Al Falle has no shortage of conservative credentials.
He sat as Lake Laberge’s Progressive Conservative MLA for two terms, until the early 1980s. He later helped found the Yukon Party, and he remains a proud party member.
But when the president of his riding association held a meeting on April 7 with Premier Dennis Fentie, Community Services Minister Archie Lang and senior party staff, Falle wasn’t invited.
Instead, the meeting was attended by just 20 Yukon Party members whose loyalty to the premier hasn’t wavered through the string of scandals that has shaken the governing party over the past year.
Falle didn’t fit. He supports his MLA, Brad Cathers, who quit cabinet and caucus last autumn to protest Fentie’s handling of the ATCO energy privatization scandal and now sits as an Independent.
To Falle, the invite-only meeting is just the latest example of how the Yukon Party has lost its way. “It goes against everything I ever stood for,” he said.
“If you don’t agree with them, then I guess you’re no longer good enough to be part of the organization.
“I just think it’s a slap in the face of every card-carrying Yukon Party member in this riding. I honestly don’t like where the party is going. I don’t like the elitism. That really hurts.”
But Smiley Ford, the riding association president, remains unapologetic.
“I already know the people who are disgruntled. So why would I bring a bunch of slobbering fools to listen to Dennis … to debunk and rant and rave and BS?”
Falle charges the gathering was “illegal,” noting that all constituency meetings must be advertised in the newspaper, according to the party’s constitution.
Ford disagrees. The gathering was simply “a meeting of like-minded people in the riding,” he said.
But this isn’t just about a Yukon Party riding divided in its loyalties between its party and its MLA.
It’s about a high-stakes game that will unfold over the next month and a half. Up for grabs is nothing less than the premier’s seat.
Ever since Cathers resigned, the Yukon Party has been divided into two camps. At one end are the pragmatists, with people like Ford. What matters most, he said, is keeping “the right party being in power so that the Yukon moves forward.”
On the other side are the idealists, such as Falle and Cathers, who want Fentie removed.
They feel the premier has made a mockery of the Yukon Party’s pretensions to stand for open and accountable government. To wit: the considerable evidence that suggests Fentie lied to the public about whether he considered privatizing Yukon Energy.
The public no longer trusts Fentie, they argue, so he’s got to go.
The battle between these two forces has quietly boiled away since autumn. Just where the majority of the membership stands remains unclear for now. But we’ll have a better idea after May 29.
That’s when the Yukon Party holds its annual meeting. At that time, delegates from each riding will cast a secret ballot to decide whether to hold a leadership election. If a majority votes in favour, Fentie could be on his way out.
On the face of things, it looks highly unlikely. It’s unheard of in Yukon politics to remove a standing premier.
But Cathers notes an unflattering leadership vote pushed Ralph Klein out of the premier’s seat in Alberta in the spring of 2006. And he says he knows of plenty of members who remain unhappy with Fentie.
“When power goes to someone’s head, they have to go,” said Cathers.
His March riding newsletter reminds constituents that he remains a Yukon Party member and plans to rejoin caucus if Fentie leaves.
But there’s bound to be plenty of countervailing pressure from government MLAs that their riding associations back the premier.
Whatever side succeeds in mobilizing the most supporters wins.
No delegates were selected at the April 7 meeting, said Ford.
“To do that you need to hold a constituency meeting, which we will do,” he said. “The name’s Ford, not stupid.”
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