Municipal Act changes get tough on referendums

The public input period on amendments to the Yukon Municipal Act closed last week, and if the proposed changes go through, citizens will have a much tougher time initiating a binding referendum than before.

The public input period on amendments to the Yukon Municipal Act closed last week, and if the proposed changes go through, citizens will have a much tougher time initiating a binding referendum than before.

One of the 11 amendments proposes would require signatures from 15 per cent of the population to trigger a referendum.

Under the current Municipal Act – a lengthy document that guides the business of town councils in the territory – citizens have the option of gathering signatures from at least 2,000 eligible electors or 15 per cent of the population.

By removing that first option, a Whitehorse resident would in the future have to gather about 4,183 signatures to start the referendum process.

Ian Davis, director of community affairs, said the change was proposed because some municipalities do not use voter lists or have outdated lists.

“This proposed approach would provide clarity and consistency as population-based numbers are simple and easy to understand, based on readily available recent data,” he said in an email.

“This proposed change would remove unique criteria for Whitehorse, the only municipality with 2,000 eligible voters, which in turn would make the trigger more consistent across Yukon.”

The amendment does not mention whether only eligible voters will count towards 15 per cent of population requirement.

The Municipal Act came into effect in 1998 and was revised in both 2003 and 2008. In 2012, the current review of the act began and resulted in 11 proposed amendments.

Marianne Darragh is skeptical about many of the proposed changes.

In 2008, she beat the City of Whitehorse in court after Justice Ron Veale declared her petition for a referendum to amend the Official Community Plan valid.

Darragh’s petition had called for a referendum that would help create McLean Lake Park.

She had collected just over 2,650 signatures for her petition. The following year, however, the Yukon Court of Appeal ruled that residents couldn’t force the city to hold a referendum on the matter and Veale’s decision was struck down.

“We worked weekends and nights to collect those signatures,” she said.

“They had to be eligible voters. I can’t imagine how we could have been able to get over 4,100 signatures in the 90 days we had to do it.”

Another amendment would allow city council to initiate a counter-petition process to allow voters to have a say on controversial matters.

Davis said it would give council a way to find out if their decisions meet approval of the public without having to go through a costly plebiscite or referendum.

But under the proposed amendment, voters would only have 60 days to petition against it.

“It’s unrealistic and a way of killing the referendum process,” Darragh said.

“I don’t think my taxes are wasted by asking me to vote on something. Referendums are expensive?

“No one thinks that except politicians.”

Other amendments include removing the requirement to publicly post the list of eligible electors two weeks prior to an election, and removing the requirement for municipalities to submit Official Community Plans to the Yukon Municipal Board.

Davis said the government would wait until it had heard back from the Association of Yukon Communities, which has a meeting this weekend to discuss the changes, before it would gather all the feedback it had received on the amendments.

The feedback will be analyzed over the coming months before any final decisions are made, he added.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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