yukon politics goes to the dogs

Two Yukoners made the national news in August. Both are individuals with a criminal past, each has struggled to rehabilitate himself.

Two Yukoners made the national news in August. Both are individuals with a criminal past, each has struggled to rehabilitate himself. They’re both naturally aggressive types, apt to lash out when cornered, though they each have friends and supporters who find them personable and well intentioned. The names of these two celebrities are Trevor and Dennis.

Trevor is a young Rottweiler/German shepherd-cross dog, and a known biter. Dennis is the Yukon’s premier, once a socialist, and before that a heroin dealer. Trevor’s previous owners neglected him to the point where his collar had grown into his neck. He wound up in the hands of the Yukon Humane Society’s Mae Bachur Animal Shelter, and was subsequently adopted. Dennis also suffered at the hands of his previous masters, the Yukon NDP, who wouldn’t give him a cabinet post, nor let him run for party leader. He too was adopted, by the right-wing Yukon Party.

Both Trevor and Dennis seemed at first to adapt naturally to their new homes. Under proper care, Trevor’s red neck healed up nicely, while Dennis, nurtured in the glow of Conservative ideals, flourished. Trevor’s behaviour problems showed up quite quickly. He began biting people, without obvious warning. But it wasn’t until he bit the landlord that his real troubles began, and he soon found himself at the city pound, where we all know what happens to dogs that bite. Dennis, too, developed a reputation for snappishness, and he too got away with it until he made the fatal mistake of crossing one of the ancient overlords of Conservative Yukon.

Dennis Fentie has been elected to two consecutive majority governments. He has been praised by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose autocratic style is reflected in Fentie’s own management methods. It’s generally understood in the Yukon that if you want something from government, you have to get Fentie onside. Like Harper’s own ministers, the Yukon Party cabinet has functioned as single head-nodding dog in Fentie’s rear window.

The Yukon’s energy needs are administered by two distinct entities: Yukon Electric, a private subsidiary of the Alberta energy giant, ATCO, and Yukon Energy, a Crown corporation. In a surprise move, Willard Phelps, a former Yukon Party leader and a stalwart of Yukon conservatism, quit the board of Yukon Energy, taking three other members with him, and complaining of Fentie’s political interference in the Yukon Energy Corporation’s business.

The story that emerged over time came as no great surprise to anyone who knows the premier. Since last year, Fentie’s been holding secret talks with ATCO about the future of Yukon Energy. On the table was a proposal to sell off the Yukon’s publicly owned energy assets – dams, generators, and transmission lines on which the Canadian taxpayer has spent and continues to spend millions of dollars. He held these talks without consulting the public, the Yukon Energy board of directors, or even his own cabinet.

Challenged on these actions, Fentie asserted that there had been no negotiations, only “talks.” It was clear that these were merely talks, according to a senior government official, because if they’d been negotiations, cabinet would have been briefed. Last week Brad Cathers, former Yukon minister of Energy, Mines, and Resources, and once Fentie’s most loyal nodding dog, quit cabinet citing his old boss’s bullying tactics and “lies.” His departure leaves the Yukon Party in a minority, and opposition parties don’t sound willing to prop them up for so much as a single day.

Trevor’s story appeared in the Globe and Mail, not once but twice, and has since become the subject of a Facebook page, named Save Trevor the Dog From Death Row. His case has been heard by the Yukon Supreme Court, and he has indeed been granted a stay of execution. Professional trainers have been handling and assessing the dog’s case, and are able to state unequivocally that Trevor poses no danger to professional dog trainers.

At press time, no one has yet created a Save Dennis the Politician from Death Row Facebook page. No case in his favour has been filed with the Supreme Court, and the Globe and Mail got tired of the ATCO/Cathers story after one day. Despite an obvious need, no trainer has come forward and offered to rehabilitate the premier. It looks like Trevor will come out a winner in his case, despite clear evidence that he broke the three-bites-you’re-out rule commonly understood between dogs and humans. Dennis, on the other hand, is headed for the political Big Sleep, and no one seems likely to lift a finger to help.

It’s really not fair when you consider it. Though famously pugnacious, in a decade-long political career the premier has never actually bitten anyone. Now that he’s an old dog with no teeth the Yukon legislative assembly is about to send him on that last lonely walk.

It just goes to show, if you’re going to make a career out of threatening people, you may just as well bite.

Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.