Willard Phelps may run in the next territorial election, depending on the outcome of the next Datapath Systems poll.
The poll, to be released tomorrow, asks respondents whether they believe Phelps did the right thing when he resigned as chair of Yukon Energy’s board of directors in June and helped set off one of the biggest controversies to ever dog Premier Dennis Fentie.
Pollsters also asked residents to rate Phelps compared to the leaders of Yukon’s three political parties.
The questions, planted by Phelps’ supporters, are meant to suss out what popular support he would enjoy if he ran as an independent in the next election, which must be held by the autumn of 2010.
“A lot of people have been asking me to run,” said Phelps. “I’ll consider it.”
Phelps was leader of Yukon’s Progressive Conservatives from 1985 to 1991. He went on to serve as a Yukon Party cabinet minister from 1992 to 1996.
Now 68, he describes himself with a chuckle as “a little long in the tooth.” But when Phelps denounced Fentie as a “tin-pot dictator” in a barn-burner of a speech following his resignation from the public utility’s board, he showed he still had a political spark in him.
However, he remains disillusioned with partisan politics. So, if he ran again, it would only be as an independent.
If the Yukon Party were to hold a leadership convention, as it could do this spring, Phelps says he wouldn’t enter the race.
“Traditional partisan politics isn’t working,” he said.
Phelps resigned when he discovered Premier Dennis Fentie had engaged in four months of secret talks with Alberta-based ATCO to sell off Yukon Energy’s assets.
These talks occurred behind the board’s back. Phelps and three directors resigned when they found out.
This controversy grew even bigger in late August, when Brad Cathers resigned from cabinet and caucus over the scandal to sit as an independent.
Cathers alleges that Fentie conducted the ATCO talks without the knowledge of cabinet ministers.
Cathers further alleges that Fentie “lied” to the public about these negotiations, and that Fentie pressured Cathers to corroborate the premier’s story. Instead, he quit.
Fentie has expressed regret that he didn’t handle the ATCO talks differently, but he’s yet to directly respond to the allegations that he lied to the public, went behind the backs of his ministers and instructed Cathers to spread misinformation.
Both Phelps and Cathers have called for Fentie’s resignation. But it’s clear that Fentie plans to stay put, and that he enjoys the support of those who remain in cabinet.
Cathers’ resignation briefly plunged Fentie’s government into minority status over the summer, prompting cheers from those who hoped that a minority government would show more flexibility in working with the opposition parties.
But Fentie’s majority was restored last week when John Edzerza announced he would return to the Yukon Party fold.
“I feel let down,” Phelps said of Edzerza’s decision. “I think a lot of people do.”
Only a little more than a month ago, Edzerza cheered on Cathers’ resignation and declared he would not return to the Yukon Party if asked.
He’s since changed his tune. Edzerza now says that he will support the Yukon Party on the condition that a land-based healing centre be built for aboriginal people with substance-abuse problems.
Edzerza has also justified his newfound support for Fentie by saying that he believes that Yukoners don’t want an election now.
But there would only have been an election if Cathers, Edzerza, and both opposition parties voted together to defeat the government. And it became clear prior to Edzerza’s announcement that this would not have happened.
Cathers has no plans to vote against the government on matters of confidence, he told constituents last week. The only situation in which he would help defeat the government would be if cabinet chose to punish him by pulling projects from his riding of Lake Laberge.
Edzerza served as Fentie’s justice and education minister from 2002 until 2006, when he quit the government to join the NDP. In January, he quit the NDP to sit as an independent.
Phelps will announce whether he plans to run or not shortly after the polling results are released.
“I’ll see how people feel,” he said. “It’s up to Yukoners.”
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