Fentie is a ‘strong leader’: Rouble

Patrick Rouble is sticking up for Premier Dennis Fentie. Yukon's Education minister dismissed allegations Fentie lied to the public about plans to sell off parts of Yukon Energy to Alberta-based ATCO as "manoeuverings.

Patrick Rouble is sticking up for Premier Dennis Fentie.

Yukon’s Education minister dismissed allegations Fentie lied to the public about plans to sell off parts of Yukon Energy to Alberta-based ATCO as “manoeuverings.”

But Rouble stopped short of calling Brad Cathers, who made the allegations after he quit his job as Energy minister 12 days ago, a liar.

“I’m not going to call Mr. Cathers a liar,” he said. “It’s unprofessional. It’s inappropriate.”

Rouble went on to defend Fentie as a “strong leader” and said his government’s re-election in 2006 demonstrates Yukoners believe “we are going in the right direction.

“We have a responsibility to do the work we were elected to do. I’ve made a commitment to Yukoners, to my constituents, to do the best I can for the territory, and I will continue with my responsibility to do that, and to work with all my colleagues, both in cabinet and in the opposition.”

Rouble made these remarks to reporters on Tuesday during a ceremony to celebrate the work of Teslin elder Emma Sam in promoting literacy.

Fentie was supposed to preside over the ceremony but was absent.

The premier was double-booked, and was in Faro as part of his annual community tour, said Rouble.

On Friday, Fentie ducked an appearance at an international forum in Whitehorse. Dignitaries in attendance included leaders from Finland, South Korea, China, Japan, northern Russia, as well as Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak.

Yukon’s representative was a mid-level bureaucrat simply identified at the ceremony as “Jenny from the Yukon.”

Fentie couldn’t make it, Aariak explained, because he had to fly to Iqaluit – to meet her.

It’s difficult to imagine a political leader in Southern Canada leaving such damaging allegations unaddressed for so long. But Fentie seems to be doing his best to lay low, perhaps in the hope that it will all blow over.

Mum remains the official word on Cathers’ defection from cabinet as well.

Health Minister Glenn Hart would not answer questions about Cathers yesterday.

The Yukon Party executive still has not met to discuss Cathers’ departure, said vice-president Roxanne Vallevand.

Fentie told the CBC in Iqaluit he has no plans to call an election this autumn. But, unless he leaves the legislature lights dim until the spring, the choice may not be his.

Should the legislature’s opposition and independent MLAs support a nonconfidence motion, they would topple the government. But that’s a big if.

Cathers, who remains a devout Conservative, may not wish to be known as the man responsible for an electoral defeat of the Yukon Party.

The party has taken a big popularity hit since the spring, as two scandals exploded. Fentie was at the centre of both – one involving a secretive deal between Yukon Energy Corp. and Alberta-based ATCO, the other involving the suppression of pro-conservation comments from the Environment Department intended for the Peel Watershed Planning Commission.

Leaked documents showed that Fentie oversaw discussions with ATCO about merging the company with Yukon Energy. The deal would have given ATCO managerial control over the new company. ATCO had also made a bid to purchase Yukon Energy’s assets.

These talks occurred for seven months without the knowledge of the public utility’s board of directors. When the board found out, half of its members resigned.

Its chair, Willard Phelps, denounced Fentie as a “tin-pot dictator.” Strong words, especially coming from a former Conservative government leader of the territory.

Fentie has insisted the discussions were “preliminary talks,” and not negotiations. Yet when the Yukon News tried to obtain documents related to the discussions, the request was rejected to protect “negotiations carried on, by or for a public body or the government of Yukon.”

—with files from James Munson.

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