Deputy premier Ranj Pillai at legislative assembly on March 7, 2019. Pillai said on April 30 that having the leader of the NDP make decisions regarding the makeup of the electoral reform commssion would not make the process stronger. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

‘I don’t think there was ever a commitment to co-governance’: deputy premier on electoral reform pushback

The NDP recently sent a letter to Premier Sandy Silver outlining continued concerns

Having the leader of the NDP make decisions regarding the makeup of the electoral reform commission would not “make this a stronger process,” deputy premier Ranj Pillai said on April 30, the final day of the spring sitting.

“We will collaborate with the other two parties,” he said. “I don’t think there was ever a commitment to co-governance. It was about collaboration.”

Pillai’s comments to reporters follow a recent letter sent by NDP Leader Liz Hanson to Premier Sandy Silver that says the mandate of the electoral reform commission is “too broad.”

“After they are selected, commissioners will have only 40 days to visit each community, hear from Yukoners, educate them on electoral reform and report back with recommendations to the Government of Yukon,” says the April 18 letter, which Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard is cc’d on. “… (We) believe that the compressed timeframe presented to the commissioners necessitates a narrower focus.”

Hanson told reporters that it’s not about the NDP governing the commission.

“We’re simply saying, don’t get yourself caught in the trap of appearing to be partisan. We’ll support you in being non-partisan,” she said.

Pillai, stepping in for Premier Sandy Silver, who is out of the territory for family reasons, said that cabinet got in touch with Hanson regarding her letter.

Hanson’s letter will be responded to in the “next number of days,” Pillai said.

“There’s a process that’s transparent, where people can apply for this,” he said. “I don’t think that having Liz Hanson make the decisions is going to make this a stronger process. I know the third party will continue to chip away at us on this, but we stand strongly behind our commitment to get this work done.”

Hanson told reporters she heard from cabinet but hasn’t received a written response.

“Basically the feedback I’ve received is nice,” she said dryly. “Nice try.”

The commission, which would be made up of three people, including a chair, would “investigate and assess options to ensure our electoral system captures the intentions of voters as well as possible.”

The draft terms of reference suggests commissioners will assume their roles this month.

The Liberals have consistently said that the process will be non-partisan this sitting.

Last month, the Yukon Party said in a letter that the Liberals will essentially be handpicking members of the commission.

The NDP, too, urged the government to make it an all-party process to avoid potential implications of partisanship.

In the most recent letter, Hanson said she’s “encouraged” that commissioners will be solicited through a general application.

There are lingering concerns about whether there could be a “perception of partisanship.”

“We do, however, take issues with the notion that the Minister of the Executive Council Office will be solely responsible for shortlisting a group of candidates and then selecting those candidates after sharing the names with both the Yukon NDP and Yukon Party Caucuses,” the letter says.

To remedy this, Hanson suggests that parties meet after applications are received “to eliminate the possibility of a perception of favouritism by one political party or another.”

The letter also suggests commissioners won’t be compensated enough for their work.

“Eight thousand dollars over the course of six months is likely not a significant enough incentive for citizens to take on the responsibilities that will be expected of the commission and commissioners,” the letter says.

Pillai said it’s unlikely the opposition parties will ever be happy with the Liberals.

“I don’t think they would be. They never are. I guess that’s sort of the arena we work in. Their concerns were heard. We have committed in getting back to them, in written communication on that particular topic,” he said.

The topic Pillai is referring to concerns whether a consensus between parties will drive the selection of commission members.

Pillai said he doesn’t think work done by the commission will be partisan.

“I see people at the grassroots level having an opportunity to get take part something that affects the electoral system in the Yukon,” he said.

Yukoners can submit applications until May 3.

In a written statement, Lisa Bucher, cabinet spokesperson, said that 12 applications have been received.

The commission is to submit a final report this fall.

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

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