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This week’s mailbox: electricity demand and electoral reform

The growing need for electricity

The growing need for electricity

Dear Editor,

Thanks to Keith Halliday for two successive articles pointing out the need for large-scale and rapid investment in electric power sources for the Yukon grid (Yukonomist, Jan. 14 and 21). I agree that there is a massive gap between the ever-growing need for more electricity and the combined plans of the Yukon Government and Yukon Energy to supply that need.

We can debate the extent to which small-scale hydroelectric power should fill that gap, compared to solar, wind, geothermal, and perhaps other (but not biomass) energy sources. Efforts to reduce each Yukoner’s need or demand for electricity are also necessary.

However, we are in an acknowledged climate crisis, requiring huge reductions in our use of fossil fuels within the next decade. Yukon Energy’s ten-year plan has some useful additions to our sources of electricity, but too few to replace the energy from fossil fuels that we can no longer burn by 2030. Yukon government’s “Our Clean Future” plan has only modest listings of already-planned projects, mostly in off-grid communities. It lacks an overall summary of the emerging energy shortfall and evaluation of alternative scenarios towards large-scale electrification.

In a crisis one would expect mobilization of financial and human capital on a large scale to provide solutions. The Yukon Government’s 2021-22 budget proudly includes record-breaking spending on capital projects, largely for new roads, road upgrades, and airports. Where is the massive investment in new sources of energy to meet the Government’s climate-related targets? This lack of attention to energy infrastructure has been clear in Yukon budgets for many years now. Some Government programs may have to be cut back to properly fund necessary energy projects.

New, renewable-energy, projects will have environmental impacts. Some impacts in Yukon will likely include wind generators killing birds and bats, and headwater hydro plants reducing fish populations in the targeted lakes. Solar energy’s impacts are more far-flung, falling where the components are mined and manufactured. Yukoners have had the luxury of ignoring many of the impacts of an energy-intensive life style powered by fossil fuels because those impacts have occurred in other regions. Now, we must take on more of this environmental responsibility in our backyards. Our legacy of polluting the atmosphere for many decades requires us to pay some environmental costs locally, while being more imaginative with mitigation. It should also make us reflect carefully on whether we need to use all the energy that we do use, including pricing that is graduated by time-of-day and monthly quotas.

Donald Reid


Presentations on electoral systems

Presentations to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform began last Friday and are ongoing.

The first expert was the official committee researcher, Dr. Keith Archer on the topic of “Options for Yukon’s electoral system.” Archer is the former B.C. Chief Electoral officer and was a professor of political science at the University of Calgary.

Dr. Archer began by defining an electoral system as a set of rules by which elector votes determine seats in a Legislative Assembly. (I am paraphrasing.) He said that values such as fair representation in legislature, improvement to voter turn-out and increased diversity in the legislative assembly might be important to Yukoners when choosing an electoral system.

Archer demonstrated how our First Past the Post electoral system, and other majoritarian electoral systems, over-reward some parties and under-reward others leading to a predominance of majority governments in Yukon. Whether or not majority governments were a good thing was a matter of opinion according to Archer. He went on to discuss the merits and deficiencies of other electoral systems such as List Proportional Representation and Single Transferable Vote. Because of time constraints, he only touched on Mixed Member Proportional.

Dr. Archer’s presentation was incomplete. He will return on the 28th with his final report.

On Monday, Dr. Kenneth Carty, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of British Columbia, discussed the history of the two electoral reform referendums in British Columbia. He described how the use of the 2004 Citizens’ Assembly led to a referendum where over 58% of voters endorsed Single Transferable Vote over First past the Post in all but two electoral districts. This referendum failed due to the rules set by government. Carty then described how the second referendum in 2009 failed because voters had forgotten the lessons learned from the Citizens’ Assembly, lack of education about electoral systems and the confusing nature of the two-part referendum question; (1. Choose between First Past the Post and Proportional Representation, (PR) & 2. If in favour of PR, choose between Dual Member Proportional, Mixed Member proportional and Rural Member Proportional).

Dr. Carty’s presentation was fascinating and easy to understand! He only got into the weeds once while trying to explain Single Transferable Vote which, in my opinion, should only be attempted using animation. Otherwise, Carty was a pleasure to listen to.

On Tuesday morning, Maxwell Harvey, Yukon’s Chief Electoral Officer, used power-point to demonstrate the responsibilities of his office and to articulate how expensive and challenging any change to our electoral system would be. Getting deep into the weeds is the responsibility of Chief Electoral Officers and, in this respect, Harvey did not disappoint.

Tuesday afternoon, Joanna Everitt, Professor of Political Science, University of New Brunswick, briefly described attempts at electoral reform in New Brunswick. The rest of her presentation was an argument in favour of alternative solutions such as ranked ballots, per-vote subsidies and financial incentives to increase diversity in government. She said that Canadians were too uneducated to understand complex electoral systems and too apathetic to ever endorse change. Whether or not one agrees with Everitt, she was a skilled speaker and brought thought-provoking ideas to the table.

Yukoners can find the schedule of presentations links to the presentations, as well as recordings of past talks, on the Yukon Legislative Assembly website.

Linda Leon