February 27, 2020
Laurie Graham, Premier Stephen McNeil’s chief of staff, talked to the MLA and his constituency assistant at the centre of drunk-driving allegations, but did not consult the person making the claim before determining it had no merit.
For the third day in a row, the allegations in an anonymous email that now-Independent MLA Hugh MacKay drove drunk through his constituency on Nov. 22, 2018, with open liquor in his vehicle before ultimately crashing into a light pole, took centre stage at Province House.
MacKay resigned from the Liberal caucus last weekend after police charged him earlier this month with impaired driving.
McNeil, who has said he only learned of the allegations and charges against MacKay last week, revealed on Wednesday that Graham was made aware of the claims last May in a phone call after the email was sent to members of the Liberal Party and MacKay’s riding association.
On Thursday, McNeil told reporters that he doesn’t know if Graham ever saw the actual email.
He said Graham told the person who contacted her that if there was evidence of a crime they should take it to police. The premier doesn’t know if that happened and his office would not say who contacted Graham to inform her of the allegations.
As part of exploring the claims, McNeil said other people in the party talked to members of the Chester-St. Margaret’s riding association, but Graham did not. She dismissed the allegations after speaking to MacKay and his constituency assistant because they assured her they were untrue.
The premier said Graham didn’t push to speak to anyone else, including the person making the claim, because “there was no history of alcohol abuse at all that we knew anything of.”
“These allegations, they were six months behind — it was something that happened six months before.”
McNeil said he doesn’t know if Graham even knew the identity of the person making the allegations. He said he has “all the faith” in his chief of staff to determine the issues he needs to address and those he doesn’t.
“I support the judgment she made on this one,” he said. “Our team has all the confidence in her.”
‘Hard to imagine’
That support extends to Graham’s decision not to inform McNeil of the allegations last fall, after MacKay pleaded guilty to another drunk-driving change.
Asked if he would like to know about these types of issues in the future, McNeil said his chief of staff would make that determination.
As he has previously, McNeil said there was no evidence to suggest the claims in the email had merit. But the author says in the email that they have text messages and video evidence to back up their claims.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the promise of such material warranted a longer look, something he said he would expect in his own office.
“I find it hard to imagine that our chief of staff would not want to investigate and would not find out everything there was to know about those texts and those videos and then make a judgment about that.”
Tory Leader Tim Houston said the way things played out seem to suggest people were more concerned about protecting the Liberal Party than helping someone who appeared to have a problem. MacKay has been in treatment for alcoholism since last fall.
Houston said it wasn’t good enough for Graham to rely on talking to MacKay and his constituency assistant.
“The email was very clear that the member was trying to hide this, that there was an effort to hide this and cover it up. So to go and ask the person, ‘Is there an issue?’ when you know they’re trying to hide it, you should have expected the answer you got.”
During a bill briefing Thursday, Justice Minister Mark Furey, a former RCMP officer, was asked by reporters if someone with credible evidence that another person drove drunk should report it to police.
“I have always said and maintained over the course of my policing career, when people have evidence of any crime, in the first instance it should be reported to the police,” he said.
‘Very troubling’ premier wasn’t told
The CEO of MADD Canada, Andrew Murie, said it’s “very troubling” that the premier would not have been informed of the allegations or that the person making the claim was never contacted before Graham decided it had no merit.
Murie said he believes Graham “had the obligation” to inform McNeil.
“The premier is accountable for members of his caucus,” Murie said in a telephone interview.
“I’ve met the premier a number of times and impaired driving is not something he tolerates.”
It’s “human nature” that the person most at risk, in this case MacKay, would deny the allegations, said Murie.
“If there was a vigorous due diligence, then you’d feel better about it,” he said.
Murie said it seems as though MacKay, through his behaviour, “was reaching out for help.”
“And rather than, you know, being public about it and getting the help he needed, you know, there was more worry about how this was going to affect the party and him as an elected official and that should never be the driving point.
“There should be that public accountability.”
Author should have come forward
McNeil said knowing what he knows now, he would have done the same thing.
He said there’s no evidence that the issues detailed in the email are true or connected to the charges MacKay faces, although the date referenced in the email matches the date in the charge police filed.
The premier said what should have happened is the person who wrote the email should have taken their concerns to police immediately, rather than sitting on them. The email alleges the author was talked out of going to the police in order to protect MacKay’s job and those of people in his office.
“They were the ones, if you follow that letter, making accusations about someone being on the road impaired,” said McNeil. “It’s incumbent on all of us that if we see someone driving impaired that we make that call.”