City OKs voting biz

Dan Charlebois lives near Carcross but wants to vote in Whitehorse. The Canadian Tire owner is "one of the top 10 taxpayers" in the city, and wants a say in civic decisions.

Dan Charlebois lives near Carcross but wants to vote in Whitehorse.

The Canadian Tire owner is “one of the top 10 taxpayers” in the city, and wants a say in civic decisions.

Charlebois appeared at city hall on Monday to talk about Yukon business owners gaining the right to vote in municipal elections.

“This is a very important issue to our membership in Whitehorse,” said Charlebois who is a Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce director.

“There are many people (in Whitehorse) paying property taxes but who aren’t able to vote.”

He’d like to see all business owners who live outside city boundaries and pay city taxes get that chance.

The issue landed on the laps of city councillors through a resolution brought before the Association of Yukon Communities in December.

That resolution, spearheaded by the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, seeks to rewrite the voting section of the Yukon Municipal Act.

Currently, Yukon business owners are only allowed to vote in referenda. But even that privilege comes at the municipal government’s discretion.

For example, in 2008 Dawson City allowed all business owners, even those who lived outside the city, to vote in a referendum on the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Business owners who live out of town can also participate in LIC votes, in which all neighbourhood taxpayers get a say in whether they want to have a road paved or a sidewalk installed in the area.

They can also take part in public hearings on the city’s operating budget, which lays out how much citizens and business owners will pay in property taxes that year.

On Monday evening, two such business owners appeared at city hall to criticize the city’s recent tax hike of four per cent.

But those opportunities aren’t enough, said Charlebois who explained the current system gives business owners “no voice in the community they pay taxes in.”

“Taxation against representation goes against everything we stand for in Canada,” said Charlebois.

City administration argues revising the voting laws is too complicated and time consuming.

But that didn’t persuade Charlebois.

“We need a debate on the merit of the principle, not on the complexity of it,” he said.

The chamber argument seemed to convince council.

All councillors, except Mayor Bev Buckway, voted in favour of the Association of Yukon Communities resolution to investigate the issue with the territorial government.

Buckway has expressed concern about opening up the voting laws under the Yukon Municipal Act.

She’s worried the resolution will give non-Canadian citizens a vote, or give them multiple votes in several communities.

Former Dawson City mayor John Steins has a solution to the problem of business owners wanting to vote in communities they live outside of.

Extend the vote to all people living on the fringes of a city, not just business-owners. That way all residents have a say about what’s happening in the community they work and shop in, he said.

Steins was mayor when the issue first appeared in Dawson City in 2006.

Business owners were tired of not being allowed to vote in municipal elections and brought their complaints before the Dawson City Chamber of Commerce. It decided to take the issue to the Association of Yukon Communities.

But allowing only outlying business owners to vote in municipal elections is skewed, said Steins.

“Every citizen should have the right to vote, even if they live two inches outside city boundaries.”

It’s an idea that already exists in Ontario and British Columbia.

By redrawing municipal boundaries into townships, people living on the outer edges of a community are entitled to vote for councillors in a municipal election, he explained.

There are “hundreds” of people who live on the outskirts of Dawson City who are prevented from voting.

“I would vehemently protest if only business owners were allowed to vote,” he said.

Creating townships would also solve the problem of business owners living inside city limits from getting two separate votes in an election, or for co-owners of the same business to both vote, he added.

During the 2008 Dawson City referendum, which operated on the honour system, it is possible some business owners voted twice, he said.

“It was a complicated referendum to administer,” said Steins.

But the suggestion to increase municipal boundaries of the city to give more people the vote didn’t fly with Buckway.

“We already have a boundary; it’s called the municipal boundary,” she said after council’s vote.

The Association of Yukon Communities votes on the issue in late March.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com