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Yukon gov't defeats own bill to redraw electoral boundaries, add another MLA

Yukon opposition parties are shaking their heads after the territorial government defeated its own bill to change electoral riding boundaries in the territory.

Opposition parties say they're disappointed Liberals didn't adopt commission's report

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver says adding another electoral district in Yukon would reduce the number of voters per riding, and that Yukon ridings already have a small number of voters. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

Yukon opposition parties are shaking their heads after the territorial government defeated its own bill to change electoral riding boundaries in the territory.

The Electoral District Boundaries Commission issued a report in April with recommendations to redraw some riding boundaries, and increase the number of MLAs to 20 from the current 19. The new riding would have included Faro, Ross River and Carmacks.

The commission also recommended a major redistribution of ridings in the Porter Creek area of Whitehorse, to accommodate ongoing and projected growth in the Whistle Bend neighbourhood.

A government bill to enact those recommendations was tabled in the Legislature, but on Monday all government MLAs voted against Bill 19 on second reading.

The commission was chaired by Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale, and included representatives from the three parties: Darren Parsons (Liberal), Jonas Smith (Yukon Party) and Anne Tayler (NDP). Lori McKee, then Yukon's chief electoral officer, was also on the commission.

Parsons said Monday he was flabbergasted by the government's decision to kill the bill.

The commission recommended the creation of a new electoral district that would include Ross River, Faro and Carmacks. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

"I don't believe an electoral boundaries report has been defeated by a sitting government, really, in the history of the Commonwealth — so we're blazing trail here a little bit, in that regard." 

Parson said it bodes ill for the future of electoral reform in the territory. 

"In my opinion, to get it this wrong on the boundaries which, comparatively, is a simple exercise... I'm not optimistic they'll do any better in the larger discussion around electoral reform."

The clerk of the legislative assembly could not recall another instance of a government defeating its own bill. 

Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers voted against the bill, saying that his constituents had not been properly consulted about changes to the Lake Laberge riding that appeared in the final report. 

'It wasn't about Yukoners at all'

NDP leader Liz Hanson said the commission's recommendation to add another rural riding was an effort to give rural voters more representation.

"What the commission was trying to do was achieve parity, to make sure that we would have some balance in terms of the rural and urban electorate. And I think they did it," Hanson said. 

'They've got to come up with something,' says Yukon NDP leader Liz Hanson. (CBC)

"I don't know what these folks in the Liberal caucus are going to come up with next, but they've got to come up with something."

Yukon Party leader Stacey Hassard suspects the Liberals are gerrymandering.

"My impression is that this government, they just didn't like the look of the new map," Hassard said. "It wasn't about Yukoners at all. It was about themselves. 

"At the end of the day, the [commission] was told rural Yukon should have more representation, and it's disappointing that the premier and the government would vote against it."

Hassard also said the commission recommended adjusting the Porter Creek ridings to reflect the sharp growth in the Whistle Bend subdivision.

"This leaves Whistle Bend stuck the way it is for at least two more elections," he said.

The Electoral District Boundaries Commission recommended redrawing some electoral districts to reflect growth in the Whistle Bend neighbourhood of Whitehorse. (Vic Istchenko/CBC)

Yukon's Elections Act stipulates that the government must strike a commission after every second election, to examine the riding boundaries.

Yukoners don't want more politicians, premier says

Speaking on Tuesday, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said his government would not re-open the issue. 

He said the government defeated the bill because there had been "a dramatic change" between the commission's earlier, interim report released last year — which did not recommend an additional MLA — and the final report from April.

"There was no public meetings held on these changes," said Silver. "The [changes] were introduced very late in the process and to me that's extremely concerning.

"All summer long, as we were asking people about this to talk about the report, didn't hear anybody saying that Yukoners want more politicians."

Silver also said adding another riding would reduce the number of voters per riding, and that Yukon ridings already have a small number of voters.

He said his "door is always open" if opposition leaders want to discuss the matter.

About the Author

Raised in Ross River, Yukon, Nancy Thomson is a graduate of Ryerson University's journalism program. Her first job with CBC Yukon was in 1980, when she spun vinyl on Saturday afternoons. She rejoined CBC Yukon in 1993, and focuses on First Nations issues and politics. You can reach her at nancy.thomson@cbc.ca.

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