Dennis Fentie is not your typical conservative premier.
Since his election in 2002, the Yukon government has bloated like a beached whale in the hot sun.
After resurrecting Economic Development, Fentie now oversees more departments than any previous government.
Government spending in the territory has increased more than $200 million since he took office.
His first cabinet was bigger than any in Yukon history.
And his first move on the first day of his second mandate was to make government bigger still.
On Saturday, Fentie’s cabinet was sworn in.
It’s a doozie.
His government has ballooned to eight ministers.
And it includes political neophyte Marian Horne, who received a promotion 18 days after being elected. She’s the new Justice minister.
It’s as if Fentie can’t say no.
There are so many people sitting in cabinet, there is only one lonely backbencher — Klondike MLA Steve Nordick.
Now, a little history reveals much about Fentie’s approach to government.
In 1989, New Democrat leader Tony Penikett had a six-person cabinet.
In 1992, Yukon Party leader John Ostashek had a six-person cabinet.
In 1996, New Democrat Piers McDonald had a six-person cabinet.
In 2000, Pat Duncan had — you guessed it — a six-person cabinet.
In 2002, Dennis Fentie expanded cabinet to seven members.
Now, in 2006, he’s boosted it to eight.
So, what does it mean?
Well, for starters, it suggests Fentie issued a lot of IOUs going into this election. Clearly, he lacked the juice to bounce any incumbents from cabinet.
And it suggests a lack of trust in his junior ministers Patrick Rouble (Education) and Horne, otherwise he would have shared the wealth a little more instead of loading four heavy portfolios (Energy, Highways, Yukon Development and Energy corporations) on Archie Lang.
Beyond the social study, there’s a tangible cost to the larger cabinet.
Fentie’s first term, seven-member cabinet cost Yukon citizens in the neighbourhood of $205,000.
Assuming the second mandate runs five years, his eight-person cabinet will add an additional $1.1 million to the cost of government.
But the trend mirrors the overall expansion of the Yukon bureaucracy under Fentie.
In fiscal year 2004-’05, the forecast cost of running the government was $580 million. In 2001-’02, it was just $440 million.
In 1997-’98 it was $370 million.
So under Fentie, the cost of government shot up $140 million, double the increase in the previous four years.
And there is no hard data yet for ‘05-‘06.
That’s the Yukon’s economic miracle, by the numbers.
And it’s not sustainable.
Nevertheless, Fentie has demonstrated a knack for nurturing and growing government.
It’s an odd approach for a conservative.
But with his expanded cabinet, he shows no sign of giving it up. (RM)