Voting system fine as is, premier says

By Julia Skikavich
Published September 16th 2005 in Whitehorse Daily Star
The Yukon’s electoral system is working and doesn’t need electoral reform, says Premier Dennis Fentie.
“Our government is clear: we went through a process with respect to electoral reform, it showed clearly that in the concept of fair and balanced representation throughout, we’ve got a good system,” he told the Star Wednesday afternoon.
The only group demanding changes is the opposition in the legislature, he added.
However, Ken McKinnon, a former commissioner who wrote the $124,000-report that stated the government should be more concerned with legislative renewal than electoral reform, has become involved with a group pushing for a citizens’ commission to explore options that may change the way Yukoners vote.
“I’ve been working with them,” McKinnon said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “I’ve always believed in democratic renewal.”
McKinnon has attended almost all the meetings of the Citizens for Electoral Reform Yukon because he felt it was the “responsible” thing to do. He has also acted as a resource position, helping the group get in touch with political scientists and Fair Vote Canada representatives.
Democratic renewal can involve several steps, said McKinnon.
The first is to look at legislative renewal and improving the way MLAs behave in the legislature. If that doesn’t give constituents the representation they want, it may be time to look at electoral reform, he said.
McKinnon said he still believes most Yukoners don’t yet feel the need for electoral reform, but he is “absolutely” encouraged to see the Citizens for Electoral Reform Yukon examining the options.
The group is conducting a petition to present to the legislature which will ask the government to form a citizens’ commission to explore options of electoral reform and give Yukoners the opportunity to vote in a referendum on how they want to cast their ballots in the future.
The legislature will give the petition consideration when it’s presented, said Fentie.
“We will respond as we have to. We’re obligated to respond to any petition that’s tabled in our assembly.”
However, he added: “I would say that the government will continue to support fair and balanced representation. There’s a system in the Yukon today that is ensuring that. We want to focus on legislative renewal.”
A majority government unwilling to look at reforming the voting system isn’t uncommon, said Audrey McLaughlin, the Yukon’s former NDP MP and a member of the electoral reform group.
“Majority governments never thoroughly support electoral reform,” she said in an interview.
“If, however, one can look a little beyond self-interest, which might also help people to be less cynical about politics, and look at the larger picture, I think people will agree.”
A citizens’ commission doesn’t have to be a hugely expensive process, she added. The research into the various options available could allow the Yukon to set an example for other jurisdictions in Canada.
“This is something that is not just a Yukon issue, it is a Canada-wide issue, and I’ve often felt that here in the Yukon we are able do some innovative work as a sort of modeling and I think it is worth looking it.”
McLaughlin has done extensive international work and said there is no perfect system. However, she does believe there are opportunities to make government more representative of how citizens are casting their votes.
“The goal is to look at systems that more adequately reflect the wishes of the voters than simply the first-past-the-post and whoever gets the majority,” said McLaughlin, MP from 1987 to 1997.
“The majority government, if you like, is not actually (usually) elected by a majority of people.”
In the 2002 election, the Yukon Party won 40 per cent of the popular vote in the territory, but now occupies 66 per cent of the seats in the legislature.
There were similar results in the 2000 election when the Liberal party had 43 per cent of the popular vote but 58 per cent of the seats in the House.
The NDP took 40 per cent of the vote and 59 per cent of the ridings in the 1996 election.
“We want to see where electors are able to point to someone in the legislature that they have actually helped elect,” said Dave Brekke, another member of the Citizens for Electoral Reform.
“I think it can be improved,” agreed Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell. “There are obviously some opportunities for rebalancing, but I have yet to see the proposal that solves all the problems without necessarily creating others.”
Mitchell added that he was disappointed with McKinnon’s report, released earlier this year.
“The report that came back basically said nobody was interested. I think people have some interest in it,” he said.
However, McKinnon maintains that at the time he was writing his report, there was not an actively organized group pushing electoral reform.
“The people I talked to, including the first nations, said rather than look at the difficult process of electoral reform at this time, they’d much rather look at legislative renewal.”
Electoral reform is often examined as an option when people are not voting, youth are not going to the polls, there is a lack of equality in the legislature or there is a strong push for more proportional representation, he said.
McKinnon stated it appears the only reason for electoral reform at this time would be based on the idea that changing the system to be more proportional may create fairer representation.
“I don’t know if you change the whole of the electoral system at this time when you’re already accomplishing three of the four reasons why people say you go to electoral reform,” he added.
McKinnon said he is impressed with the calibre of the people involved with the group, which includes individuals from across the political spectrum, former politicians and cabinet ministers.
He said he doesn’t know what the results of the petition will be, but added it will give a better idea of the size and the organization of the individuals looking for change.
Opposition Leader Todd Hardy added that’s good to see people organizing behind the need for possible change in the system and that it will hopefully provide the opportunity to “kick-start” electoral reform.
“It’s indicative of a lot of people having very strong opinions on this,” he said, adding the Yukon Party government has ignored the calls for change to-date.