Brad Cathers’ surprise resignation on Friday puts Premier Dennis Fentie’s government in limbo.
If the former Energy, Mines and Resources minister, who quit, alleging Fentie “lied” about selling Yukon Energy hydro assets, votes with the opposition parties when the Liberals introduce a nonconfidence motion in the legislature this fall, Fentie’s government will collapse and an election will be called.
Cathers, whose only condition for returning to the Yukon Party caucus is Fentie’s removal, could vote with the government if a leadership change seems likely.
That leaves the probability of an election up to Fentie’s decision to stay on or move on.
But staying on doesn’t look good.
Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell has promised a nonconfidence motion as soon as possible. The New Democratic Party pledges to support it.
If Independents John Edzerza, who resigned from Fentie’s cabinet in 2006, and Cathers join the opposition, their team of nine members would trump Fentie’s remaining eight supporters.
By putting the government in a minority status, Cathers now holds the leverage to cause an election.
Fentie can either face this possibility, or step down as Cathers has demanded.
And it might all happen before Christmas.
The legislature’s fall sitting has yet to be scheduled, but standing orders stipulate at least 20 more days in the assembly before the end of the year.
Fentie is stuck between a rock and a hard place. If he heads into the legislature, Fentie risks facing voters who aren’t happy with the ATCO scandal or with revelations he interfered in the arm’s-length Peel River Watershed land planning process.
Or, he could step down, which probably isn’t how he wants to spend the holidays.
Cathers would give no indication of how he would vote in the fall.
“I will not make any predictive statements or issue any ultimatums today about how I will vote on matters of confidence,” said Cathers.
But his resignation is an ultimatum to Fentie in itself.
Either resign, or head into an election.
Fentie’s dire prospects have the opposition claiming this is the end of his seven-year regime.
“Mr. Fentie is now a lame-duck premier,” said Todd Hardy, leader of the New Democratic Party.
“This is the beginning of the end of the Yukon Party government,” said Mitchell. “We need to have an election now because Yukoners deserve a government they can trust.”
Political leaders don’t usually call elections when ministers start defecting, but Mitchell indicated that Fentie would be facing one anyway.
“He’s in a very untenable position and at some point he has to go,” said Mitchell.
It’s very difficult to predict how votes will play out because members can be sick or absent, he said.
“But I would suspect that on a straight vote on confidence in the premier, that (Cathers) would vote nonconfidence because he has effectively already done that,” said Mitchell.
The wild card in this election recipe is Fentie’s remaining six ministers.
“(A nonconfidence vote) will still be an opportunity to force every remaining government cabinet minister to take a stand one way or another,” said Mitchell.
Many ministers are tired of Fentie’s bully tactics, Cathers said on Friday.
Fentie has been belligerent and confrontational to MLAs, government workers and political staff, said Cathers.
“I could go through a long list of incidences and occasions, but that’s not what this is about,” he said, citing cabinet confidentiality. “I don’t want to get into a long list of every gory detail that goes on.”
Cathers encouraged his former cabinet members to join him “in standing up to Premier Fentie by leaving the caucus – but not the Yukon Party – to sit as an Independent.”
It isn’t just ministers who are tired of Fentie – both the party’s old guard and its rank and file have become disenchanted with his aggressive, in-your-face politics, said Hardy.
“Mr. Cathers did not take this action on his own,” said Hardy. “It is precipitated by a lot of people within the Yukon Party who have been lobbying the Yukon Party MLAs to stand up to Mr. Fentie.”
“Mr. Cathers has measured the support and decided this was the right time to challenge the premier in regards to the leadership of the premier,” he said.
The old guard has turned on a sitting premier more than once and pulled the strings to make it happen, said Hardy, who was first elected to the legislature in 1996 and is quitting politics this year because of a battle with leukemia.
“You have to have grown up here to know it,” he said.
“This has been brought about by a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction that has been going on within the Yukon Party rank and file,” he said.
When the rank and file has turned on a premier who has brought them two consecutive majority governments, the writing is on the wall, said Hardy.
“Mr. Fentie cannot survive this,” he said.
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