With the territory’s electoral ridings map open for rejigging before the next general election, the Yukon Electoral District Boundaries Commission is hosting a series of public meetings.
The purpose is to gather feedback on the changes it proposed in a report last November.
Lori McKee is a commission member and the territory’s chief electoral officer.
She told the Star in an interview earlier this month that a “common theme” emerged from the six public meetings the commission has held thus far.
That theme was the relationships between different communities that comprise an electoral district – neighbourhoods, cities, towns, villages, First Nations, unincorporated communities – and their lifestyles and community priorities.
Meetings have been held in Teslin, Marsh Lake, Carcross, Tagish, Mount Lorne and Whitehorse.
The commission’s interim report was submitted to the legislature Nov. 17, 2017.
It proposed a number of boundary changes based on the desire to connect areas with “common characteristics and travel patterns,” “shared community interest” and “geographic and cultural ties.”
A number of letters submitted prior to the report’s publication stressed the need for riding changes based on community compatibility, or lack thereof, in what is currently the Pelly-Nisutlin district.
Last July, Faro Mayor Jack Bowers wrote to the commission on behalf of town council, the Ross River Dena Council, the Teslin Tlingit Council and the Village of Teslin council, asking for Pelly-Nisutlin to be split into two separate constituencies.
“The new ridings should represent those communities whom have much in common, both geographically and culturally,” Bowers wrote.
In September 2017, Chief Richard Sidney of the Teslin Tlingit Council and Teslin Mayor Clara Jules wrote to the commission. They suggested new boundaries that recognize there are “few cultural or historical connections” between Teslin and the Faro/Ross River area.
Ross River and Watson Lake are “more aligned culturally and politically” as part of the Kaska Nation, Sidney and Jules noted.
They also suggested that Teslin would more appropriately be grouped with Carcross and Tagish, with which it has closer ties.
These submissions appear to have informed the proposed dissolution of Pelly-Nisutlin into three new electoral districts: Carcross-Tagish-Teslin, Mayo-Carmacks-Faro and Watson Lake-Ross River.
The boundaries of the current districts of Mayo-Tatchun, Mount Lorne-Southern Lakes, and Watson Lake would also be affected by these changes.
A major stakeholder has taken issue with the proposed configuration, however, and wrote to the commission last December to share his views.
Carcross-Tagish First Nation (CTFN) Khà Shâde Héni (chief) Andy Carvill requested that CTFN remain in the Mount Lorne-Southern Lakes district.
Under the proposed boundaries, it would be integrated into the new Carcross-Tagish-Teslin district.
“In regards to Teslin’s written submission for Carcross and Tagish to join their area, we lovingly reject the idea in favour of welcoming them back to the Southern Lakes District,” Carvill wrote.
“It is not in CTFN’s best interest to be moved away from the areas addressed in our Final Agreement, including the reality that almost the entire west side of Marsh Lake is CTFN land that is set aside for future residential development.”
The First Nation also wants to pursue geotourism in the Southern Lakes area as a means of economic development, according to Carvill’s letter.
“It does not make sense, to us, to move us to another boundary area. We respectfully request that Teslin rejoin the Southern Lakes Electoral Boundary, where we all share common concerns and aspirations.”
Written submissions and the feedback gleaned from public meetings will be considered in the commission’s drafting of its final boundary recommendations, according to McKee.
The commission is halfway through its 12 scheduled public meetings, and so far, they’ve been very well-attended, she said.
“People take a real interest in their communities.”
McKee said Yukoners have proposed alternate boundary configurations in response to the commission’s report.
The commission is mandated to consider public input in making proposals for future riding boundaries, but it also has to weigh a number of other factors, including:
• density and future growth;
• accessibility, size and geographical features;
• facilities, travel patterns and means of communication;
• census data, current elector population and demographics;
• any special circumstances of existing electoral districts; and
• municipal and First Nations boundaries.
“There was certainly an understanding that the commission had to balance views of a particular community, with the bigger picture of the boundaries across Yukon,” McKee said of the public input process.
The commission will host another round of meetings in March, in Pelly Crossing, Mayo, Carmacks, Faro, Ross River and Watson Lake.
Meetings were scheduled in every community where a commission visit had been requested, McKee said. Requests were solicited last November.
Written submissions will also be accepted until March 10.
The commission’s final report has to be submitted to the legislative assembly by April 20.
Subsequently, the government will introduce legislation to establish electoral districts for the next two general elections.
The full interim report, public meeting schedule, and the commission’s contact information are available at www.yukonboundaries.ca.