Give Premier Dennis Fentie this much: he knows how to buy himself time.
Faced with calls for his removal during the Yukon Party’s annual meeting on Saturday, Fentie responded with smooth talk and a promise he would voluntarily trigger a leadership election.
Just not yet.
A leadership election will be held in early 2011, Fentie told those who attended the closed-doors meeting. He made the case that there’s still work to be done before then, and that it would be better for the infighting-wracked party to have the review voluntarily set by the premier himself, rather than by those calling for his ouster.
Fentie also apologized to Brad Cathers, who resigned from cabinet and caucus last August over the ATCO energy privatization scandal, and invited him to return to the government side of the House.
But Cathers isn’t ready to return to the fold yet.
“There’s a possibility this is a wake-up call for the premier. He may have realized that even party members want to see a change in the way things are done. I have my doubts about that, but I want to respond graciously to the olive branch,” he said.
“The issue has never been my personal feelings. It’s always been about some concerns about how the business of government was being conducted.”
Those concerns include allegations that Fentie lied to the public and his own cabinet ministers about secret talks with Alberta-based ATCO to sell-off Yukon Energy’s assets.
When Cathers resigned in August, he said that Fentie had pressured him to similarly lie. Instead, Cathers quit, and has since sat as an Independent, although he remains a Yukon Party member.
Since then he’s had to walk the fine line of calling for the removal of the Fentie as leader while proclaiming his support for the party.
Cathers’ constituents in Lake Laberge have largely supported their MLA’s decision and sent delegates to the annual meeting that supported triggering a leadership election.
They weren’t alone, said Cathers. “We were surprised by the number of party members across the Yukon who were not behind the premier and the extent of the dissatisfaction that does exist.”
But, in the end, delegates nixed a leadership race. More than half voted against a review.
The number of delegates who supported a leadership race remains unclear: the vote was conducted by secret ballot and the counting stops as soon as a simple majority is reached.
But Cathers said he knows of delegates who were swayed by Fentie’s promise to hold a leadership election soon.
Many members also expressed concern the party’s standings had been harmed by the public feud underway. This helps explain why Cathers would later put a heavy emphasis on party unity and tone down his criticism of the premier.
“All of us, regardless of our opinion on the leadership question, support the principles and policies of the Yukon Party and want to see the party carry forward and see what’s best for the party and the territory,” he said.
Cathers said he would consult with his constituents before any decision to rejoin Fentie’s government.
Fentie hasn’t indicated whether he’ll run in next year’s leadership election.
It remains to be seen whether any elected Yukon Party members choose to challenge Fentie for the premier’s seat.
Cathers has already ruled himself out. And the remaining Yukon Party members have stood by Fentie through the ATCO scandal.
Cathers, for one, says he has “some suspicions” about who would run for the leadership, “but I’ll leave it to those people to announce.”
Contact John Thompson at email@example.com.