There’s nothing unusual about Yukon’s premier engaging in secret energy talks with Alberta-based ATCO, says Whitehorse retail tycoon Rolf Hougen.
He’s known similar talks to have occurred at least twice, under the governments of Tony Penikett and John Ostashek.
Hougen was involved in these talks over a 20-year period as a director with ATCO, then Alberta Power, he said.
But these talks were simply aimed at rationalization, or untangling the tasks carried out by Yukon’s energy players.
Currently, Crown-owned Yukon Energy produces most, but not all, of the territory’s electricity. Meanwhile, Yukon Electrical Company Ltd., an ATCO subsidiary, distributes most, but not all, of the power.
Both have fingers in the others’ pie. And, in the end, this causes electricity to cost more than it needs to, said Hougen.
“We can’t afford the inefficiencies we see in the Yukon,” he said.
Yet Fentie stands accused of far more than trying to create a leaner, meaner power grid.
He was engaged in talks that could have led to the privatization of Yukon Energy and the sale of public assets, according to documents. And he’s alleged to have lied to the public about these talks.
On this, Hougen is silent.
It wouldn’t be appropriate for him to comment, he said. He’s not privy to cabinet talks. He says he hasn’t spoken to Fentie in six years. And he was Outside during much of the controversy.
But his faith in Fentie remains unshaken.
“I know he didn’t do anything wrong, but he didn’t communicate it well,” he said.
Documents show that Fentie’s deal would have merged Yukon Energy with ATCO to produce a new company, over which ATCO would have exercised managerial control.
ATCO had also made a bid to purchase Yukon Energy’s assets.
Cabinet and Yukon Energy’s board were left in the dark for seven months during these talks. When the power utility’s board found out about the deal, half of its members quit in protest.
Its chair, Willard Phelps, denounced Fentie as a bully and a
“tin-pot dictator”- harsh words coming from a former Conservative government leader of the territory.
Then, last month, Brad Cathers resigned as Energy minister, alleging Fentie lied to the public about the Yukon Energy fiasco, and that Fentie asked him to do the same.
It’s been 17 days since Cathers quit, and Fentie has yet to respond to his allegations.
Hougen concedes it was a mistake for Fentie to conduct talks behind the back of Jim Kenyon, who was minister responsible for Yukon Energy until Fentie shuffled him out, claiming the portfolio as his own.
But, other than this, Hougen calls Fentie’s talks “totally appropriate.”
“He didn’t do anything wrong by sitting down with ATCO and having these discussions,” said Hougen. “He did wrong in the way he communicated it, and I certainly don’t like the way he made statements that had been termed to be incorrect.”
But Hougen only knows a small part of the story, said Phelps.
“He doesn’t appear to, in any way, discuss the lying by Fentie, the bullying by Fentie, the intimidation by Fentie, which has all come out,” he said.
“It goes far beyond the things governments can do in good conscience and in a parliamentary fashion and be respectful and responsible to Yukoners.”
Phelps points out that the Northwest Territories was also approached by ATCO for similar talks. Its premier handled the situation far differently.
“The first thing he said was go public with it and then create a body to look at it,” said Phelps.
“That’s the very least one should expect from a democratic government.”
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