City buys time on referendum with appeal

Only a month after the Yukon Supreme Court ordered Whitehorse to proceed with a referendum to build a park around McLean Lake, the city is bringing…

Only a month after the Yukon Supreme Court ordered Whitehorse to proceed with a referendum to build a park around McLean Lake, the city is bringing the referendum’s architect back to court.

The city is appealing Justice Ronald Veale’s decision because the judge did not offer a complete answer on how the Municipal Act works.

“The question that we raised with the Supreme Court we believe was not addressed, so we’re asking the question to be reviewed,” said city manager Dennis Shewfelt.

The original case asked the court to resolve whether Marianne Darragh’s McLean Lake petition usurped the city’s Official Community Plan laws.

“The municipal act appears to have two different processes, one dealing with referendums and one dealing with the Official Community Plan,” said Shewfelt.

“The judge did say they could be run simultaneously, but he didn’t answer if one process circumvented the other,” he said.

“The question is which process is paramount.”

On October 30th, Veale ordered the city to accept Darragh’s petition to amend the Official Community Plan for a park to be built around McLean Lake instead of a quarry.

The referendum would ask Whitehorse voters if a park with a 500-metre buffer should be built around the lake. The city took Darragh to court because the process neglected the public consultation rules required when amending the Official Community Plan, the city argued.

But the city lost when Veale ruled there is adequate public input in the referendum process.

At the time, it looked like a referendum on the park would happen some time next year.

In the appeal documents, the city is asking to put any preparation for a referendum on hold due to the costs it would incur.

An affidavit filed by Norma Felker, a city clerk, outlines the costs of cobbling together a referendum.

A referendum would cost around $14,000 due to administrative costs and the training and hiring of extra city workers.

Preparing a referendum requires updating the list of electors and advertising the updated lists to local newspapers.

Updating the list requires notifying the citizens who sit on the board of revision as well.

Then the city would have to advertise the referendum to the public.

A referendum would also mean setting up a minimum of two voting stations and hiring and training at least six returning officers and six polling officers, said the affidavit.

The city would experience a loss in productivity during the weeks leading up to the referendum, it says.

City workers would be forced to spend time educating the public on what the referendum entails through mail-outs, open houses and newspaper advertisements.

Should the referendum pass, city staff would have to draft a new bylaw and amend the Official Community Plan.

Community and business organizations like the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce would also need to be fully informed.

The court documents indicate the appeal case will proceed in the Vancouver Law Courts on December 12th.

The cost of the city’s appeal has yet to be determined.

Contact James Munson at