Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard speaks to media in Whitehorse on March 7. Hassard says all parties should a say in the establishment of an electoral reform commission, after hearing from Premier Sandy Silver that the Liberals would be the ones appointing individuals. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

‘Majority’ of Yukoners in favour of electoral reform, according to survey results

YG released the survey and draft terms of reference for an electoral reform commission on April 9

The “majority of comments” gathered through a public survey are in favour of electoral reform, according to results released by the Yukon government on April 9.

The report is the culmination of 836 surveys completed last year, including 705 written comments. It notes the results aren’t representative of the Yukon’s demographics (respondents were typically older, living in an urban area and male).

Connected to this is the government’s release of draft terms of reference for an electoral reform commission. The commission will be tasked with making recommendations via a final report.

Applications for the commission are being accepted until April 26.

Creating a “a non-partisan commission on electoral reform” to consider possible changes was an election promise put forward by the Yukon Liberal Party.

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.” According to the report, roughly 61 per cent of Yukoners indicated this was its most important priority.

The commission would also be struck in order to investigate how political parties operate. Roughly 20 per cent of respondents suggested this should guide its work, according to the survey report.

About 13 per cent of respondents indicated that the commission should zero in on “options to improve how citizens make their voices heard.”

“A small minority (4.5 per cent) indicated a different preference, such as not having a commission or not pursuing electoral reform,” the report says.

The draft terms of reference suggests commissioners will assume their roles in May.

“The commission will submit its final report to the minister by late fall 2019,” it says.

Its total budget is $178,500.

Opposition leaders take issue with the process of setting up the commission. They are questioning whether it will be non-partisan like Premier Sandy Silver says.

In a letter sent on April 5, Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard claims that, based on a meeting with Silver that day, the Liberals are going to be the only ones responsible for selecting and appointing individuals, suggesting that other parties are going to be excluded.

The argument from the official Opposition is that all parties should be involved in choosing commission members.

“This committee will be making recommendations that could fundamentally change our democracy, and by allowing only one party to select members you will be creating, at the very least, a perception of bias in the work of the committee,” Hassard wrote.

Speaking with reporters on April 9 after question period, Silver said the Liberals are working with the Yukon Party.

“If they have any suggestions for that committee, then I would love to hear it,” he said.

“The Yukon public will judge based upon the members of that committee. We hope that we’ll pick names that Yukoners will see are not of a partisan nature. …”

The NDP also wants to be more involved.

“When we talked I indicated that I did not want to ‘nominate’ a person(s) to sit on this commission,” wrote Leader Liz Hanson in an April 5 letter to the premier. “My rationale for this is to avoid any perception of ‘partisanship.’”

Hassard also said in his letter that any change to the electoral system should be put out to a referendum.

“Changing the way we cast a ballot is a major change to our democracy and could alter the weight and the meaning of how each of our votes translate into how we are governed,” he wrote.

Instead of providing a detailed breakdown, the report qualifies some issues based on whether they were mentioned. For example, an issue raised between 20 and 50 times qualifies as “a large number” and more than 50 mentions is “a very large number.”

The survey report says a “large number” of respondents indicated Yukoners “should vote in a referendum on any recommended changes to the electoral system, whether they are brought forward by the commission or the government itself.”

Survey results list off various themes. According to the report, they include “strongly opposing views on the need for electoral system reform” and transparency on the part of the Yukon government concerning whether it’s willing to implement changes.

Informed choice is another theme with 83 per cent of respondents agreeing that public education on “our current and other types of electoral systems” is important.

When it comes to other specific types of electoral systems, “a very large number of respondents” have a preference for proportional representation, the report says. It’s unclear how many times such a change was actually suggested.

That said, a “large number” of people didn’t support reform or expressed “their clear support for keeping the current first-past-the-post electoral system,” according to the report.

The highest level of agreement in the survey fell on three topics, namely transparency and fairness during elections (89 per cent) and concerning political fundraising (87 per cent). That the legislative assembly is “open and accountable” is another at 83 per cent.

“In fact, five in six respondents agreed these topics were very important,” the report says.

Suggestions from the public include harsher penalties for MLAs involved with voter fraud and banning corporate donations, it says.

And further: “More constructive and meaningful dialogue or debate during question period was raised by a fair number of respondents, with several respondents suggesting rules or penalties for MLAs who do not honestly answer questions or are rude or disrespectful.”

There was “much lower agreement” when it came to ensuring elected officials reflect the Yukon’s diversity, the report says (50 per cent agreed).

“Women, minorities and those with lower incomes were referenced as groups that should be represented in politics,” it says. “A permanent First Nations seat in the legislature was also suggested.”

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

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