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Government unsteady at the helm

Five days into the spring sitting of the legislative assembly, and the Yukon Party wants a week off.Why?An Easter break, said Premier Dennis…

Five days into the spring sitting of the legislative assembly, and the Yukon Party wants a week off.


An Easter break, said Premier Dennis Fentie, explaining a motion from government house leader Brad Cathers to adjourn from April 6th until April 18.

That’s odd. There hasn’t been a four-day Easter break in the past, according to legislature officials.

The occasional mid-session recess is not unheard of, but usually not for more than a day or two, and almost never after only five days of a budget debate.

Coincidentally — or not — the Council of the Federation will meet in Montreal next week.

And Fentie has a meeting scheduled with Jim Flaherty, the new federal Finance minister.

“I haven’t decided if I’m going to Montreal,” said Fentie.

“I’m more concerned about a caucus member who has a very serious family matter and may have to be absent next week.

“My first priority right now is with that caucus member and the very difficult situation that they are in with their family member.

“So if they have to go, they go first.”

In other words, if a caucus member has to miss a few days in the legislature for personal reasons, Fentie wants to be in the house.

But without Fentie, or, as it happens, the deputy premier, you have to wonder — who would lead the government’s debate?

“It’s obvious that (Fentie) is not confident in any of his cabinet ministers to fill in as deputy premier,” said NDP house leader Lorraine Peter, who offered to pair one NDP vote with a government MLA in the event of an absence.

“It’s unrealistic for us to go a week of recess when we’ve just started.”

The Liberals were willing to pair with the government for personal reasons, but not for political reasons.

When Cathers asked, the Liberals refused to pair with Fentie.

The government’s 10-8 majority is vulnerable, if two members are missing at once.

With Education minister John Edzerza on the bubble, publicly contemplating his status as a “free agent” once an election is called, Fentie doesn’t trust his numbers, said acting Liberal house leader Gary McRobb.

“The premier is feeling insecure about the solidarity within his own caucus,” said McRobb.

“He has a slim advantage, but he’s feeling insecure.”

But it’s all moot.

The motion didn’t pass, and the legislature will convene next week, with or without Fentie, who has the NDP’s support.

Following the money

Fentie might wish that opposition parties would quit asking questions about sole-sourced contracts for the building of a multi-level care facility in Watson Lake.

But that’s not likely.

The NDP filed a series of access to information requests over the winter and asked Cathers, the Health minister, on Tuesday why a $25,000 contract to Raketti Construction Ltd. grew to $140,000.

“That was before my tenure as minister,” said Cathers.

“The decision was made based on the contract proceeding forward. It is commonplace with contracts that there may be contracts for future work.”

The government documents offer the project’s phase-two approval — for completion of the floor, outer walls and roof — as justification.

Raketti Construction also got $58,000 to prepare phase two, and an additional $281,000 sole-sourced contract to construct the building’s foundation.

“This one contractor, as both the project manager and builder, has pocketed almost $500,000 that we know of — I’m sure there’s more — without anyone else having a chance to get even a piece of that action,” said Hardy.

But the money didn’t go into anyone’s pocket, said Fentie.

“To say that this individual has received the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been put out into the public domain is disgustingly false,” he said.

Most of the money spent on the clinic thus far has gone to addressing codes and building standards, since the new building is immediately adjacent to the existing hospital, said Fentie.

There’s a long list of tenders to follow, he said.

The Watson Lake community came together and chose a local project manager with the credentials and capacity to start the project, said Fentie.

“The misinformation and falsehoods with this issue are stark and quite frankly a bunch of nonsense.”

The government documents also show $143,600 going to Sinclair and Associates for an architectural design, $50,000 to Liard Engineering and Management for structural advice and $15,700 to EBA Engineering Consultants to test the parking lot.

They were all sole-sourced, and they all grew in size with change orders authorized by Health and Social Services.

Wish what you will. Opposition parties are always going to follow the money.

Especially when it’s going to the premier’s riding.

Strange bedfellows

If there’s one thing the Yukon Party and the NDP have in common, it’s shared hatred for the Liberals.

Especially the federal Liberals.

And their vitriol is enhanced if the Yukon Liberal in question is McRobb, a former NDP MLA.

It’s extremely rare to see the government members pound their desks in support of statements from across the floor, but that’s what happened Wednesday when NDP leader Todd Hardy berated the former Liberal government under Jean Chretien for cuts to funding for affordable housing.

“It was the Liberal government that killed these programs that deliver housing for people in need,” Hardy said as the house debated McRobb’s proposed amendment to an NDP motion urging the Yukon Housing Corporation to adopt a clear definition of affordable housing.

McRobb wanted the motion to include a clause focused on lobbying the federal government for more funding.

“How do you lobby a government when they have no intention of working in this area?” said Hardy, in reference to former federal administrations.

“Frankly, I don’t believe the intent is there. I think it’s just grandstanding.”

Thump thump thump.

However, the amended motion passed unanimously.

McRobb thinks the two parties are in cahoots to keep the Liberals out of power.

Remember the connection between Fentie, a former NDP member, and the Yukon Party that he now leads, said McRobb.

“It looks like they’re trying to re-establish that connection.”

Who knows? In an election year, all deals are off.