The recent resignation of four respected and dedicated members of the Yukon Development and Energy corporations raises many troubling questions. To better understand what is happening, and why you should be as concerned as I am, I need to give you a little history first.
In 1997, the NDP government terminated an agreement with ATCO to manage the assets of Yukon Energy Corp. and to empower its board of directors, who are publicly appointed from across the Yukon, to take over those duties and responsibilities.
The government of the day argued taking over local control of energy resources through public ownership would provide more benefits to more Yukoners. And it was shown to be right.
The management change resulted in annual savings to taxpayers of $1 million, more jobs for local workers, more contracts for local businesses and lower costs for electrical consumers.
Fentie now wants to undo all that by returning the management of the publicly owned generation, transmission and distribution assets of this Crown corporation back to ATCO.
His idea of vision is looking back to the future. And he is doing it without involving the Yukon public and first getting a mandate from them.
According to Willard Phelps, the former chair of the YDC/YEC, Fentie wants to give ATCO defacto control over managing all our energy resources, including the recently announced $160-million Mayo B hydroelectric project.
ATCO managed the territory’s energy resources from the mid-1980s to 1997, until it was fired by the NDP government for doing such a “lousy job,” to use Phelps’ own words.
“You’ve got to have five projects you can move ahead with on a timely basis,” Phelps, who once led the Yukon Party, says in an interview in Monday’s Yukon News.
This was not done when ATCO was in charge.
“The only reason we’re doing Mayo B is because it’s the only green project that we can bring in quickly and that’s largely because there’s a footprint there,” Phelps adds.
But a better and less-expensive project might be able to move ahead now if ATCO had done a better job of managing YEC and planning for the future.
I first asked Fentie about his plans to privatize the Yukon Energy Corp. this April, during the spring sitting of the Yukon legislative assembly.
He categorically denied his government was “involved in any process to privatize any public corporation in the Yukon, whether it be energy, hospitals or whatever the case may be.”
He used the word “rationalization” to describe the highly secretive process he has initiated with ATCO behind the backs of the board members at Yukon Energy, a process that will result in less local control of our energy resources.
Phelps calls this “backdoor privatization, meaning it would be worked so that the Yukon government retains its heritage generation.”
So where are the hard facts and numbers to prove the present structure is not working and such drastic change is necessary?
In my mind, there are none, because the board of Yukon Energy has been doing a good job lately of managing our energy resources.
The recent resignations are unfortunate, because the board has accomplished some important and impressive work on behalf of Yukoners since Phelps was appointed chair in 2004.
Among other things, it oversaw construction of the first phase of the Carmacks-to-Stewart Crossing transmission line, and brought the project in on budget and on time. It also found new capacity at the Aishihik and Whitehorse dams and completed a visioning plan of Yukon’s long-term energy needs.
It was also operationally and administratively efficient and maintained good working relationships with key stakeholders, including First Nations. Even the Office of the Auditor General of Canada recently praised its operations, says one of the directors who resigned last week.
This was a very active and able board and the expertise, knowledge and dedication the members who resigned brought to their meetings will be difficult to replace.
Fentie has embarked upon a course of action that, very simply, will result in the privatization of our publicly owned corporation. And he’s doing it without going to the public for a mandate.
This rogue premier is selling out our energy assets without any public discussion. He’s doing it secretively and he’s doing it without involving the publicly appointed directors at Yukon Energy Corp.
In closing, I call once more on the premier to tell us his long-term plans for these corporations that have served Yukoners so well in recent years.
And if he does plan to restructure the corporations and hand over their management to the private sector, once more reducing local control over our energy resources, he needs to tell us.
Anything less would be a betrayal of the public trust.
Todd Hardy, NDP Leader