Phelps the territory’s top paid chairman

Who wouldn't want a part-time job that pays close to six figures a year? That's how the Liberals' Gary McRobb describes the work performed by Willard Phelps as chair of both the Yukon Development Corporation and Yukon Energy

Who wouldn’t want a part-time job that pays close to six figures a year?

That’s how the Liberals’ Gary McRobb describes the work performed by Willard Phelps as chair of both the Yukon Development Corporation and Yukon Energy Corporation.

For both closely-related part-time jobs, Phelps received $95,000 in 2008.

That’s considerably more than the pay received by Yukon’s other chairs of government bodies. But Phelps’ fees are not outlandish when compared to what’s paid to some directors of corporate boards.

Phelps received more than double what Craig Tuton collected in his role as chairs of both the Yukon Hospital Corporation and Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board.

Tuton received a total of $46,610 in 2008.

“It wasn’t nearly enough. I’ll tell you that,” said Tuton.

“I’d like to have the chair of Yukon Energy’s salary,” he said with a laugh.

“I’m sure Mr. Phelps earned what he gets,” added Tuton.

Phelps is a land-claims lawyer by trade who briefly served as Yukon’s premier under a Conservative government in 1985. His family helped start Yukon Electrical Company Ltd.

He’s served as chair of both the development corporation and Yukon Energy since 2004.

Since last week he’s been said to be driving back to his Carcross home from Arizona, where he winters. He hasn’t yet responded to messages left on his cellphone by reporters.

Phelps has been “double-dipping” into public funds, said McRobb. It’s improper for Phelps to collect honoraria from both boards, he said in the legislature last week.

However, the two organizations have paid their board members separately since Yukon Energy’s inception in 1987, said Janet Patterson, spokesperson for the public utility.

And McRobb should know this.

He heard as much in 2005, when Phelps appeared before the Public Accounts Committee and indicated he received two salaries. At the time, Phelps told McRobb he earned about $68,000 from both organizations that year.

Now McRobb insists this is all news to him.

Both Yukon Energy and the YDC have overlapping roles and finances. In practice, the development corporation is little more than a shell which holds Yukon Energy on behalf of the territory.

Both boards have identical memberships. In both cases, Phelps is chair.

Meetings of both boards are typically held consecutively. But the meetings are usually either held on separate days, or split into a half-day each, and do not overlap, said Patterson.

Phelps receives $800 for a full day’s work by the Energy Corporation, and $400 for a half-day, said Patterson.

This means Phelps would have worked 94 full days for Yukon Energy in 2008 to receive $57,000. His remaining $38,000 was paid by the Yukon Development Corporation.

Most of Phelps’ work did not involve board meetings. Instead, he has been busy working on special projects, said Patterson.

He attended meetings and conferences to research projects such as the possibility of tapping geothermal energy, unifying Yukon’s two energy grids, upgrading the Mayo hydro-electric dam and recent upgrades to the Aishihik dam, said Patterson.

He also had numerous meetings with Yukon Energy executives, cabinet ministers and officials from First Nations, she said.

As well, Phelps researched and wrote a corporate strategy, said Patterson.

By comparison, Tuton earns $500 per meeting as chair of the workers’ compensation board. And Tuton’s pay is well above what other government chairs are entitled to.

Their pay usually tops out at $300 per day, including extra pay to prepare for a meeting.

The pay of Yukon Energy’s board of directors was set in 2005. It’s based on the recommendations of the Hay Group of consultants, which compared what was paid to board members of other small- and mid-sized energy corporations and picked a salary slightly above average.

The Conference Board of Canada found in 2003 that the average director is paid $1,000 per meeting. But that average compares boards of directors of tiny non-profits as well as those of large oil and gas companies.

Canada’s auditor general, Sheila Fraser, reviews Yukon Energy’s books, noted Patterson. If there was anything unusual with payments to its board, this would be flagged, she said. It hasn’t been.

Yukon Energy does not disclose how much it pays individual board members in its annual report.

Details on how much Phelps received was disclosed in documents submitted this month by the power corporation in its general rate application to the Yukon Utilities Board.

Such information should be routinely disclosed, said McRobb. To do otherwise is “secretive,” he said.

Phelps should be scrutinized in the Public Accounts Committee, said NDP Leader Todd Hardy. But the committee has become dysfunctional, thanks to a spat between the Liberals and the Yukon Party.

“We really have no avenue left,” Hardy said in an interview.

“We’re at a stalemate and we can’t ask these kinds of questions.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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