Fentie endorsed ATCO’s privatization bid: Cathers

Premier Dennis Fentie never opposed ATCO's bid to privatize the Yukon Energy Corporation when it landed on his desk, said Brad Cathers. He welcomed it with open arms.

Premier Dennis Fentie never opposed ATCO’s bid to privatize the Yukon Energy Corporation when it landed on his desk, said Brad Cathers.

He welcomed it with open arms.

When the Alberta-based energy giant sent Fentie the proposal in October 2008, he never voiced concern over ATCO’s stated interest in buying Yukon hydro assets, said Cathers.

“To my knowledge, (privatization) was not ruled out, nor was there any statement that the government would never consider it,” said Cathers, who resigned as Energy, Mines and Resources minister two weeks ago.

Fentie just handed the proposal to senior bureaucrats and told them to look at it.

“The government had no interest in privatization or selling assets, period,” Fentie said Monday.

Then why hand ATCO’s privatization to senior bureaucrats for consideration?

“The government did, indeed, consider the sale of hydro assets,” Cathers said at a news conference two weeks ago.

It wasn’t until four Yukon Energy Board directors resigned seven months later that Fentie began saying the government never considered privatization, said Cathers.

“The premier lied to the public and to MLAs about his involvement in discussions with ATCO, and about what was on the table,” Cathers said at the August 28 conference where he resigned because of Fentie’s failure to come clean.

On Monday, Fentie admitted he knew ATCO’s much-publicized bid included privatization.

He took full responsibility for mishandling the communication.

It was a mistake to keep the ATCO bid secret from cabinet and the public, said Fentie.

Cathers’ resignation was the first real threat to Fentie’s power since the ATCO scandal began.

After the four Yukon Energy Board members resigned on June 8, Fentie refused to answer key questions on his involvement in the ATCO negotiations.

For three months, allegations of secrecy and breaching parliamentary ethics grew louder.

But it wasn’t until Cathers’ departure – which reduced the Yukon Party to a minority government – that Fentie made himself accountable for the mess.

While he might be changing his tune, he’s not changing policy.

The government is still considering a revised version of ATCO’s bid, which doesn’t include the outright sale of Yukon hydro assets, but the merger of Yukon Energy and ATCO’s subsidiary, the Yukon Electrical Company Limited.

And Fentie continues to endorse private investment in power projects in the Yukon

The government is currently developing a policy on how to handle so-called “independent power producers.”

Fentie’s apologetic tone – without the apology – is his normal strategy for putting bad news behind him, said Cathers.

“It’s dancing around the issue,” he said.

Opposition leaders described Fentie’s new image as a complete sham.

“I don’t think Yukoners are going to buy this deathbed repentance,” said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell.

Two bid proposals from ATCO, leaked by former Yukon Energy Board members over the summer, outlined the energy giant’s privatization plans.

“The premier consistently lied and misled the public regarding (the proposals),” said Mitchell.

The New Democratic Party will demand Fentie explains his actions in detail when the legislature’s fall sitting begins.

“(The ATCO negotiations) were based on deception,” said NDP Leader Todd Harder. “It was based on deception with how he treated his colleagues, with how he treated the Yukon Energy Board and how he treated the

public.”

Since Fentie admits that keeping the negotiations secret was a mistake, he needs to declare what the government is doing now about privatization plans for the Yukon’s Crown-owned utility.

“I’m still very concerned that the direction is still toward privatization,” said Hardy.

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com.