John Edzerza has joined the Yukon Party and given Premier Dennis Fentie back his majority government.
Edzerza’s move confounded colleagues Thursday, who as recently as last month heard Edzerza chastise Fentie for being a bully, and extolling the benefits of a minority government.
“The Yukon legislature is becoming musical chairs,” said Todd Hardy, a New Democratic party MLA and former party leader.
“And the people are going to say that these people don’t have ethics or standards,” he said.
Edzerza has saved Fentie from entering the legislature in a minority position borne from the high-profile resignation of former Energy, Mines and Resources minister Brad Cathers in the fallout from the ATCO scandal last August.
For that, opposition members – who were hankering for a fall sitting with some leverage to pressure Fentie – voiced distaste at Edzerza’s surprise change of heart.
“I am disappointed with what John did when last month he said he wouldn’t do it,” said Cathers, who sat as an independent with Edzerza until yesterday.
“I took him at his word – and I’m disappointed he didn’t do that,” he said.
There was rampant speculation over what kind of deal Edzerza got for his allegiance.
“Was it a minister’s post or a Speaker’s chair?” said Cathers, who added that both positions carry a significant boost in pay and profile.
Calls to Edzerza’s office were not returned and Fentie’s spokesperson, Roxanne Vallevand, said there would be no comment until Edzerza speaks.
Media received a brief news release early Thursday morning announcing his immediate inclusion in the government.
“One of my priorities is to work with First Nation governments to establish land-based treatment programs in Yukon,” Edzerza is quoted as saying in the release.
Edzerza was singing a different tune when Cathers quit in August.
“Just two months ago, he was talking publicly about the premier’s bullying behaviour and how having a minority government was good,” said Arthur Mitchell, leader of the Liberal party.
Fentie “lied” about selling hydro assets owned by the Yukon Energy Corporation to ATCO and Fentie’s aggressive behaviour stifled ministers and silenced political staff, Cathers said on August 28.
At the time, Edzerza supported Cathers’ resignation and even referred to him having the “intestinal fortitude” to stand up to Fentie.
“I left Mr. Fentie’s government under the same circumstances as Brad,” said Edzerza in early September. “And it doesn’t look like anything has changed.”
Back then, Edzerza said he wouldn’t join Fentie’s government.
“If they did ask me, I wouldn’t do it,”
And now, just a few weeks later, there’s the new John Edzerza.
Joining the Yukon Party is a good thing because it helps avoid an election that nobody wants, he said in his release.
An election is unlikely since the opposition doesn’t have the required votes to pass a nonconfidence motion.
Edzerza has changed party allegiances three times in three years. He served under the Yukon Party banner and was a minister in Fentie’s cabinet from 2002 to 2006, when on the eve of an election, he declared his intention to run as a New Democrat.
Edzerza won the party’s nomination battle in his riding, McIntyre-Takhini, and was re-elected. He remained a New Democrat for a little more than two years, and quit the party this January to sit as an independent.
Party leaders are “blackmailed” by their caucus because they threaten to break ranks if they don’t get what they want, said Hardy, who led the New Democrats when Edzerza was a member.
“We’re all tarnished by it in the end,” said Hardy.
Edzerza jumping into bed with Fentie is different than his switch to the New Democrats, said Hardy, because Edzerza had to win a nomination before being allowed into the fold.
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