Premier Dennis Fentie has abandoned talks with Calgary-based ATCO to rework the Yukon’s energy industry after public outcry from the public utility’s employees.
A three-page document discussing changes between the Crown-owned Yukon Energy Corporation and the ATCO-subsidiary Yukon Electrical Company Limited—drawn up by the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources and ATCO—is now off the table, according to Pat Irvin, the new chair of Yukon Energy.
That discussion paper includes plans to privatize Yukon Energy, said former chair Willard Phelps, who resigned two weeks ago after catching wind of the discussions between the government ATCO.
Not true, said Irvin.
“I saw the draft drawn up by the government and ATCO of what they would converse about and what we might talk about down the road,” said Irvin. “From the papers I’ve seen and what (the government) has told me there were some discussions about rationalization of assets and things like that.”
“But I could see no evidence anywhere of selling assets to YECL and any selling of assets at all,” said Irvin.
Rationalization would include the sale of assets, but they could be as small as “switch gears,” he said later.
Phelps also saw the discussion paper, said Irvin.
Recently, Phelps and three board members resigned, citing political interference in Yukon Energy.
“Those guys went along with Willard without reviewing it and I question that,” said Irvin.
It was better to stick with the board to kill any privatization plans, he said.
“There were things that (the government) pointed out that I would not want them talking about and there were things I think they should talk about,” said Irvin, who refused to elaborate, citing board confidentiality.
“My thought was that if there was something about assets being sold and I didn’t know about it, I would do better by staying where I was and keeping the fight going from there.”
But Phelps and several board members, including Paul Birckel, who remains on the board, have alleged Jim Kenyon, minister responsible for the Energy Corp., refused to meet with the board to discuss the government’s talks with ATCO.
“There was a time when the board was trying to meet with the minister, but the minister was always out of town or something,” said Irvin, who was a director before being appointed board chair last week. “I don’t know what was going on there.”
“I was able to speak with Dennis Fentie at will.”
Fentie and Kenyon refused to meet with the board for more than a year, said former board member Martin Allen, who resigned with Phelps on June 8.
The secret talks—which would normally be performed by Yukon Energy—have been going for almost a year and have cost the government $275,000 in consulting fees.
The Department of Energy, Mines and Resources hired Confer Consulting Limited in July 2008 for $75,000 to study “energy rationalization, according to the Yukon’s contract registry.
Vancouver law firm Davis LLP received $125,000 for similar work in November 2008. And Intergroup Consulting, a Winnipeg group with strong ties to Yukon Energy, was hired in March 2009 for $75,000 to talk rationalization.
The document, which was written with ATCO, was just a “draft,” said Irvin.
It was scrapped on Monday morning at a meeting between Fentie, Angus Robertson, deputy minister of energy, mines and resources and the remaining Yukon Energy board.
Fentie’s promise to not privatize Yukon Energy won’t be written down and made public, said Irvin.
“We had 20 people there,” he said. “The accountability coming out of that meeting, I mean, there’s no withdrawing the statements made. There were minutes taken.”
However, “I will provide it in writing for our employees and our employees only.”
For the rest of us, there are “strong assurances,” he said.
“There’s no backing out of those, I believe,” said Irvin. “I don’t believe there could be.”
Though privatization was not in the discussion paper, the document was scrapped to offer clarity for the employees, said Irvin.
More than 20 employees signed an open letter to Fentie last week demanding he reveal his plans for the corporation.
“It’s unfortunate the employees should get wrapped up in what I think is a political squabble,” said Irvin.
The Yukon Energy employees got “wrapped up” because of the media and the misinformation coming from Phelps and friends, he said.
But the departed board members also resigned because Fentie was pursuing a deal to finance the $160-million Mayo B project with First Nations without speaking to the board, said Phelps.
That, too, is supposed to be the board’s business, he said.
Fentie has already drafted a memorandum of understanding with the First Nations, said Irvin.
“I don’t know if it’s signed or not, but I know it’s very close,” he said. “I know First Nations are onside and we just go forward from there.”
Irvin didn’t know which First Nations were being approached to sign the memorandum, he said.
The Vuntut Gwichin, Na-Cho Nyak Dun and the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nations were all considering investing in Mayo B, said Vuntut Chief Joe Linklater last week.
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