Should he stay or should he go?

Premier Dennis Fentie won't say whether he intends to run in the next territorial election. When Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell broached the question during the last day of the legislature's sitting on Monday, Fentie shot back: "The short answer is, it's none of the Liberal leader's business."

Premier Dennis Fentie won’t say whether he intends to run in the next territorial election.

When Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell broached the question during the last day of the legislature’s sitting on Monday, Fentie shot back: “The short answer is, it’s none of the Liberal leader’s business.”

Fentie declined an interview with the News, but he gave a more diplomatic answer to CKRW radio.

He hasn’t decided. “It’s personal,” he said. “This is not a career choice. It’s a life choice.”

Fentie maintains he will serve out his entire term, which expires this autumn. He’s currently Canada’s longest-serving premier: his reign began more than eight years ago.

Whether the Yukon Party’s membership wants Fentie to stick around is an open question for now, but it should be settled soon. Fentie has promised to trigger a leadership election this spring.

He made that commitment last summer, when faced with a mutiny at the annual Yukon Party convention. The rebellion was led by supporters of Brad Cathers, the Lake Laberge MLA who noisily quit cabinet and caucus during the autumn of 2009 over the ATCO scandal.

At the convention, Fentie brokered a deal with upset delegates that let him stay on as leader to take care of unfinished business, provided he would trigger a leadership election in the spring of 2011.

That means any time now. The Yukon Party has scheduled its annual convention on April 16, and Cathers expects Fentie to trigger a leadership election before then, “rather than be forced into it at the convention.”

Once a leadership election is triggered, the ensuing campaign could last anywhere between six weeks and six months. “Given that it’s an election year, it’ll probably be towards the shorter end of that,” said Cathers.

Cathers doesn’t doubt that Fentie will trigger the leadership race. “He did make a very clear, specific promise to party members,” he said.

Few people have as much riding on the outcome, as Cathers. He now sits as an independent, but he remains a Yukon Party member. He’d like to return to the fold – once Fentie leaves.

But if Fentie goes, who will replace him? Cathers has ruled himself out, but he says he knows of several cabinet members who would be interested in running for the leadership.

Who, he won’t say. But Environment Minister Elaine Taylor is the one most frequently touted as a possible successor. Energy Minister Patrick Rouble is also seen as a rising star in the party.

Or the party could pick an unelected member as leader. Darrell Pasloski, a Whitehorse pharmacist who ran as the Conservative candidate in the last federal election, hasn’t ruled out putting his name forward.

Fentie seems to have wagered that the public would eventually lose interest in the ATCO scandal if he deprived the story of oxygen by refusing to answer questions. It may have worked.

The embarrassment blew up when half of Yukon Energy’s board quit, alleging that the premier had plans to sell-off the utility’s assets to the Alberta-based energy corporation.

Cathers later quit in a huff over the matter. He corroborated the board’s version of events and alleged that Fentie pressured him to lie to the public.

Fentie has always strenuously denied that privatization was ever considered, although documents flatly contradict him.

He also denies negotiations ever started with ATCO, while officials admit they did.

There’s a fat stack of documents sitting in the bowels of a government building that could set the record straight once and for all. But they’re not being released.

The reason offered by the territory’s officials is the papers contain sensitive information that, if released, could harm the government’s financial interests.

Cathers has another explanation: the documents, if released, would discredit Fentie.

On March 16, Mitchell tried to dredge the matter up again. He asked Fentie to release the documents, which were produced by consultants at a cost of $275,000 over 18 months.

Fentie responded that “there are no such documents relating to the privatization of anything that exist.” Rather, “it was all about a discussion of partnership” and “the government was not selling assets.”

Whatever privatization plans were once contemplated are now on ice. Fentie has since appointed Piers McDonald, the Yukon’s former NDP premier, to chair the Yukon Energy Corporation.

When McDonald recently appeared before the house, he stated “there has certainly been no discussion” on privatizing the utility under his tenure.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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