NDP Leader Kate White speaks to media in Whitehorse on Oct. 3. White told the News that the electoral reform process needs to be restarted, this time including all parties. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Opposition parties call for new approach to electoral reform

NDP plans motion for all-party committee to work on issue

The territory’s opposition parties say it’s time to restart the electoral reform process with changes that include all parties.

Both NDP Leader Kate White and the Yukon Party’s critic for democratic institutions Brad Cathers made the comments in separate interviews Oct. 2.

With the legislature beginning its fall sitting Oct. 3, White said she plans to bring forward a motion soon for an all-party select committee similar to those that have been formed in the past to look at legislation on fracking, ORVs and other matters.

The comments came in light of the Aug. 29 resignation of the chair of the electoral reform commission, Jessica Lott Thompson.

The resignation was made public on Sept. 30.

The two opposition parties have been critical of the Liberal government’s process around electoral reform, arguing they have been left out of the process, that there was work with their parties to select the commission members or form an all-party select committee to look at the issue.

Premier Sandy Silver, meanwhile, has stood by the decision for the work to be done by what he has argued would be a non-partisan commission.

“There was no engagement,” White said of the Liberal government’s approach.

In a statement, she argued the commission created was one that best suited the governing Liberals.

“They did it on their terms,” she said. “They shortlisted and chose the candidates and the premier’s office was the one directing and overseeing their work. At no point during the creation of the Independent Commission on Electoral Reform did the Yukon Liberal Government include any of the input provided by the Yukon NDP caucus.”

After Lott Thompon’s resignation, Silver requested a meeting with the opposition parties to talk about next steps in the process.

“Only now that the premier’s handpicked commission has ceased to work does the premier seem prepared to engage meaningfully with the Yukon’s opposition parties,” White said.

Timelines and the more precise efforts of White’s proposed all-party committee are among the details that would be worked out if that direction were taken.

“Those intricacies would need to be hammered out,” White said, pointing out the resignation of the commission chair means electoral reform isn’t likely to happen by the 2020 territorial election.

The NDP leader pointed out with the legislature sitting a total of four months out of the year it’s entirely “feasible” for an all-party committee to begin the work.

Cathers said the Yukon Party hasn’t seen the NDP proposal, but would be open to the possibility of an all-party committee and stressed what he sees as a need to include all parties.

“Our concern has always been about the process,” he said.

It’s a process, he pointed out, that began with an online survey which didn’t even ask Yukoners if they are happy with the electoral system as-is or if they want changes. Rather the questions were such that it presumed everyone wanted to see change.

It was the Liberals alone who appointed commission members and there was no input when the terms of reference for the commission were developed, he said.

“Changing the way we cast the ballot is a major change in our democratic process,” Cathers said. “Our democracy belongs to the people.”

Acknowledging that some might argue it’s not possible for all parties to reach consensus, Catchers noted the Yukon Party, when in power, was successful in getting unanimous support from all parties on amendments to the Elections Act.

Those changes provided for a permanent register of voters and other changes in voter registration; changes to the special ballot process; and the creation of an independent Elections Yukon office.

That approach, he argued, is the right way to deal with electoral reform.

With files from Julien Gignac

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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