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Passionate about electoral reform? Yukon gov't accepting applicants for commission

Premier Sandy Silver says a commission will be struck this spring to study electoral reform, but the opposition parties are questioning whether it will be non-partisan.

Yukon Party, NDP worry about perception of bias if premier selects members of commission

'Yukoners passionate about electoral reform are encouraged to apply to be on the independent commission on electoral reform,' a government news release says. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The Yukon government says it is now accepting applications for an independent commission to study electoral reform, but opposition leaders are questioning how non-partisan that commission will be.

Last week, Premier Sandy Silver said the commission will be struck this spring, to study Yukon's voting system.

A government news release on Tuesday says the commission will be made up of three people who will meet eight days a month and will submit a final report late this fall.

"Yukoners passionate about electoral reform are encouraged to apply to be on the independent commission on electoral reform," the release says.

According to the draft terms of reference, the commission will look at options for electoral system reform, "to ensure our electoral system captures the intentions of voters as well as possible," and include recommendations in its final report.

The deadline to apply for the commission is Apr. 26. 

Opposition concerns

Silver met with Yukon Party Leader Stacey Hassard and NDP Leader Liz Hanson last week to discuss the commission — and the opposition leaders had some concerns.

"He... told me that he would be making the decision as to who sat on the committee — and that's not really a good way to put together a non-partisan committee," Hassard told CBC.

Both Hassard and Hanson wrote to Silver, saying they want to see an all-party process for selecting commission members. 

"This is a major concern, and undermines the neutrality and non-partisan nature of [the commission's] work," Hassard wrote.

Yukon Party Leader Stacey Hassard says the premier appointing members to the electoral reform commission is 'a major concern and undermines the neutrality and non-partisan nature of their work.' (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

"This committee will be making recommendations that could fundamentally change our democracy, and by allowing only one party to select members, you will be creating, at the very least, a perception of bias in the work of the committee."

Hanson's letter says that she does not want to nominate someone to sit on the commission.

"My rationale for this is to avoid any perception of 'partisanship,'" she wrote.

"My preference is that the leaders sit together and that we agree on the merits of the people who should be appointed to the [commission], for objective reasons. Then the premier has every right to announce them," Hanson told CBC.

The opposition parties differ though, on whether there should ultimately be a referendum on any proposed changes to Yukon's voting system. 

Hanson is not looking for a referendum. She says Yukoners have already expressed a desire for change to the electoral system. She says if changes are implemented, they should be used for a few election cycles then assessed.

Yukon NDP Leader Liz Hanson wants party leaders to work together to appoint members of the electoral reform commission. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

But Hassard supports a referendum.

"I think if they're going to do major changes to our voting system — that's our democracy, essentially — that Yukoners should have the right to have some input and have a say," Hassard said.

Opposition sent draft terms of reference

The premier's office says it is continuing to work with opposition parties on the next steps around electoral reform.

"This includes sharing the draft terms of reference for the commission, which was sent to opposition leaders," cabinet spokesperson Janine Workman wrote in an email to CBC.

"Following a public call for members, the Premier has committed to speak further with opposition leaders about the membership for the Commission, with a view to ensure membership is in keeping with the intent of a non-partisan Commission," Workman said.

Workman said the commission will make any recommendations if it feels a referendum is necessary.

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