Is an election in the air?

Premier Dennis Fentie is staying mum about his reasons for recalling the legislature early this autumn, prompting speculation about a territorial election this fall.

Premier Dennis Fentie is staying mum about his reasons for recalling the legislature early this autumn, prompting speculation about a territorial election this fall.

“We can’t rule out possibilities,” Fentie told the CBC Radio One this morning. He declined an interview request with the News.

Fentie typically hobnobs with Yukoners every autumn, during the premier’s annual community tour. But the tour was axed this year to make room for an early sitting of the legislature that starts in less than two weeks, on Tuesday, September 21.

“We have completed our preparation for the fall sitting and look forward to debate and discussion on legislation and other important matters to Yukoners” is the only explanation offered by Fentie in a statement.

Autumn sessions of the legislature usually begin in late October. It’s puzzling that the session was bumped forward one month, at the expense of the community tour, said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell.

“So you have to wonder. Maybe we’re going to the polls,” he said.

Calling an early election after a short session would spare Fentie from having to fight those within the Yukon Party who want him gone.

There is a faction within the party who believe that the premier irreparably damaged his reputation with his botched handling of the ATCO energy privatization scandal over the past year.

Fentie bought himself time at the Yukon Party’s annual meeting this summer by promising to voluntarily trigger a leadership review this spring. But he hasn’t managed to heal the divided party over the interim.

Brad Cathers, the MLA for Lake Laberge who resigned as Energy minister last autumn over the ATCO scandal, announced last week he would continue to sit across the floor as an independent as long as Fentie was premier.

Cathers alleges Fentie lied to the public and his fellow MLAs about plans to sell off Yukon Energy’s assets to Alberta-based ATCO, and that the premier told Cathers to do the same. Instead, Cathers quit.

Fentie at first denied that any such talks occurred. When documents surfaced that contradicted him, Fentie changed his tune and declared the talks didn’t meet his own narrow definition of “negotiations.” He’s never directly addressed Cathers’ allegations.

Attempts to have the matter aired in the legislature have been repeatedly stonewalled by the government.

An early election would also remove the need for Fentie to hold a byelection to fill the vacant seat of Todd Hardy, MLA for Whitehorse Centre, who succumbed to cancer this summer. Fentie has brushed aside questions about when the byelection will be held by saying that he’s in no hurry, and that the government would represent Whitehorse Centre voters.

This gives little satisfaction to the Liberals and NDP, who are both calling for a prompt byelection for the riding. It’s particularly important to NDP Leader Elizabeth Hanson, who intends to seek her party’s nomination for the riding.

“The Yukon Party had an opportunity here to demonstrate that they believe in representative democracy, and they’ve said no,” she said.

“I can tell you, going door to door, that’s not sitting well with people in Whitehorse Centre. The essence of democracy is you get to choose who represents you. And this doesn’t achieve that.”

She’s as puzzled as anyone about Fentie’s decision to recall the legislature a month early. But she says she doesn’t expect an early election.

“He stated categorically, numerous times, that he doesn’t intend to call a general election before the fixed date. I’ll take that at face value.”

It could be that Fentie wants to hold his party’s leadership review this autumn, so that a new leader could be installed for the spring sitting, said Hanson.

Support for the Yukon Party dropped to 22 per cent this August from a high of 47 per cent in the spring of 2009, according to the latest poll by DataPath Systems.

The Liberals gained 12 points over that period, to 39 per cent support, while the NDP rose 10 points to 26 per cent.

Thirty-nine per cent of Yukoners remain undecided, according to the poll of 349 Yukoners. (The survey is considered accurate within 5.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.)

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