Campaign finance reform unlikely before the next election

The NDP bill to change the way Yukon political parties are funded is all but dead, at least for now.

The NDP bill to change the way Yukon political parties are funded is all but dead, at least for now.

The Yukon’s MLAs spent Wednesday debating the bill that would have banned political donations from unions, corporations and people outside the territory as well as capping donations from Yukoners at $1,500.

Instead of voting for or against those changes, the bill was unanimously referred to the members’ services board for further discussion.

The board, which includes members from all three parties, could come out with a report and recommendations on campaign finance reform a head of the election. But there’s not enough time before the sitting ends May 26 for any actual legislative change, said minister and board member Currie Dixon.

“There will be no legislation put forward in this sitting…. But they can produce a report with recommendations that a future legislature would have to act on or consider.”

The chair of the board, Yukon Party MLA David Laxton, is the one who calls board meetings.

Meetings are called whenever there are issues to deal with, usually when the House is not sitting, Dixon said.

So far no date has been set for the next one.

“I imagine he’ll (Laxton) be calling one for probably June or July,” Dixon said, later adding, “I imagine it will be item number one at MSB’s next meeting.”

But Thursday afternoon, after Dixon spoke to the News, Opposition Leader Liz Hanson attempted a Hail Mary pass to get the meeting to happen earlier.

She tabled a motion that would require the board to report back to the house by May 16. That’s in time for the issue to be debated once more before the election.

Hanson admits it might have been a better idea to try and include the timeline when the bill was discussed Wednesday.

The Opposition didn’t think of it at the time, she said.

“I think it was sort of a defeatist kind of thing, ‘Well, that sort of puts the death nail in it,’” she said.

“Then we thought no, we still have another opportunity to debate this and it’s still possible if they want to do it.”

Hanson said she plans to write to Laxton to ask him to call a board meeting in May.

Failing that, the next time the Opposition will be able to raise the matter in the legislature is May 18, about a week before the sitting ends.

If a board meeting hasn’t happened before then, “we would debate why they didn’t,” she said.

The Yukon Party has said it’s willing to talk about finance reform.

Dixon said he has concerns about the outright elimination of corporate and union donations.

“We’ve said that we believe that it’s reasonable to limit corporate and union donations but not to eliminate them altogether.”

He has similar concerns around completely eliminating donations from people outside the territory.

“I don’t think they should be eliminated, but if we’re going to make limits on corporate and union donations then we should probably be limiting Outside donations in a commensurate way.”

When the NDP first announced the bill they alleged that 73 per cent of the Yukon Party’s donations from 2011 to 2014 came from corporations.

Dixon said he’s also worried the NDP’s bill did not address third-party spending, which could, in theory, allow U.S.-style Super PACs – independent political groups that can raise unlimited amounts of money – to start popping up in the Yukon.

He said altogether the concerns were enough that the NDP bill couldn’t just be amended on Wednesday.

“I don’t have a solution in terms of a clear amendment as to how to fix that. That’s why we suggested sending it to the members’ services board for further discussion and then coming up with a solution there – a solution that would have the input and support of all parties.”

If a report is going to be written the board would have to complete it before the election is called. Dixon said that’s possible.

“I think that we can come to some consensus on some of these issues,” he said.

“The NDP have been clear, they want to eliminate corporate and union donations, and we don’t agree and we think that they should be limited rather than eliminated. The Liberals to my knowledge don’t have a position, as usual.”

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver told the House he supported the “ideals” of the bill. He questioned a blanket ban on donations from outside of the Yukon.

“I’m absolutely for limits when it comes to political contributions. To think that this bill would pass here in the legislative assembly today is a bit rich,” Silver said during the debate Wednesday.

“We know that the Yukon Party is in power right now. If they wanted to limit these contributions, they would have. They haven’t, and it is kind of like the Wild West out here.”

Hanson, who is also part of the members’ services board along with Silver, said she supported sending the discussion to the board but still thinks a public debate is ideal.

The NDP wants changes in place ahead of this election, rather than an ambiguous time in the future, she said.

“I’m going to sound a bit naive, but I keep having the hope that we’ll actually have a debate in the legislative assembly where people actually will get up and express their views and opinions as individual members of the legislative assembly.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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