Brad Cathers has resigned from cabinet alleging Premier Dennis Fentie misled the public and ministers about plans to privatize the Yukon Energy Corporation.
“The premier lied to the public and to MLAs about his involvement in discussions with ATCO, and about what was on the table,” Cathers told a news conference Friday morning.
“I will not lie to the public or to my constituents. I am doing what I feel I have to do to avoid compromising my principles.”
Fentie considered the outright sale of Yukon Energy’s hydro stations to Alberta-based ATCO, and then told the Yukon public that privatization was never on the table during seven-month-long negotiations, he
“Some of the statements that (Fentie) made – I can’t come up with a good reason for why he made them,” said Cathers. “I don’t understand why he made some of the statements rather than acknowledge the
fact that the government did, indeed, consider the sale of hydro assets.”
Cathers, who has been minister of Energy, Mines and Resources since July 2008, tried to convince Fentie to clear the record, only to be rebuffed by a premier who has degenerated into using “bullying tactics
ATCO’s sale proposal was reviewed by bureaucrats, who concluded privatization was not a good idea. The government then told ATCO it would not sell any assets.
“I don’t see why the premier wouldn’t come clean about that,” said Cathers.
In June, half the Yukon Energy board resigned in protest of the ATCO negotiations, and Fentie began telling the public that privatization was never an option, said Cathers, who has also resigned his post as
government house leader.
Fentie has repeatedly pressured cabinet colleagues to back up his version of events and, after a meeting on August 18, Cathers reached a breaking point.
“This has been one of the most difficult decisions of my life,” he said.
Fentie has done untold damage to the Westminster system and the tradition of ministerial accountability in the Yukon, said Cathers.
“When information is given behind (ministers’) backs to departments, that is a case, in my view, of the premier’s office bypassing ministerial accountability,” he said.
Fentie’s handling of the ATCO negotiations has caused major distrust within cabinet, and many other ministers feel the same way, said Cathers.
“I encourage them to join me in standing up to Premier Fentie by leaving the caucus – but not the Yukon Party – to sit as an Independent,” he said.
The ATCO scandal isn’t the only rift in cabinet, said Cathers, who wouldn’t elaborate.
“I could go through a long list of incidences and occasions, but that’s not what this is about,” said Cathers, citing cabinet confidentiality. “I don’t want to get into a long list of every gory detail that goes on.”
Fentie is damaging the reputation of the Yukon Party, said Cathers.
“Dennis Fentie use to be a good leader, but that has changed,” said Cathers.
The Lake Laberge MLA will remain a member of the Yukon Party and would consider returning to caucus if Fentie steps down.
Fentie’s “belligerent and confrontational” treatment of MLAs, political staff and senior officials is the problem, he said.
Fentie wouldn’t tolerate ministers disagreeing with him, said Cathers, noting he has centralized power among a small circle of followers and made major decisions behind his colleagues’ backs.
As well, Fentie and his staffers would prevent ministers from speaking to the media.
“You have been rightly frustrated with the lack of answers and lack of accountability,” Cathers told media.
“I hope you understand that much of this relates to the premier’s office not telling ministers to talk to the media and, in some cases, if they don’t want us to talk to the media, we were not even informed the
media’s been calling us.”
Cathers doesn’t know whether Fentie asked ATCO to send in a proposal, as former Yukon Energy chair Willard Phelps has said.
Phelps is suspicious of ATCO’s proposal because it had “unsolicited” in its title, something that is highly unusual.
“I had never seen a proposal before that bothered to mention it was unsolicited, because usually it’s assumed,” said Cathers.
Cathers would not seek the leadership of the Yukon Party should Fentie resign, he said.
Fentie could not be reached by press time.
Contact James Munson at firstname.lastname@example.org