Nov. 23 ahead of second reading on Dec. 7. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
Local contractors will be given an advantage on a contract for the design and construction services that will see a new reception building at Robert Service Campground decided city councillors during the Oct. 26 council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local firms will get advantage on contract for new Robert Service Campground building

Yukon-based companies competing for contract for new reception building will receive 20 extra points

Fallen trees due to strong winds are seen leaning on to power lines which caused some power outages around the territory on Oct. 26. (Courtesy of ATCO)
Wind knocks out power around the Yukon

High winds on Oct. 26 knocked out power to Faro, parts of Whitehorse and beyond

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over the Takhini elk herd be struck by the court. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Yukon government asks for Takhini elk lawsuit to be struck

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over… Continue reading

The Yukon government has filed a reply to an outfitter’s petition challenging the reduction of its caribou quota to zero. (Yukon News file)
YG replies to outfitter’s legal challenge over caribou quota

The Yukon government has filed a reply to an outfitter’s petition challenging… Continue reading

The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this year, saying that with COVID-19, it’s “more important than ever.” (Black Press file)
Get flu vaccine, Yukon government urges

The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this… Continue reading

Benjamin Munn, 12, watches the HPV vaccine in 2013. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available to all Yukoners up to, and including, age 26. Currently the program is only available to girls ages nine to 18 and boys ages nine to 14. (Dan Bates/Black Press file)
HPV vaccine will be available to Yukoners up to, including, age 26

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read