Social problems are fair game for municipal leaders

The upcoming municipal elections have sparked a debate about the role and scope of local government in the Yukon.

by Andre Carrel

“Every council candidate is free to define what the issues of concern to the community are or should be.”

The upcoming municipal elections have sparked a debate about the role and scope of local government in the Yukon. Whitehorse Mayor Bev Buckway says that those who want their municipal council to grapple with social problems should take the time to read the Municipal Act.

That is good advice indeed. I fully agree that candidates and voters who care about their community and who want their municipal council to become engaged in the pursuit of solutions to local problems take a close look at the Municipal Act. Here is what section 231(2) has to say: “a municipality may provide a service that it would otherwise not have power to provide” subject to an agreement with the Government of Yukon.

The Yukon’s legislative powers are set out in the Yukon Act. One of these is the power to make laws in relation to municipal institutions. In other words, the Yukon’s Legislative Assembly has a free hand to assign or delegate any of its own responsibilities and powers to local governments.

The Legislative Assembly decided in 1998 to use that power to its broadest possible extent. In its preamble the Municipal Act refers to “services to property and good government to their residents and taxpayers” as constituting a municipal council’s primary responsibilities.

It is important to note that these are referred to as being primary, not exclusive responsibilities. The preamble goes on to state that “local governments have a significant responsibility for furthering compatible human activities and land uses.”

The bulk of municipal services are linked to property: water, sewer, roads, garbage, and fire protection. Parks and recreation services are concerned with land use; by their nature they are quality of life services although they tend to be viewed (and are some times treated) as secondary services.

The Municipal Act does not restrict a municipal council’s engagement and energies to such conventional municipal services. The act neither defines nor does it limit in any way what a “compatible human activity” may be.

The preamble, however, does not confer any powers; it merely provides an outline for the intended effect of the legislation that follows. It is in section 231(2) that we find the full extent of the legislation’s intent in this respect.

No two communities are alike in the Yukon. The upshot of the differences in population between Whitehorse and all other communities, and their relative isolation from each other is that every municipal council is confronted by unique social, cultural and economic problems.

The City of Whitehorse may be struggling with needs in matters of little concern to smaller communities. Dawson City may be struggling with problems that are of little concern to Watson Lake. It is precisely in recognition of such possibilities that the Legislative Assembly brought in new municipal legislation in 1998 to enable municipalities and the Government of Yukon to pursue targeted solutions to problems of a unique local character.

In other words, the Municipal Act’s objective is to facilitate territorial and local governments to work together for the common good.

So concerns about the quality, availability, affordability, or accessibility of any service within the jurisdiction of the Government of Yukon, be that education, affordable housing, or any other territorial service, are topics with as much legitimacy in a municipal election as are issues concerning water, sewer, and roads. This is not a legislative loophole.

To the contrary, it was the Legislative Assembly’s thoughtful, deliberate, and purposeful decision to give municipal councils the authority to engage in any service within the jurisdiction of the Government of Yukon, subject of course to an agreement negotiated by council with the Government of Yukon.

The difference between the scope of a municipal election, and that of territorial or federal elections, is that the election issues are defined by the candidates themselves. Municipal election issues are not determined by political parties, and candidates are not directed by party officials or bound by party discipline. Every council candidate is free to define what the issues of concern to the community are or should be.

Municipal elections provide an avenue in which citizens can debate community issues free of party rhetoric and jurisdictional boundaries, an opportunity to elect a council with a mandate to negotiate with the Government of Yukon community-specific solutions to local problems. Whatever topics may arise out of such dialogue and debate, the election provides new councils with a legitimate mandate to place local issues, whatever they may be, on the agenda for negotiations with the Government of Yukon.

The Municipal Act’s preamble reminds voters and candidates alike that “public participation is fundamental to good local government.” Elections provide a forum for such participation. The value a community derives from municipal elections depends on the local relevance of issues raised by candidates and voters alike.

Andre Carrel is a retired municipal administrator and author of Citizen’s Hall: Making Local Democracy Work. He lives in Terrace, B.C.

Just Posted

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before using it on Nov. 24. The Yukon government is reopening the drive-thru option on June 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Drive-up COVID-19 testing opening June 18 in Whitehorse

The drive-up testing will be open from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. everyday and increase testing capacity by 33 spots

A draft plan has been released by the Dawson Regional Use Planning commission on June 15. Julien Gignac/Yukon News
Draft plan released by the Dawson Regional Land Use Planning Commission

Dawson Regional Land Use Commission releases draft plan, Government of Yukon withdraws additional lands from mineral staking in the planning region

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Let them live in trailers

“I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city… Continue reading


Wyatt’s World for June 18, 2021.… Continue reading

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Yukon News file)
Yukon logs nine new COVID-19 cases, 54 active cases

More CEMA enforcement officers have been recruited, officials say

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council at its June 14 meeting

Murray Arsenault sits in the drivers seat of his 1975 Bricklin SV1 in Whitehorse on June 16. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Bringing the 1975 Bricklin north

Murray Arsenault remembers his dad’s Bricklin, while now driving his own

A presumptive COVID case was found at Seabridge Gold’s 3 Aces project. (file photo)
Presumptive COVID-19 case reported at mine in southeast Yukon

A rapid antigen rest found a presumptive COVID case on an incoming individual arriving at the 3Aces project

Jonathan Antoine/Cabin Radio
Flooding in Fort Simpson on May 8.
Fort Simpson asked for military help. Two people showed up.

FORT SIMPSON—Residents of a flooded Northwest Territories village expected a helping hand… Continue reading

A woman was rescued from the Pioneer Ridge Trail in Alaska on June 16. (Photo courtesy/AllTrails)
Alaska hiker chased off trail by bears flags down help

ANCHORAGE (AP)—An Alaska hiker who reported needing help following bear encounters on… Continue reading

Two participants cross the finish line at the City of Whitehorse Kids Triathlon on June 12 with Mayor Dan Curtis on hand to present medals. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
2021 Kids’ Triathlon draws 76 young athletes

Youth ages five to 14 swim, run and bike their way to finish line

NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq rises in the House of Commons, in Ottawa on May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Unacceptable’ that Inuk MP felt unsafe in House of Commons, Miller says

OTTAWA—It’s a “sad reflection” on Canada that an Inuk MP feels she’s… Continue reading

Lily Witten performs her Canadian Nationals beam routine on June 14. John Tonin/Yukon News
Three Yukon gymnasts break 20-year Nationals absence

Bianca Berko-Malvasio, Maude Molgat and Lily Witten competed at the Canadian Nationals – the first time in 20 years the Yukon’s been represented at the meet

Most Read