Archie Lang considers himself above answering questions.
This is a problem.
Lang oversees four cabinet portfolios – Energy, Mines and Resources, Highways and Public Works, Yukon Energy Corporation and the Yukon Development Corporation.
So, he is bench-pressing more than any other minister in Premier Dennis Fentie’s cabinet.
But he won’t answer questions about them.
In the legislature, Lang was asked 13 questions. He responded to three.
"We can’t get him to answer a question in the house," said frustrated Liberal MLA Eric Fairclough in a recent interview.
But opposition politicians are not the only people Lang is stonewalling.
He hasn’t responded to a single interview request from the News since the election.
Of course, he’s a busy guy, inside and outside government.
His list of personal assets is expansive.
Lang’s disclosure statement filed in the legislative assembly offices runs to several pages and includes flow charts that chronicle his web-like business connections.
They include co-ownership of the Whitehorse Cattle Company Ltd., a company that owns the Capital Hotel.
That business, in particular, stands in marked contrast to the government’s stated objectives of safer communities, and Fentie’s “zero tolerance” policy on drugs.
According to Fentie, that policy applies to those who use, sell or allow drugs to perpetuate.
Given that, Lang’s co-ownership of the Capital Hotel raises troubling questions.
But Lang remains mute on the issue.
He refuses to answer legitimate questions about that business.
For starters, we want to know how Lang justifies his shared ownership of an establishment with a notorious reputation as a drug bar.
But he won’t.
It took a group of vigilantes to force the clean up of the Capital’s bar.
In July, about 50 people marched on the establishment. They confronted a known cocaine dealer in the bar and told him to leave. He did.
After that debacle, Maurice Byblow, who co-owns the Capital with Lang and two other people, posted signs declaring the bar a drug-free zone.
Last week, Byblow said that decision has hurt the business.
Since the dealers were run out of the bar, revenue has dropped by more than 50 per cent.
"My business has been severely hurt by their absence," said Byblow, who, to his credit, has been receptive to answering questions about his business’ shady history.
"But I’m not concerned because I prefer the different crowd."
Nevertheless, that suggests before August half the Capital Hotel bar’s cash flow had a connection to people who sold or used drugs in the bar.
Lang, as an owner, must have financially benefited from that traffic.
Did he know anything about the drug trade in his bar?
If so, when?
If not, why not?
Does he bear any responsibility?
It took the vigilantes to force action.
Why wasn’t something done sooner?
"I think everyone was saying everything they could, but it was falling on deaf ears," said Byblow.
Today, the bar is clean, said Byblow.
"Because I said they (the dealers) couldn’t come in," said Byblow.
Alright. But troubling questions remain.
The Capital’s head barkeeper was selling drugs from behind the bar.
Did Lang know about this?
Byblow bailed out the barkeeper after he was arrested for selling 8-balls of cocaine while on the job.
Did Lang know this?
Did he condone Byblow’s action?
Was Lang consulted beforehand?
Byblow and two bar employees wrote reference letters for the drug-dealing barkeep.
Did Lang know about this?
Did he condone it?
Did Lang also vouch for the barkeep?
As the vigilantes proved, the community considers the bar a nexus for violence and crime.
Is Lang concerned about this?
Did he insist on cleaning up the bar before the vigilantes took action?
If so, why was nothing done?
If not, why not?
Is Lang satisfied with the measures Byblow has taken to clean up the bar?
Is he confident his bar is clean today?
Can he assure the public of this? How?
We’d love to ask Lang these, and other questions.
But, he won’t comment.
Neither will Fentie, Lang’s champion on matters of conflict of interest.
In fact, Fentie gave a stern dressing down to a reporter who started asking about Lang’s connections to the bar.
But that doesn’t change the fact that ministers are responsible for their departments, for government policy and for private businesses they retain while in public office.
They must be accountable for their decisions and for the affairs of their private business holdings – especially where they influence stated government policy, like safer communities, or seem to contradict a government policy, like a zero tolerance for drugs.
Nobody is above answering such questions.
Not even Archie Lang. (TQ/RM)