Premier Dennis Fentie hasn’t done his homework.
Shortly after the legislature reconvened, Fentie explained why there wouldn’t be a judicial inquiry into the ATCO scandal.
It would be too costly. “The justification of that expense is certainly somewhat problematic,” he said on November 2.
But it isn’t clear how he reached that conclusion.
The simplest way to find out would be to ask him, but Fentie declined to be interviewed this week. No surprise there: Fentie hasn’t spoken to the Yukon News since the legislature reconvened, despite repeated requests.
But this much is clear: Fentie never bothered to ask staff to give a cost estimate for an inquiry.
The Executive Council Office produced no documents related to the cost of a judicial inquiry, according to an access-to-information request made by the News.
Neither did the Department of Justice. “It never came this way,” said Chris Ross, the department’s spokesman.
Nevertheless, the proposal was given “due consideration,” said Fentie.
This discrepancy won’t surprise Fentie’s critics, who have always doubted he would volunteer to testify before a judge on the matter, when he has already proved so reluctant to explain his involvement in negotiations with Alberta-based ATCO to privatize Yukon Energy.
Instead, Fentie promised to settle long-standing questions about his involvement in the affair through a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.
It’s unclear when this will happen, but it doesn’t look like it will happen soon.
This month, the committee, long paralyzed by a deadlock between the Yukon Party and Liberals, met to schedule meetings on the auditor general of Canada’s recent audit of the Yukon Housing Corporation. Those meetings are scheduled for February. So far, there has been no talk of the ATCO affair in committee.
And a committee discussion of the ATCO affair wouldn’t amount to much, said Independent MLA Brad Cathers, who proposed the judicial inquiry.
The committee has a narrow mandate, he said. Its job is to scrutinize whether government policy has been properly followed, or not.
Yet “the key questions regarding the government’s talks with ATCO have always been about the premier’s involvement and the premier’s actions,” Cathers said in a past interview.
These questions are beyond the committee’s reach.
“This is another deflection technique, another attempt by the premier to put officials out front and not answer the questions himself,” said Cathers.
Fentie’s enthusiasm for the public accounts committee should also be seen as suspect, as “it wasn’t many months ago that he told government members to scuttle the committee,” said Cathers.
Back then, government’s members announced they would not allow the committee to work until its chair, Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell, quit. They accused Mitchell of “politicizing” the committee by trying to have it look into the government’s $36.5 million investment in asset-backed commercial paper.
But the government’s members had a “change of heart” during the summer, according to Fentie, and committed to make the committee work better.
This role-reversal allowed Fentie to portray Mitchell as the one doing the foot-dragging.
And this has taken the heat off Fentie having to explain some of the contradictory or nonsensical explanations he’s offered in the wake of the ATCO affair.
The scandal broke in June, when half of Yukon Energy’s board resigned to protest Fentie’s involvement in privatization talks with Alberta-based ATCO. Fentie denied such talks ever occurred.
Then documents surfaced that contradicted him, showing the company had proposed Yukon Energy be merged into a new company that would be controlled by ATCO.
Fentie has tried to talk his way out of this mess by explaining the negotiations weren’t really negotiations, even if government officials say otherwise.
He continues to refuse to release a heap of government documents connected to the file. He hasn’t explained why, but he keeps promising to release the information at an unspecified future date.
Smaller inconsistencies were raised over the past month in the legislature by the Liberal opposition.
For example, Fentie told reporters in June that he had never met Nancy Southern, ATCO’s CEO and president. Yet that’s clearly not true, as evident by a letter he wrote Southern in November of 2008, which begins by thanking her for meeting with him.
And Fentie has never directly addressed allegations made by Cathers when he tendered his resignation – namely, that Fentie had snuck behind the backs of cabinet ministers to issue orders to officials, had lied to the public and had pressured Cathers to corroborate his story.
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