With potential change in the voting system under examination in the territory, two Yukoners from a self-described non-partisan citizen’s movement are asking legislators for a citizens’ assembly on electoral reform.
The representatives from Fair Vote Yukon — spokesperson Linda Leon and member Sally Wright — appeared as witnesses at a virtual public hearing held over Zoom on April 22. It was part of the Yukon Legislative Assembly’s all-party special committee on electoral reform’s study on the topic.
Three MLAs make up the special committee: NDP Leader Kate White, who is the committee’s chair; Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers, who is vice-chair; and Yukon Liberal Party MLA John Streicker.
Leon told committee members a citizens’ assembly would have public confidence and make unbiased recommendations about the future of the electoral system.
“Yukon is the perfect place” for an effective citizens’ assembly to be created, Wright said.
Wright said the territory poses a unique challenge given its disparity in population size in the urban Whitehorse centre versus smaller, more remote communities that is further complicated by cultural differences.
In creating a citizens’ assembly, Leon suggested following the process in other places, such as British Columbia’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform and Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly, in determining how members are chosen, such as using a lottery, and whether the governing body will honour its recommendations and how it will do that.
When asked by White about the composition of the citizens’ assembly, the two witnesses presented different ideas about its makeup.
Leon said it could consist of two people from each electoral district for a total of 36 people, while Wright said it could consist of a male and a female from each community drawn out of a hat for a total of 55 people.
“I think we would end up with a really great mix,” Leon said about randomly selecting a couple of people from each constituency, including the small population of Old Crow.
“I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” Leon said.
Wright argued that every community should be represented, adding that the ridings are too big.
Cathers challenged the witnesses to define Yukon communities, for example, people living in the Whitehorse periphery.
Streicker wondered if there should be language that mandates the government follow the assembly’s view and in determining the next steps when it comes to implementation.
Leon expressed hopes that the rules are set out in advance, adding there should be a legislated response to the recommendations that the citizens’ assembly comes up with.
If the citizens’ assembly decides the issue goes to referendum, which Fair Vote Yukon does not endorse, then there must be a “simple” question that is developed by the citizens’ assembly to avoid political interference, Leon said.
Although Leon supports a citizens’ assembly when it comes to electoral reform, Leon remained sceptical about using it as a tool for dealing with all issues. One does not use a paint brush when one needs a hammer, Leon said, arguing it is up to the government and citizens to decide where it is appropriate and where it is not to be used.
The special committee has received 17 written submissions which are posted on the legislative assembly’s website.
Leon’s submission on behalf of Fair Vote Yukon signals the current first-past-the-post electoral system is “broken” and advocates for reform.
“Fair Vote Yukon believes that this challenge cannot be successfully met by the existing special committee on electoral reform alone,” Leon said in the submission.
“Even with the best intentions, jockeying for political advantage is inevitable amongst politicians. And there will always be a problem with public trust in the committee’s process and resulting decisions.”
The special committee previously held 13 video conference hearings with subject matter experts from Jan. 21-31 and on March 25.
It must complete its study and report back to the House in the fall 2022 sitting of the legislative assembly.
A report on electoral reform prepared for the special committee by committee researcher Keith Archer, who does not take a position on the issue in the report, outlines the current party system in the Yukon and options for change, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com