December 1, 2005

Legislature notebook

(from November 30 issue of the Yukon News)

When reporters arrived at the legislature at 9 a.m. Monday, Peter Jenkins was the Yukon’s deputy Premier.

Four hours later, he was not.

“We have accepted Mr. Jenkins’s resignation,” Premier Dennis Fentie told reporters at a meeting called just 15 minutes before the legislative assembly convened.

Few had heard of Jenkins’s departure from the government as opposition MLAs sat down for Question Period.

Most found out as they took their seats.

“I was walking into the leg, and Peter joined me from down here and wasn’t carrying any books, and I asked him, ‘Where are you coming from, Peter?’” Opposition leader Todd Hardy said Monday.

“I walked in the door, and he kept truckin’ along beside me and sat on our side.

“I was very surprised.”

There was a period of “shock and confusion” as Jenkins sat among the opposition, added Kluane MLA Gary McRobb.

“Both Todd and I went up to ask Peter what it was all about.”

Most shocked by Jenkins’s new location was Porter Creek South MLA Pat Duncan.

Duncan’s usual opposition seat had been moved into the back row, to make way for Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell, who was sworn in on Monday.

Before Question Period, “I went up to my seat and said, ‘What’s this other chair doing up here?’” said Duncan.

“And then I went, ‘Ahhhhh!’”

(The acrimonious relationship between Duncan and Jenkins is well known. She later requested and received a new seating arrangement.)

Fentie tried to convince reporters that Jenkins’s departure was dictated by possible court action to recover more than $300,000 in outstanding government loans.

But few opposition members buy that as the whole story.

“We’ve known for a long time that there’s been a power struggle (between Fentie and Jenkins),” said Hardy. “What happened, I don’t know. I just know that there are more issues than just the loans.

“I’m sure Mr. Jenkins has some very, very strong opinions regarding Mr. Fentie’s conduct, as well as some of his own colleagues.

“It’s like a bad divorce.”

Porter Creek North MLA Jim Kenyon, who is the new acting minister of Health and Social Services, fuelled Hardy’s suspicions on Tuesday.

“I have no control over that; that’s the premier’s decision,” Kenyon said of Jenkins’s departure.

“We all work at the premier’s pleasure.”

The pettiness of it all

Lending further credence to the Jenkins-Fentie fallout theory was the sheer spectacle that Jenkins became on Monday.

As MLAs took their seats, a throng of about 20 government staffers gathered in the public gallery to stare at their former second-in-command.

And backbench Yukon Party MLAs were subdued, watching the scene unfold as though their parents had just finished fighting and were now sitting at opposite sides of the couch.

As Hardy and McRobb surrounded Jenkins, Fentie reclined in his seat and cockishly waved at his former lieutenant with a curt smile.

Contrary to house rules, McRobb took a photograph of the vacant real estate beside Fentie.

After rising on a point of personal privilege to explain his defection, Jenkins left the house and made for the parking lot.

But reporters caught him at the outer doors.

As they interviewed him, about 15 opposition MLAs and their staff crammed within inches of Jenkins in a small vestibule to hear what he would say.

McRobb snapped more pictures.

Hardy was absent.

Hardy had been expecting some sort of fallout from the battle of egos within the Yukon Party, he later said.

But he did not relish the human toll it had taken on Jenkins.

“I don’t get a kick out of seeing anybody hurt,” said Hardy.

“This is not nice politics. There’s a lot of pain in this, and there’s going to be a lot of fallout.”

What does this mean for the Yukon Party?

That depends on who you ask.

“It’s very reminiscent of the Liberal period (under Pat Duncan),” said Hardy.

“I think the government now is in freefall. What we need now is a general election.”

Mitchell is also waiting with baited breath to return to the polls.

“I think this is a huge blow to the Yukon Party government,” he said after sitting as Copperbelt MLA for the first time.

“You can’t simply say the price of housing has gone up and look at the stats on unemployment.

“I think it’s going to be difficult sell to suddenly tell Yukoners that this is the premier taking timely, effective action on an ethical issue when he waited three years.”

But Kenyon, just 26 hours into his job as Health minister, disagreed.

“I think the (Yukon Party’s) fortunes are actually pretty good,” he said.

“I think people are going to look at what’s been accomplished and look at what’s happening in the next few months.”

Will anyone else cross the floor?

“I believe (Jenkins) is not the only one who wants to leave,” said Hardy.

But he wouldn’t speculate.

“Who knows? Maybe there’s more in store,” added a coy McRobb on Tuesday.

Like Hardy, McRobb wouldn’t say who has been thinking about leaving the Yukon Party.

But he mused that Pelly-Nisutlin MLA Dean Hassard is widely expected to be offered Jenkins’s Health portfolio.

“Fentie’s gotta start plugging the leaks in his sinking ship,” said McRobb.

What now for Jenkins?

“A lot of people have been lobbying me to return to municipal politics, and that’s an option,” said Jenkins.

“And there’s a lot of people saying, ‘Continue as an independent,’ and that’s an option.”

He described his departure from his former party as “amicable.”

“They’re doing a very excellent job representing the Yukon,” he said.

“I have issues with how they’re treating my riding.”

Though his flip-flopping rhetoric on the Yukon Party is confusing, Jenkins’s words in the legislature are not.

During debate over the department of Highways and Public Works on Tuesday, Jenkins challenged minister Glenn Hart to improve road conditions in Dawson.

A clearly amazed Hart said there were bigger priorities for Dawson, like a bridge.

“To use — let’s call it what is it, Mr. Chair — the excuse that we’re waiting for the bridge to be built before we pave Front Street is not acceptable,” said Jenkins.

Cooly, calmly, he asserted his new role as a scrappy independent opposition MLA.

Hart — and Committee of the Whole chair Patrick Rouble — looked and sounded shell-shocked.

McRobb, however, feels Jenkins may find himself in compromising positions.

“He knows where all the bodies are buried,” said McRobb, “but his fingerprints are all over the shovel.”

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