Premier Dennis Fentie has spent two weeks in the legislature skating in big circles around the Peel Watershed and ATCO scandals.
Thankfully, evasions are almost as instructive as straight-forward answers. For if Fentie had a good explanation for his own arrogant, bullying behaviour that lies at the centre of both controversies, he would have given it by now.
The ATCO affair and the Peel scandal blew up in the same week five months ago.
We know that Fentie meddled with the Department of Environment’s submission to the Peel Watershed Planning Commission last year. And it’s safe to assume this interference resulted in the gutting of a document that suggested there’s an economic case for preserving the pristine wilderness of the Peel as an eco-tourism destination.
Environment Minister Elaine Taylor was out of the loop when this decision was made, but she’s now defending the premier’s actions with claims that are either nonsensical or false. We’ll take this to mean that she gave up being honest with voters in order to protect the premier.
Why did Fentie upbraid Kelvin Leary, the deputy minister of Environment, over the document?
He refers to Chapter 11 of the Umbrella Final Agreement. We’ve checked the agreement, and we’re unable to find the political interference clause he imagines to be there.
We’ll take this to mean there was no defensible reason for Fentie to interfere with the Peel submission, but he did it anyway. It also means that Fentie is unwilling to do a big part of his job, which is to justify the decisions he makes to the public.
Taylor’s defence of Fentie is unpersuasive. It largely rests on weasel words, such as her claim that “we don’t support political interference in the land-use planning process,” which doesn’t directly speak to the question.
Her boldest defence of the premier, meanwhile, is demonstrably false. She claimed in the legislature on November 10 that “at no time did the premier comment on the specific details of the proposed document.”
That’s not true. Fentie quoted portions of the document as he upbraided the deputy, according to a leaked e-mail that describes the irate call. That sounds specific to us.
Equally dubious is Taylor’s claim that “at no time did (Fentie) direct the department to change the document.” We know that the submission was gutted after the premier’s angry call. If Taylor believes these two events are unconnected, we have a bridge we’d like to sell her.
To support her version of events, Taylor points to a letter written by Leary after the fact that claims the premier did nothing wrong. This, too, is laughable.
Deputies serve at the premier’s pleasure. All this letter shows is that Leary wants to keep his job and is following orders to clean up his boss’s mess. Well, perhaps it shows one other thing: Fentie has no scruples about using officials as human shields to protect himself.
Besides, Taylor is in no position to comment on Fentie’s angry call. She wasn’t in the room at the time. Does this mean she was out of the loop? She won’t say. We’ll take that as a yes.
Of course, it’s no surprise to hear of Fentie doing end-runs around ministers since June, when it came to light that the premier had secretly talked with officials from Alberta-based ATCO about privatizing Yukon Energy. These talks occurred without the knowledge of the ministers responsible or the board of the public utility.
When Jim Kenyon, the minister responsible for the public utility, found out, he threatened to quit in front of the Yukon Energy board. Of course, he never did resign. Instead he clammed up.
He’s been silent on the matter for three months now, save for one blowup in the legislature in which he nit-picked over the time and place of the meeting.
We’ll take Kenyon’s silence to mean that he, too, was out of the loop, but that he prefers his growing pension and periodic trips to China as minister of Economic Development over the more honourable path taken by his former colleague, Brad Cathers: to quit.
Then there’s the most damning charge against Fentie, made by Cathers when he quit as Energy minister. He accuses Fentie of lying to the public about the ATCO talks and pressuring Cathers to corroborate the story.
Fentie has never denied any of this. We’ll let you draw your own conclusion here.
Of course, Fentie won’t even admit that privatization was considered, while documents flatly contradict him. He’s done this by dreaming up creative definitions for words like “negotiations” and “privatization.”
This is rubbish. The premier has many duties, but the rewriting of the dictionary is not one of them.
Smaller controversies receive the same treatment. Why, for example, has the Yukon Hospital Corporation gotten into the construction business over the past year?
The Crown corporation is financing three new buildings, collectively worth about $67 million, with private money. That will prevent the territory from posting a deficit, but it will cost a lot in interest down the road.
Is this mortgaging of the Yukon’s financial health defensible? Judging from the lack of an answer from the premier, we’ll assume the answer is no.
Instead, it appears Fentie hopes to build a few more monuments before the next election to bolster his popular support. What Fentie forgets is that underwriting these projects with public debt will hurt his image as a competent financial manager, and that, at this point, this is one of the few things he has going for him.
The Yukon Party’s popularity has plummeted in the past year. We’re betting this decline will continue as long as Fentie fails to justify the choices he’s made.
Until he does, reasonable voters ought to wonder one question as he blusters away at the latest embarrassment: What does he take us for, a bunch of morons? (John Thompson)