More than a quarter of the Yukon Energy Corporation’s staff have publicly demanded Premier Dennis Fentie come clean on his plans for the Crown-owned utility.
A letter to the editor signed by 21 employees was released on Thursday. It demanded Fentie address information that suggests he plans to privatize the operation.
The letter—which includes signatures from chief financial officer Ed Mollard, vice-president David McDonald and spokesperson Janet Patterson—indicates just how few people know what Fentie is up to.
“As you have chosen not to be forthcoming on this issue, we can only assume that you are not interested in what’s best for Yukon Energy or for the Yukon public,” reads the letter (see page 10). “We invite you to meet with us as a group to explain your actions, rationale and plans for the future of our company.”
Fentie has denied privatization talks are underway. Instead, the company’s operation is being “rationalized” with the private Yukon Electrical Co. Ltd., he said.
“We feel very confused because we don’t know what’s going on,” said Patterson, who usually handles media for the company. “We’re angry because we feel our company is being mucked about with in a way that we don’t think is forthright.”
Yukon Energy’s board of directors was hobbled 12 days ago when half of it resigned, including the chair—long-time utility expert Willard Phelps. Board directors Greg Hakonson, Paul Hunter and Martin Allen also left the company.
Fentie was pursuing a privatization deal with Alberta-based ATCO and was jeopardizing the $160 Mayo B grid expansion project set to begin this summer, said Phelps.
The premier has a “dictatorial attitude” and refused to grant meetings with the board, he said.
ATCO, which owns transmission and distribution lines in the Yukon, is looking to buy Yukon Energy’s assets and gain a management foothold in the publicly owned utility, effectively ceding control to the multinational power firm, said Phelps.
ATCO is in talks with the Yukon government, said Jerome Babyn, general manager of ATCO-subsidiary Yukon Electrical Company Limited.
“We’re going to continue to have discussions with Yukon Energy and the Yukon government and we want the best model for providing service,” said Babyn this week. “That’s about all I can say.”
Babyn did not disavow Phelps’ claims that ATCO wants a piece of Yukon Energy—either through management posts or buying its power equipment.
Fentie has shrugged off Phelps’ accusations and referred only to a rationalization process going on between the two Yukon utilities. He has never explained the meaning of “rationalization.”
Now Yukon Energy staffers are demanding an explanation, driving another dent in Fentie’s tight-lipped response to a Crown corporation in crisis.
“We hear Fentie saying one thing and then we read in news stories that other things are apparently going on,” said Patterson. “When we felt that the company is in some jeopardy, we decided to speak.”
It’s hurting morale at a critical time.
“In some ways it feels like there’s been a death in the family around here with the departure of Willard Phelps and the other three directors,” said Patterson. “We’ve lost a lot.”
The letter’s signatories include workers at every level of the company, she said.
“It’s fair to say that it’s right across the board and it’s not just people in Whitehorse, but there are people in the communities as well.”
Yukon Energy employs more than 80 people in the territory. Many other Yukon Energy employees support the letter but chose not to give their names, it says.
Such a public act of discord with the premier is unprecedented, said Opposition Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a letter like this in terms of this many members of a company publicly speaking out,” said Mitchell. “The employees deserve credit for coming forward, especially given how this government has treated those who publicly oppose it.
“These are credible people and they’re standing up on behalf of Yukoners.”
There’s no comparison to this kind of public clarion call, said New Democratic Party Leader Todd Hardy.
“I can’t remember seeing something like this in a very long time,” said Hardy. “It speaks volumes to the seriousness of the situation of the privatization of the Yukon Energy Corporation and the very secret negotiations that have been going on for quite a few months.”
Fentie appointed Watson Lake businessman Pat Irvin as chair of the board last Friday. Three seats remain open while the four remaining board members, all Council of First Nations appointees, won’t budge unless given the order from the council.
Fentie has not returned phone calls for 12 days.
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