Brad Cathers won’t defeat the government unless he’s provoked.
This means he won’t support the nonconfidence motion that the Liberals will introduce at their earliest opportunity after the legislature reconvenes October 29.
And without the support of Cathers, who quit the Yukon Party’s cabinet and caucus to sit as an independent in late August, the motion will fail.
There’s only one situation in which he would help defeat the government, he told constituents last night, during his first public meeting since quitting his high-profile jobs as energy minister and house leader.
That would be if the government pulled the plug on projects in his riding to punish him for leaving the fold.
Several of the 30-odd supporters who gathered at the Hootalinqua Fire Hall were unhappy with Cathers’ resignation.
But Cathers says he had no choice. The premier lied to the public and to his fellow ministers about a secret proposal to sell off the assets of Yukon Energy, Cathers said. And, rather than come clean, Fentie pressured Cathers to corroborate the story.
Instead, Cathers publicly denounced Fentie as a liar, called on him to resign and urged his cabinet colleagues to sit as independents in the meantime. No such luck with that.
Fentie has grudgingly acknowledged that privatization talks occurred. But, rather than defect, cabinet has closed ranks around the premier.
Cathers is now out in the cold. And this puts his Yukon Party supporters in an awkward position, especially if Fentie survives a spring leadership review and leads the party into the next election, which must be held by autumn of 2010.
In that case, Cathers plans to run as an independent – and quite possibly run against a rival Yukon Party candidate.
“If I wanted to support the Yukon Party, I couldn’t vote for you?” asked Harry Kulych. “I voted for you as a Yukon Party member.”
“I voted for me as a Yukon Party member, too,” Cathers replied.
But Kulych’s loyalties were fairly clear. He stormed out of the meeting.
“How come constituents weren’t consulted?” asked Bernie Albisser. “We had no say in this.”
Cathers insisted he had no choice. Fentie wouldn’t change his tune, and Cathers refused to lie to the public to protect his boss.
That’s a matter of principle, said Cathers. “I need to look at myself in the mirror every morning.”
It would have been impossible to avoid questions about Yukon’s energy negotiations with Alberta-based ATCO during the autumn sitting of the legislature, said Cathers. So, staying quiet wasn’t an option.
And the secret talks couldn’t stay secret forever. Officials spent four months analyzing ATCO’s offer to buy up Yukon Energy’s assets. There are “reams” of documents, some of which have yet to be publicly disclosed, said Cathers.
So Cathers was left with two choices, he said: either quit cabinet and caucus, or resign altogether. “I don’t think I had a third option.”
Others worried about the big picture. The controversy that followed Cathers’ resignation may have hurt the Yukon Party’s odds of winning the next election, said Shirley Ford. And if they lose power, she fears the territory’s economy will sag.
“It’s about the future of the Yukon,” she said.
The spat between Fentie and Cathers should have been settled internally, she said.
Al Falle, who served as a Conservative MLA in the early 1980s, rose to Cathers’ defence.
“We’re better off with an independent than a liar,” he said.
“I want him to use his head. I want him to represent his constituents. I don’t want him hog-tied, by you or by anyone,” said Falle.
The fact Cathers took a pay cut of $36,500 by quitting cabinet speaks to his integrity, Falle said.
“Is Brad more important than the Yukon Party?” said Albisser.
At least three people said yes. Cathers, notably, said no.
“I’d rather see you go down in the dust,” Albisser told Cathers.
“Do you actually think we could go to the polls with Dennis Fentie as leader and win?” asked Falle.
An uneasy silence followed.
“I wouldn’t vote for him,” said one woman.
“Just because he’s leader, he decides what the truth is?” asked Cathers.
Cathers had no problem with the territory entertaining ATCO’s bid to buy up Yukon’s energy assets. “The issue was the lies,” he said.
And, in the end, officials concluded it was a bad deal, which would not result in lower rates for customers.
There’s no good reason why documents related to the deal have yet to be disclosed, said Cathers.
Access-to-information requests have been rejected on the grounds that the documents contain sensitive information about the government and ATCO.
“There’s no reason for it to not be released, except it’s embarrassing to (Fentie),” said Cathers.
Fentie provided “ongoing” direction to officials during these secret talks, which were conducted behind the backs of cabinet ministers responsible for Yukon Energy and power issues, said Cathers. “There were other people who should have been in the room,” he said.
It remains unclear who initiated the talks, said Cathers. ATCO’s bid is described on the cover sheet as “unsolicited,” but Cathers agreed this was “suspicious.”
Asked if there will be “fireworks” when the legislature reconvenes, Cathers said “there will be some.
“It’s not going to be very pleasant for anybody.”
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