Report urges renewal, not reform

The Yukon’s electoral system is working well and doesn’t need to be changed right now, concludes a long-awaited report by former MLA,…

The Yukon’s electoral system is working well and doesn’t need to be changed right now, concludes a long-awaited report by former MLA, commissioner and college chancellor Ken McKinnon.

“Since the election of 1982, average voter turnout for all subsequent territorial elections has been nearly 80 per cent,” the report states.

The 20-page document, which cost around $115,000, details McKinnon’s impressions of the Citizens’ Assembly in British Columbia, a 160-member legislative body that has two representatives from each riding.

“It was extraordinary to see 160 members of totally diverse ages, ethnicity and backgrounds conduct themselves in a totally civil, temperate and positive atmosphere,” wrote McKinnon, who spent 60 days and a large chunk of his budget observing the BC system in Vancouver.

“One woman and one man from each of BC’s 79 ridings, and two First Nations representatives. The final cost of the assembly to BC’s taxpayers was nearly $5 million.”

A smaller citizens’ assembly could be staged in the Yukon for about $1 million, he estimated.

But at present, a similar Yukon system isn’t required or desired, said McKinnon.

“The timing isn’t now for electoral reform,” he said. “The timing is now for legislative renewal.”

Renewal would examine the conduct of an assembly’s members and make recommendations for constructive government.

It would scrutinize decorum in the house as well as methods of government appointments, like the one McKinnon received, he said.

“We must be one of the only jurisdictions left that does not vet people who are appointed to boards or commissions,” said McKinnon, who added he has “been around” elections for 50 years.

“That’s where you get this constant charge of the old boys’ network at the trough,” he said.

“I think that when people get appointed to positions like I did, I want to defend before the people in the house that the government has made the right choice.”

McKinnon’s appointment as the Yukon’s senior adviser on electoral reform was criticized by opposition MLAs, who called it a blatant example of political patronage.

“Admittedly, the person who brought in this report admits that he’s one of the old boys and that’s one of the reasons he probably got the contract,” NDP leader Todd Hardy said Thursday.

“Yesterday, we finally had an opportunity to read this report. Frankly, it didn’t take long because there wasn’t really much in it.”

Hardy criticized McKinnon’s report as “highly subjective with very little supporting documentation.

“There’s no evidence the author did any extensive research beyond observing the BC citizens’ assembly and reading a rather dated political science text.

“It would have been good to have seen some objective analysis and documentation on what other jurisdictions are doing. That was not in the report.

“But the most disappointing part of this exercise is that there was no opportunity for Yukon people to make any kind of presentation to the senior adviser.”

To the “chagrin” of the Yukon Party, McKinnon lauded the Democratic Reform Act tabled by the NDP last year that would have taken steps towards legislative renewal.

“It is obviously a very well-crafted, well-thought-out document, and it’s a good basis for talking about legislative renewal,” said McKinnon.

But the Yukon Party’s majority voted it down during the fall session of the legislature.

The NDP tabled the second half of the bill, the Legislative Renewal Act, on Thursday.

However, the Yukon Party made a motion to begin its own process of legislative renewal.

McKinnon’s conclusions are based on consultations with “everyone,” in which he weighed the merits of first-past-the-post elections against proportional representation.

For example, he consulted First Nations leaders, such as former Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Ed Schultz, for their thoughts on the Yukon’s first-past-the-post electoral system.

“He told me that there was no pressure from his constituents for ‘electoral reform’ at this time.

“A common theme persisted, however, amongst First Nations leaders that they would welcome positive changes in the way that the members of the Yukon legislative assembly conducted both themselves and the business of the people of the Yukon.”

Still, the Yukon’s electoral system is better than most, he said.

“We’re doing so much better than most of the other jurisdictions in Canada. We should be proud of what we have accomplished in Canada in our voting patterns, in our percentage of First Nations, in our percentage of women.”

There are three First Nations members of the Yukon legislature: Yukon Party cabinet minister John Edzerza and New Democrats Eric Fairclough and Lorraine Peter.

Likewise, there are three female members: Peter, Liberal leader Pat Duncan and Tourism minister Elaine Taylor.

“Yukoners everywhere told me that they were really quite happy with the makeup of the legislature, of First Nations people, of women, of other Yukoners in the assembly,” said McKinnon.

“They really weren’t that concerned about how people got elected to the legislature. They were incredibly concerned about how they behaved once they got there.”

The spring session of the legislature has been rife with examples of bad behaviour.

Hardy’s comment about McKinnon’s appointment was ruled out of line by Speaker Ted Staffen.

After slapping his microphone, Hardy retracted the statement.

But far more irrelevant and sophomoric comments have been made, most recently by Lake Laberge MLA Brad Cathers, who giggled and joked about “escorts” during Thursday’s discussion of medical patients required to travel Outside for treatment.

“The member for Lake Laberge is amused,” said NDP MLA Gary McRobb. “He thinks this is some kind of escort service question. He is wrong.”

McKinnon admitted his report has no real authority over the behaviour of assembly members.

“It’s their house, they are the masters of their house, they have rules, committees, privileges, tools they can use,” he said.

“Universally, I got all over the Yukon the feeling that the first item of business in democratic reform, rather than electoral reform, should be legislative renewal.

“All of (the parties) say the same thing, and I challenge them in the report to do something in this session of the legislature on legislative renewal to really effect what their constituents are telling them.”

The report does not address the discrepancy between the Municipal Act and Yukon Elections Act, which allows indebted citizens, such as cabinet ministers Archie Lang and Peter Jenkins, to run for MLA, but not for a municipal council.

See related editorial.

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