Darrell Pasloski insists he doesn’t want to be premier.
But the Whitehorse pharmacist and federal Conservative candidate admits to meeting with Brad Cathers, Yukon’s energy minister, for coffee at Tim Horton’s earlier this month, and that the future leadership of the Yukon Party was one subject of discussion.
“We get together and talk about a lot of different things when we need to, as friends,” said Pasloski.
“Brad’s just a friend. I’ve known Brad for a long time. We talk about everything from hunting to …,” he said, trailing off, when asked why he was talking about his prospects as premier.
“I have no ambitions of that at all. Last time I heard, the Yukon Party already had a leader,” he said.
Cathers did not return calls to the News. But if he were shopping for a new party leader, it would be a remarkable turn of events.
Dennis Fentie has exercised firm control over the party since he became leader in 2002 and ushered in seven years of majority government rule.
But the public has grown increasingly dissatisfied over Fentie’s rough-and-tumble style in the past six months, as Fentie faced allegations of meddling with the Peel Watershed land-use plan and plotting to privatize Yukon Energy.
Support for Fentie dropped from 47 to 33 per cent from spring to summer, according to a June opinion poll released by DataPath systems.
This plunge occurred at an unlikely time – when Yukoners’ faith in the economy was rebounding.
Remarkable, too, would be Cathers’ role in any plot to remove Fentie. In the legislature, Cathers often plays the part of the class bully’s little buddy. As the premier heaps scorn on members of the opposition, Cathers can often be seen smirking or whispering wisecracks to Fentie, whom he sits besides.
But it’s become clear not all is well within the Yukon Party – not since four of its own appointees resigned in June from the board of Yukon Energy to protest what they allege to be Fentie’s plans to sell off the assets of the Crown corporation to Alberta-based ATCO.
This fiasco led to the unlikely scenario of a former Conservative premier, Willard Phelps, publicly denouncing Fentie as an arrogant bully who runs a “tin-pot dictatorship.”
Phelps is no longer close to the Yukon Party, but he says he’s recently received many phone calls of support from “an awful lot of disaffected people who used to be party supporters.”
Take Don Roberts. While never a card-carrying member of the party, in past elections he banged on doors to support Yukon Party candidates such as Archie Lang, Elaine Taylor and Glenn Hart.
“I won’t again,” he vowed at a public meeting at the Yukon Inn in Whitehorse last night, as Fentie’s annual community tour kicked off.
Roberts demanded answers from Fentie about the ATCO deal. Fentie replied the sale of Yukon Energy assets is “not what this is about at all.”
What is the purpose of ongoing talks with ATCO, then? Fentie never said. He instead stuck with generalities, such as to say deals with the company would result in affordable and reliable electricity for Yukoners.
Fentie also warned that as demand for electricity grows, the territory will become increasingly reliant on burning diesel, and that this cost would result in more pricey power bills. Deals with ATCO could avoid this, he said.
One private power producer, Yukon Electrical Company, has operated in the territory for many years, noted Fentie.
“Well, let’s buy it,” Roberts replied.
Fentie insisted that “the lens of time will bear this out.”
That’s of little assurance to Roberts.
“The truth is not being told,” he said.
He fears privatization will lead to higher power rates. To make his point, he waved a recent edition of the Edmonton Journal, which had a headline that blared, “Power bill may give you a shock.”
ATCO provides much of Alberta’s electricity, he said.
Roberts also took a swipe at the cabinet ministers who accompanied Fentie. (Cathers was not present.) He appealed for them to stand up to the premier.
“I see a lot of nodding heads. That tells me you don’t have minds of your own,” he said.
Roberts was once a cabinet minister under Pat Duncan’s Liberals, but after he was demoted to the backbenches he and three other disgruntled MLAs quit the caucus and sat in opposition, eventually bringing down her government.
Roberts came to support the Yukon Party’s candidates because he believed its members stood up for open, accountable and transparent government.
“I don’t see that anymore,” he said.
In the Northwest Territories, Premier Floyd Roland received similar solicitations from ATCO. His government made a public announcement about ATCO’s bid and put together a committee of bureaucrats to analyze the offer.
“What did they do here? They hid it,” said Roberts.
And it’s not just electricity that ATCO wants, warned Roberts. Documents show Fentie encouraged the company to become involved in providing the territory’s water, sewage and housing.
Roberts was the only person to harshly criticize Fentie at the meeting. But public scoldings are not the chosen method of most Yukoners who wish to punish their leaders, Roberts warned.
“Yukoners may not come to public meetings. But at the ballot box they let you know very quickly.”
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