Wanted: electoral reform, better representation

‘Does my vote even count?” asks social activist George Green. A soft-spoken gentleman with a fiery resolve, Green recently retired as…

‘Does my vote even count?” asks social activist George Green.

A soft-spoken gentleman with a fiery resolve, Green recently retired as executive director of Learning Disabilities Association Yukon.

But he is not putting his feet up and planning long fishing holidays.

Instead, he is championing electoral reform.

“I think it’s a serious problem when a person can represent me in my riding and only have 32 per cent of the vote and only 20 per cent of the vote in my riding,” he said.

“To me, that’s not democracy.”

“Every election, since I’ve been an adult in this territory I have heard people complain about the regional split between Whitehorse constituents and non-Whitehorse constituents,” said Kirk Cameron, a local businessman and self-confessed constitution watcher.

“Even if that’s only perception and not a fact, I think there is a real question the citizenry have about whether our system properly allows individuals to represent them in our Yukon territorial legislature.”

Last year Cameron, Green, Ross Findlater and 17 other concerned citizens formed a committee championing electoral reform.

Insisting the present system of voting is not fair, the committee petitioned the territorial government.

Since 1978, six of the eight so-called majority governments have been elected by less than half the voters, the petition reads.

“And there exists a substantial imbalance between the percentage of votes received by each party and the percentage of seats they have won.”

“I think there has been a level of discomfort about whether members sitting in the legislative assembly really, truly represent the interests of the constituents — whether everybody’s vote counts the same for putting people in the legislature,” said Cameron.

“We asked the Yukon government to strike a citizens’ commission to consult with Yukon people, review the current system and, in due consultation with Yukon people, make recommendations” and necessary improvements, said Green.

The petition had 704 signatures and was presented to the legislature on December 15th.

The government denied the petition.

“The government will continue to work with citizens, pursue legislative renewal, as well as continuing to bring good government to Yukoners,” said Premier Dennis Fentie in response.

That’s not enough, said Green, Findlater and Cameron.

“There are so many electoral options out there, you could choke a horse with them,” said Cameron.

What needs to happen in the Yukon is an informed discussion, he said.

“You have to bring some of this information to an interested public and get a whole debate going — this is what this whole group is about.”

“First, we have to find out if there are a majority of Yukoners who are unhappy with the present system; I mean, why fix it if it’s not broken,” said Green.

Since its inception last year, the 20-person committee has grown to 77.

“I can hardly buy groceries without people coming up to me and wanting to talk about (electoral reform),” said Green.

“And so long as we’re active, around and able, we are going to keep on discussing this until Yukoners say this is not an issue,” said Cameron.

“And if that’s the resounding response, which we don’t think it will be given the kind of response we’ve had to the petition, then I suppose at some point we will quietly go into the night.”

But that hypothetical night is still a long way off.

Wednesday, the citizens’ group is holding a public meeting on electoral reform.

It will be attended by Stephen Bittle, senior research officer with the Law Commission of Canada.

The Law Commission recently produced a 209-page book, Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada, outlining recommended changes to the electoral system.

The report concludes the electoral system would benefit from an element of proportionality.

In the last federal election, the New Democrats received one million more votes than the Bloc Quebecois, but the voting system gave the Bloc 51 seats and the NDP 29.

In addition, more than 650,000 Green Party voters across the country elected no one, while 475,000 voters in the Atlantic Canada elected 20 MPs.

There are similar distortions in the Yukon, said Green.

Some worry proportional representation will confuse the voting public.

“But in those countries where proportional representation is in place, it hasn’t driven people away from the polls for fear they aren’t going to be able to figure out how to vote,” said Cameron.

“The numbers, if anything, have gone up as a consequence of putting in a system that people believe results in greater fairness in their legislative bodies.”

The citizens’ group wants to offer constituents an opportunity to analyze the current system, recognize its potential and talk about how to fix it.

 “We want to ensure it is an informed debate and that it doesn’t get caught on one particular option that has unintended consequences and gives us an even worse government than the government we have now,” said Cameron.

“We will be insisting on debate, and we will eventually be putting forward solutions, but they’ll be the solutions of Yukon people,” said Green, who hopes to involve many youth in the process.

“And if it’s a made-in-the-Yukon solution, it won’t be complicated — Yukoners are very good at being practical about things.”

The group is dedicated, and patient.

“In the Yukon it might take five or 10 years, but there’s no real deadline on this one, we’re just interested citizens who want change,” said Cameron.

Bittle will speak Wednesday in the Yukon Inn’s Fireside Room at 7 p.m.