what does he take us for

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.

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)

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fines for contravening the fire ban start at $1,150 and could go as high as $100,000. File photo
Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. (Black Press file)
Yukon campgrounds to open early

Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. The early opening… Continue reading

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The aesthetics and economics of highway strips

One of the many cultural experiences you enjoy while driving from Whitehorse… Continue reading

Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone.
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone. (Submitted)
Yukon kids express gratitude for nature, pets and friends in art campaign

More than 50 children submitted artwork featuring things they are grateful for

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

A sign indicating a drop-off area behind Selkirk Elementary school in Whitehorse on Feb. 25. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Parking lot proposal for Selkirk Elementary criticized

Parents and school council are raising concerns about green space and traffic woes

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read