Premier Sandy Silver is asking for patience as YG appoints members to its planned electoral reform commission, as at least one opposition party cries foul over what it says is a partisan process the government is adopting to name those members.
A release announcing YG was beginning its hunt ahead of the April 26 deadline emerged Tuesday afternoon (just days after NDP Leader Liz Hanson raised it in question period. The Yukon Party, meanwhile, took Silver to task yesterday.
Speaking to reporters shortly after question period, the premier explained a bit of the process that will unfold moving forward.
“The Executive Council Office (ECO) Secretariat will go through that process of going through a larger list of numbers and putting it down to a smaller amount for myself,” Silver said.
The ECO includes, among other things, people who hold positions like cabinet analysts, senior advisors and senior negotiators.
The cabinet office, meanwhile, includes personnel like chief of staff, principal secretaries, ministers and communications directors.
“I believe the (ECO) will do a tremendous job – a non-partisan job – of getting us down to a list of names that work,” Silver said.
The premier met with both opposition parties late last week, during which they requested more details about the process of choosing members.
In her letter to Silver dated April 5, Hanson didn’t want to necessarily see all three parties appoint members.
She noted that nominating a person to sit on the group could itself give the appearance of partisanship.
She asked that “if a public call for commission members is put out that, we, as leaders of the 3 parties in the Legislative Assembly, can meet to determine the composition of the Commission based on an objective assessment of the skills, knowledge, experience of potential members.
“I still believe the Terms of Reference should guide the process and I think it would be a sign of good faith if the Opposition parties were asked to comment on the draft TOR,” she added.
For his part, Silver maintained his door is open to both parties and their feedback. The release states “the government is establishing the commission” and it “will then review the report and consider changes to the electoral system.”
Until members of that three-member commission are chosen though, he suggested the perception of bias may be premature.
“I guess the Yukon public will judge based upon members of that committee,” Silver told reporters.
“We’re going to do our best to make sure we have a diverse committee that’s made up of what the Yukon looks like,” he added, though of course with it being an odd-numbered group, things like gender parity may be hard to achieve.
Meanwhile, the Yukon Party’s Brad Cathers wondered about the long-term goal of the commission, which is expected to have its final report to YG late this fall.
That’s a concern, Cathers said, especially given what happened last fall, when the Liberals unanimously voted down a bill related to the Electoral District Boundaries Act.
It was a move rarely seen for government to defeat its own bill, which would have seen a 20th electoral riding introduced in the territory. (Cathers had also voted against it, unlike his five Yukon Party colleagues.)
Silver had since said the option to add a riding “was introduced very late in the process” after consultation had already taken place, and that “now is not the time to add a politician in the Yukon.”
Cathers had feared that meant the government was already going in with one perspective – so it may not be accommodating to a recommendation out of this report that could, for instance, suggest a system that could see another seat in the assembly.
“It would seem that they’ve already ruled out the option of increasing the size of the assembly,” Cathers said.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Silver referenced the results of the public survey.
“When we put the survey out there, that’s what we got back – there wasn’t one overwhelming view that we need to do something specific,” the premier said.
Last week, he had suggested YG did not make public the results from its survey done last year (despite saying it would do so by the winter) because it could taint the work of the independent commission.
Those results were then made public yesterday. That occurred after both opposition parties said they wanted to see the results, Silver said.
“Having that conversation, it was a desire for them as well to get moving on this and they wanted us to share that information with them.”
But not only did YG come out with those results, Cathers pointed out, so too did it provide the draft terms of reference and a list of qualifications for members (who will serve from May to the late fall).
Those qualifications spell out that the minister of the ECO will appoint at least three members including one chair to the commission. (Silver is listed as the minister in the YG directory.)
That led to Cathers accusing the premier of “hand-picking” the members, as he will have the final sign off.
“Our grave concern,” Cathers said, is the process of the premier presenting the terms of reference and giving that stamp of approval makes it “appear the Liberals are stacking the deck in their favour” by departing from all-party nominations.
Silver maintained he would consider opposition parties’ feedback in his appointments and that the terms of reference were a draft document. Still,
Cathers remains skeptical.
“There’s a big difference between either being a part of a committee or nominating a member that that government has to appoint, and simply having government tick the box and say we consulted with other political parties,” Cathers said.
According to an ECO webpage, a government board or committee can have its members selected by either a minister, cabinet or the legislative
Asked if that means there is a requirement that the government reach all-party agreement, rather than a practice that has historically been followed and should be in this case too, Cathers did not immediately answer one way or another.
“How appropriate do you think it is for one party to choose how to change the electorate system in away that may favour their own interest?” he said.
Asked again, he added that “every Yukoner should be concerned” with the process that will unfold, along with the intention of the “government to decide what to do with the outcome of this process, not for all political parties to say.”
That was in reference to what’s in the release, which notes YG will “review the report and consider changes to the electoral system.”
Speaking to the Star Tuesday afternoon, Hanson was critical of the communication strategy around releasing the results of the survey. She also echoed her stance around the wording of the results, which she described as too open-ended.
“The terms of reference are good but they could lead off madly in all directions,” she said.
That could include things to look at changes beyond selecting and electing MLAs like information on voting and political fundraising for parties – work that should call for the inclusion of the Yukon’s chief electoral officer to be named the chair, Hanson wrote.
“I’m hoping we can keep the focus on investigating and assessing options to improve how political parties are elected,” she added.
Hanson also wondered if there would be enough time to even make significant changes ahead of the next election, scheduled for 2021.
“Quite honestly ... if it was a priority, it would’ve started quite some time ago,” Hanson said of the call for appointments this week.