Premier Dennis Fentie’s secret negotiations to merge the Yukon Energy Corporation with Calgary-based ATCO are straining relations with the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun.
The Mayo-based First Nation is being courted as a potential investor in the $160-million Mayo B Project, which includes a new powerhouse and a major transmission line on its traditional land.
But Na-cho Nyak Dun is withholding any financial pledges because of Fentie’s tight-lipped talks with ATCO.
“We have a stand-back attitude,” said Na-cho Chief Simon Mervyn. “Because we’re not happy with the information that the media has exposed.”
Fentie was in Mayo on Friday to, amongst other things, sign a memorandum of understanding between the Yukon Energy Corporation and the Na-cho Nyak Dun declaring a shared interest in Mayo B.
But the memo says “nothing specific” and is just “a segment of the process,” said Mervyn.
He wants Fentie to disclose what exactly is going on with ATCO before he goes any further.
“We haven’t gotten any facts and we’re a government that deals with facts,” he said.
The goodwill is the premier’s to lose because, in Mervyn’s words, the Na-cho Nyak Dun “do not need more power.”
“Our position is our children are fed,” he said. “Our people are adequately housed. We enjoy a financial relationship with Canada. We do not need more power.
“The government can do whatever they want, but they must understand that we must be consulted and accommodated,” said Mervyn.
Friday, opposition leaders were calling for Fentie’s ouster after a leaked seven-page document revealed he was in advanced talks to create a new energy utility in the Yukon split 50/50 between the government and Alberta-based ATCO, an energy multinational with nearly $10 billion in assets.
The new power corporation would assume the responsibilities of the Crown-owned Yukon Energy Corporation and ATCO’s Yukon subsidiary, the Yukon Electrical Company Limited.
ATCO’s unsolicited merger bid has been personally overseen by Fentie for the last seven months. Yukon Energy’s lawyers, consultants and even its board of directors have been kept out of the loop.
Half the board resigned earlier this month and a quarter of the Crown corporation’s staff publicly demanded Fentie come clean about the negotiations two weeks ago.
Despite shunning key expertise and the proper stakeholders in the negotiations, Fentie insisted on Friday that it’s his “obligation to address the energy situation.”
It was the first time Fentie specifically discussed the negotiations with ATCO.
“The preliminary scoping-out discussions have come to an end,” he said at the Na-cho Nyak Dun’s general assembly on Friday. “Now the principals have to determine whether or not there are any new steps.”
His once-secret talks with ATCO are not really negotiations, he said.
“They’re not beyond preliminary negotiations,” he said. “If we were negotiating, there’s a need for a cabinet submission to the department responsible.
“There has been no cabinet submission.”
Since the board resignations on June 8, led by former chair Willard Phelps, Fentie has only referred to a “rationalization” between the Yukon power utilities.
The Northwest Territories government also received a utility merger proposal from ATCO in January.
The proposal has been studied by a group of senior public servants and is now being considered by Premier Floyd Roland’s government.
In the NWT, ATCO’s proposal was publicly disclosed by the government on January 29.
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