The Yukon NDP has tabled a bill that promises to rid territorial election campaigns of money from unions, corporations and individuals who live outside the territory.
Meanwhile, the Yukon Party government is accusing the Official Opposition of empty grandstanding ahead of the election.
NDP Leader Liz Hanson presented her private member’s bill in the legislature Tuesday.
Right now there are no rules in the Yukon when it comes to who can donate to political parties or how much they can give.
If the Fairness in Political Contributions Act became law it would amend the Elections Act and ban political donations from corporations or unions. It would allow only individuals living in the territory to give money to political parties and those individual donations would be capped at $1,500.
“Not only do these outside, corporate and union contributions distort the democratic process, they also create the perception that government decisions can be influenced through unofficial channels,” Hanson said at a press conference ahead of Tuesday’s sitting.
The bill is at least weeks away from being debated, but it certainly created a lot of talk yesterday.
The Yukon Party has already counterpunched with paperwork of its own.
House Leader Darius Elias tabled a motion questioning why the NDP only brought up this issue now and not on six different occasions since 2011.
That includes when the Yukon Elections Act was amended during the last fall sitting. The biggest change to come out of those amendments was a new permanent voter registration list. The changes were passed unanimously.
“We’re interested in having a discussion about reforming the Elections Act with regards to campaign financing and we can have that debate,” said minister Currie Dixon, a member of the all-party member services board.
“But I don’t think that’s what the NDP are after here. I think what they’re trying to do is pretty transparent, it’s a political stunt given that this is an election year.
“If they genuinely wanted to make changes to campaign financing they had ample opportunity to do it over the last two years.”
The NDP maintains that committee discussions about changes to the Elections Act were constrained by the government so that campaign finance reform would have been off-limits. Dixon asserts that wasn’t the case.
Dixon said it’s too early to say whether he would support the bill if it happens to come to a vote.
Political parties often depend on cash from unions or corporations, particularly during years leading up to an election.
Hanson acknowledged the NDP has received contributions from unions in the past that would no longer be allowed under these new rules.
During the last election campaign in 2011 the Yukon Federation of Labor donated $35,000 to the NDP. The union was, by far, the party’s largest donor that year.
The Yukon Party has received sizable donations from mining companies in the past. In 2012 Stratagold Corporation, which has a handful of properties in the Yukon, donated $15,000. In 2011 the Predator Mining Group handed over $10,000.
The Liberal Party’s biggest donor during the 2011 election was Western Copper which donated $3,300 that year.
According to numbers released by the NDP, between 2011 and 2014, 73 per cent of contributions to the Yukon Party came from corporations or unions. That works out to about $216,000. For the NDP that number was about $41,000 or 15 per cent. The Liberals got $11,000 or about seven per cent of their total.
Democratic reform is something the NDP has been “trying to put through every aspect of the debate” since they were elected, said Hanson.
The NDP has put forward private member’s bills to stop floor crossing, reform the lobbying rules and amend the workers’ compensation law to consider PTSD.
It’s up to the party that tables these bills to call them for second reading, debate and eventually a vote.
The NDP has not called any of those bills for second reading.
The floor crossing bill was tabled in 2011 but hasn’t been touched. The lobbying reform was abandoned after “very clear indications from the Yukon Party in question period that they wouldn’t support it,” according to
party spokesperson Mike Fancie.
The PTSD bill is also on hold, this time because the party says members of the public have suggested the bill could be expanded.
Hanson said her bill on political contributions will be different. She has promised to call it for a debate.
If it doesn’t pass, an NDP government would raise the issue again after the election, she said.
The biggest hurdle facing this bill is time. The NDP’s decision to only introduce it now means the earliest it could come up for second reading and debate is Wednesday, May 4.
Unless the bill becomes law before the end of the sitting on May 26, it will die on the order paper once the election is called.
Hanson says there’s no reason this latest bill couldn’t become law in time.
“If the will of the parties are there. These are relatively minor amendments, the consequences are significant but the actual technical amendments themselves are not complex.”
Liberal Leader Sandy Silver says his party is in favour of these kind of changes.
“It’s time. It’s definitely time for us to reign in the ridiculous amount of spending for political campaigns.”
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