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Yukon MLAs debate electoral reform process as former clerk rebukes gov't

Yukon MLAs have begun to debate a motion establishing an all-party committee on electoral reform, following a strong message to the Liberal government from the assembly’s former clerk.

Floyd McCormick says Liberal commission 'undermines' Legislative Assembly

In his letter, former clerk Floyd McCormick lambasted the Liberal government for unilaterally appointing an electoral reform commission, saying it 'marginalizes' the Legislative Assembly. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

Yukon MLAs have begun to debate a motion establishing an all-party committee on electoral reform, following a strong rebuke to the Liberal government from the assembly's former clerk.

In a letter to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Floyd McCormick says the government is overstepping its bounds in overseeing an electoral reform commission, struck by Premier Sandy Silver this summer.

McCormick says the Liberals' approach is not fair, and undermines the authority of the Legislative Assembly.

Both opposition parties — the Yukon Party and the NDP — accused the government of being heavy-handed, and not including them in the process.

McCormick, who retired as clerk last April after 18 years in the job, waded into the fray with a ten page letter to speaker Nils Clarke on Aug. 2. 

Clarke is chair of the all-party Member Services Board, which makes decisions on assembly policy, finances, and administration, including election matters.

The letter was tabled in the assembly on Tuesday by the NDP.

Process 'fails the fairness test,' says former clerk

In the letter, McCormick echoed the opposition's concerns.

The "ICER [Independent Commission on Electoral Reform] process … undermines the ability of the Legislative Assembly to perform its core constitutional function - holding the executive accountable for the way it governs Yukon."

McCormick wrote that Silver's electoral reform process "fails the fairness test because only one political party — the Yukon Liberal Party — has had a hand in creating the ICER process."

He says Silver is "mistaken" in thinking that the Liberal Party's control of the commission process is legitimate because they are the government, and goes on to say that a political party shouldn't control the electoral reform process, because it has a "vested interest in the outcome of elections."

McCormick says the process "marginalizes" the Legislative Assembly, by developing bills that affect the authority of the assembly.

"This problem cuts to the core of the Westminister parliamentary system of democracy, one in which cabinet governs the territory and the Legislative Assembly holds cabinet accountable for how it governs," he wrote. 

"Put simply, the Legislative Assembly cannot fully perform its constitutional function if its authority and that of its House Officers can be unilaterally determined and altered by the entity it is supposed to hold accountable."

McCormick ended his letter by offering to meet with the Member Services Board.

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver says his government would not unilaterally follow the commission's recommendations: 'that absolutely is not what we're saying.' (CBC)

Silver defended his commission, taking exception to McCormick's criticisms.

"I'm going to have to agree to disagree with the … former Clerk, " he said. "We are not suggesting that the independent commission would be the ones that would invoke change in the Legislative Assembly. That absolutely is not what we're saying."

Opposition parties support all-party commission

The electoral reform process has been troubled since shortly after it began. In the spring, Silver appointed a three-member commission to examine the territory's electoral system.

In July, Silver appointed Jessica Lott-Thompson of the Yukon Human Rights Commission as chair.

However, at the end of September, Silver announced her resignation, giving no reason for her departure.

At that time, Silver put the process on hold, "pending the outcome of discussions with the opposition parties."

NDP MLA Liz Hanson introduced a motion to establish an all-party select committee on electoral reform, a motion supported by the Yukon Party, but with amendments. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

On Wednesday, NDP MLA Liz Hanson introduced a motion to establish an all-party select committee on electoral reform, saying that would take the process out of the government's hands.

"We want there to be an open opportunity that's not controlled, not led by a process that goes through the cabinet office and then — maybe — out to the Legislative Assembly. That's not how democracy works," she said.

The Yukon Party said they supported the NDP's motion, but with amendments.

"The key part for us is that it has to be an all-party approach," said Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers.

"We are open to it being a select committee, such as the NDP have proposed, or it being a commission of citizens with the terms of reference and appointments decided with equal involvement of all political parties."

Debate ended on Wednesday without a vote. The matter is expected to return in two weeks' time.

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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