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Radio waves

In the midst of the Yukon Party's leadership crisis, broadcasts from the government are starting to get odd. This week, Energy Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers did something bold. He publicly issued a letter all on his own.

In the midst of the Yukon Party’s leadership crisis, broadcasts from the government are starting to get odd.

This week, Energy Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers did something bold. He publicly issued a letter all on his own.

He’d written it on departmental letterhead to Whitehorse Mayor Bev Buckway.

That, in itself, is strange. Rarely have we seen such a thing.

Most public releases come directly from the Executive Council Office. But this one wasn’t vetted by Premier Dennis Fentie’s people. It was faxed directly from Cathers’ office.

Stranger still, it wasn’t a fully developed proposal.

Cathers noted the CBC AM radio transmitter, which occupies 2.8 hectares of land slated for subdivision development, could safely stick around another three years before having to be dismantled in favour of houses.

The CBC’s land lease on the transmitter location expires at the end of September. Cathers’ department refused to extend it because the subdivision is going ahead.

With us so far?

Here’s the hook.

Cathers is the MLA for Laberge, a riding that marks the transition from city to country. Some of his constituents stand to lose the CBC signal once the AM transmitter is dismantled and replaced with less-robust FM equipment on Grey Mountain. (On the upside, CBC host Dave White will now broadcast in full-spectrum stereo).

And a few of Cathers’ constituents are not happy about losing the ability to listen to the World At Six, As It Happens and Sunday Morning, to name a few popular CBC shows.

So, according to the July 13 letter from Cathers, Energy, Mines and Resources staff recently met with city officials to work out a fix.

They concocted a three-year stay of development for the transmitter site.

“Please have city land-planning officials contact John Cole, manager, client services with the land management branch to arrange preparation of the documents for the extension of the CBC Porter Creek tower lease until September 30, 2012,” Cathers writes, giving Cole’s phone number.

“Thank you for your support in the continuance of this vital community service.”

Ignoring Cathers’ dictatorial tone, there are several problems with this proposal to save the “vital community service” his department cancelled in order to carve another satellite subdivision out of the boreal.

First, his brainwave came out of right field.

Cathers never told the CBC about his knee-jerk solution. His letter signalled the broadcaster that the situation was changing.

“This is a last-minute decision after a couple of years of planning,” said John Agnew, regional director of CBC North.

The broadcaster has spent $750,000 on equipment and preparations for the move. It is also slated to meet with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission next week about changing its licence.

Second, Cathers’ plan is not yet fully developed. The city and YTG still have to work out the details of the agreement. The letter signals Cathers’ intention to fix a problem, but nothing is fixed yet.

That makes it difficult for the CBC to jump aboard.

Last, in three years - after the next territorial election - the CBC will be back before the CRTC and preparing to hook up its FM transmitter.

“What we really need to know is what’s going to happen in three years’ time,” said Agnew. “Are we back at square one with this again? Or do we pick up where we left off?”

All good questions without any solid answers.

Which only highlights the weirdness of the situation.

Cathers’ proposal makes sense to a politician seeking re-election.

But it puts CBC in a difficult spot - forcing it to respond to one minister’s half-baked idea.

If the broadcaster is, indeed, a “vital community service,” as Cathers puts it, then why did his department pull the plug on the lease?

And if continuing the service is so important, then his department should put forward a solid, long-term plan for the transmitter’s future.

Instead, Cathers’ on-the-fly solution suggests the Yukon government is simply fixing public opinion.

And that’s no fix at all. (Richard Mostyn)