Yukon legislative assembly Speaker Nils Clarke during a meeting in Whitehorse on Nov. 27, 2017. Clarke scolded the NDP’s Liz Hanson on Oct. 28, after she tabled a letter written by former clerk Floyd McCormick in the legislative assembly. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

All matters concerning electoral reform should be public, say opposition parties

The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly reminded parties to keep confidential matters private

The NDP’s Liz Hanson is unwavering in her decision to release internal documents on electoral reform, despite being scolded by the Speaker of the House for doing so this week.

Hanson recently tabled a confidential letter in the legislative assembly — a move Speaker Nils Clarke said was out of order in an Oct. 28 ruling.

Hanson isn’t backing away. She says the letter, written by Floyd McCormick, former clerk of the legislature, is a matter of public interest.

The Aug. 2 letter to the Members’ Services Board challenges Premier Sandy Silver’s assertion that the electoral reform commission is independent. McCormick says the Liberals are controlling the process when all elected officials should be involved.

“The conversation about democracy needs to be held out in the open,” Hanson told reporters after the ruling came down. “I waited for Members’ Services Board to have a conversation. It did not happen.

“I will stand by my principles that I am elected to represent citizens and if someone wants to shut me down, I want them to say publicly why and how they intend to do that, and good luck.”

Clarke said committee matters are not to be released until a consensus has been reached among members.

“The premature publication or disclosure of committee proceedings — whether by way of a release to the media or by a member attempting to table confidential committee material in the House — is a contravention of the Standing Orders and may be found to constitute a contempt of the Legislative Assembly or a breach of parliamentary privilege,” he said.

Clerk Dan Cable said the only way contempt of the legislature could occur is if a substantive motion is put forward. This could result in sanctions against a member or members, he added.

“The Speaker in the ruling is warning members that breaching the rules of the committees as they stand now could be found to be a breach of parliamentary privilege and, or members could be found in contempt of parliament,” he said. “We’re just trying to get through to members to remind them of their responsibilities.”

The Yukon Party fired off a salvo of motions on Oct. 29, including one urging the government to implement codes of conduct for the Speaker, another calling for confidential matters dealing with electoral reform to be waived.

Stacey Hassard, interim leader of the Yukon Party, told reporters that all correspondence dealing with electoral reform should be waived, including retroactively.

Asked what such a code of conduct would look like, Hassard said that’s to be determined.

“It gives some understandings for speakers to come as to what they are and aren’t supposed to be doing,” he said. “It just makes it fair for everyone that way, I believe.”

Silver told reporters he would be open to the motion concerning waiving confidential issues on electoral reform.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on being open and transparent as a government,” he told reporters on Oct. 29. “If Members’ Services Board wants to put that on the agenda or even SCREP (Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges), that’s a great conversation to have, absolutely. Personally, as one member of that, I’d be in favour of that conversation.”

Clarke pulled McCormick’s letter from the government website after his ruling.

Asked about this, Cable said, “It is unusual for a document to be removed from the order paper like that … but as far as the documents being a working record that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t follow protocol.”

Clarke’s ruling was two-pronged. Hassard drew Clarke into debate, which is out of line, it says.

MLA Brad Cathers is firing back, however, saying that Premier Sandy Silver has raised MSB issues in the legislative assembly, too.

He called it “disturbing” that Silver wasn’t mentioned in the ruling.

Cathers also said that issues concerning electoral reform shouldn’t occur behind closed doors — they should be on the public record.

“People have a right to know the concerns of the former clerk who served the legislative assembly for some 18 years,” he said. “There’s a need for sunlight on this discussion.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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