Photo by Whitehorse Star
Premier Sandy Silver
Photo by Whitehorse Star
Premier Sandy Silver
The Yukon’s political parties are struggling to find common ground on electoral reform after the resignation of the commission chair, Jessica Lott Thompson, halted the process at the end of August.
In a letter of resignation dated Aug. 29 and acquired by the Star on Monday, Lott Thompson wrote it was with “a heavy heart” that she submitted her resignation.
“At this time, given that the Independent Commission remains without finalized terms of reference required to begin its mandate, I am hopeful my resignation will be minimally disruptive so that this important work can proceed without delay,” Lott Thompson wrote.
The letter was dated a full month previous to Premier Sandy Silver’s public statement of her withdrawal on Sept. 30.
Silver’s month-long public silence on Lott Thompson’s departure led the opposing parties to question the lengthy gap in communication and the unfinalized terms of reference.
During Monday’s question period, NDP Leader Kate White questioned the Liberal government’s readiness to reform.
“Combine this (the delayed communication and terms of reference) with the fact that this government took over 2 1/2 years to appoint their commission raises questions about their commitment to the process,” White said.
“Electoral reform has never been the priority for this government.”
As a means of quickening the process, NDP MLA Liz Hanson put forward a motion to establish a select committee on electoral reform.
Hanson proposed the membership of the new committee be comprised of two members each from the Liberals and Yukon Party and one member from the NDP. She suggested each party leader name his or her members to the committee by Oct. 30.
Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers took the commission delay as an opportunity to repeat previous accusations of Silver’s government taking a “unilateral” approach to reform.
“Despite receiving only 39 per cent of the vote in the last (2016) election, they decided that they would have the sole authority for the selection of committee members, terms of reference, and overall decision-making,” Cathers said.
“The process has now come to a halt due to issues with the committee.”
Cathers lamented the lack of written record of consultation between the parties on reform.
“We have seen in the past that the premier’s verbal commitments aren’t worth the paper they are not written on,” Cathers said.
White similarly expressed concern that verbal consultations between the parties lead to misrepresentations in the house and in the media.
Silver responded that he is willing to formalize the consultation process in the future.
“This issue is becoming a textbook case of politicians politicking,” he told the House.
“Our government has reached out to the opposition parties to involve them in discussion.
“Respectfully, this issue is too important to be mired down in political games.”
Silver told the house he is unable to discuss the reasons for Lott Thompson’s resignation. She has also declined to comment to the Star.
As well, Silver did not address the question of the terms of reference asked by both opposing parties.
In an interview, Silver said the committee was working from the terms of reference available to it since its appointment.
“The committee was working with the terms of reference; I can’t speak on behalf of the chair,” Silver said.
He explained the month-long communication delay between Lott Thompson’s resignation and his public release as due to internal processes of communication among the three committee members and the Liberal party.”
The remaining appointees are former mayor Bev Buckway and Jean-Sébastian Blais.
“We weren’t keeping anything from anybody,” Silver said. “We had to take our time to make sure we got things right, and when we were ready to communicate, we had more than just, ‘the chair stepped down.’”
He said he hopes to maintain an independent process away from Hanson’s motion for an all-party committee.
“I don’t believe that’s the easiest way of going about things, because it’s then now partisan,” he said. “It’s three parties talking about what they want.”
Silver added he is looking forward to consulting with both parties as a means of getting the process back on track.
“We have to pick a chair,” he said. “We heard from Mr. Cathers that he wants to start from scratch; we heard from NDP they want a select committee; I’m willing to talk to both of them and come to some kind of select agreement.”
Opposition Leader Stacey Hassard told reporters his party is willing to co-operate and find the best path forward, whether it be a select committee or a commission of non-MLAs.
“It’s fundamentally important from our perspective that it be done through an all-party process,” he said.
“That there be genuine and sincere involvement in having all parties work on the terms of reference and attempt to reach agreement.”
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