SASKATOON — Steve Balog says his mom didn’t come from money but she knew how to give in kindness.
One of the first times he remembers seeing her selflessness was when she pulled over to help a boy on the side of the road. He was bleeding after falling off his bike.
“We went to help him as we watched cars go by. I was thinking how could they do that to this little kid?” Balog said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
He said his mother went to a nearby school to call an ambulance.
“You help people. That’s what you do."
Years later, in 1997, Jo-Anne Balog was the one injured on the side of a road. The 38-year-old mother had been driving with her then 18-year-old son in the passenger seat. Another vehicle ran a stop sign and hit their car near Shellbrook, Sask.
She and her son were taken by ambulance to hospital where she died.
Twenty-one years later, the other driver, Scott Moe, became premier of Saskatchewan.
Moe met privately with Scott Balog almost a year ago. The premier was following up on a 2020 campaign promise to apologize directly to the Balog family for the crash.
Before the election, the two menwere unknown to each other.
Balog had come forward publicly for the first time during the campaign to say he had recently found out that Moe was the other driver. Balog said he felt the Saskatchewan Party leader hadn't been properly held to account. Moe had been ticketed for failing to come to a complete stop and driving without due care and attention.
Moe, 48, has been in politics for a decade. Balog, 43, is a scaffolder who splits his time between Saskatoon and Edmonton.
They are both fathers who share a love of hockey with their sons.
And they both carry remorse about the crash.
“I always felt it was my fault and put it on myself. Because of my doctor’s appointment, that's why we were on the road that day,” Balog said.
“I needed (Moe) to shoulder some of that guilt, and he did take some of it. He definitely let me release some of it onto him.”
Balog recorded their mid-January visit at a Saskatoon hotel. Moe's office said the premier does not dispute their conversation.
During the meeting, Moe said he remained at the crash scene but didn’t check on Balog and his mother in the other car.
There were others there who did go to help.
"Why I didn't ... come over and talk to you right away is I was in the same accident ... I barely even recall some of what was happening," Moe said to Balog.
“Why not me? That’s the question I ask myself ... on a daily basis. Why was it her, and why wasn't it me?"
"I made a lot of mistakes in my life. I regret one day, and that's that day ... I'm so sorry the result was that you missed many years with your mom."
Moe declined to comment for this story, but said he appreciates that Balog met with him.
Balog said he continues to struggle with his grief, which has only heightened during the pandemic. Seeing Moe on TV screens leading the province's COVID-19 response has been triggering, he said.
Memories of his mother are also popping up in unexpected ways.
His 11-year-old daughter, who resembles his mom, started crafting when school moved online. It's a passion she shares with the grandmother she never met.
"My mom was always creating something and I miss that the most,” Balog said. “Our house would be filled with doilies on tables and little figurines.”
Balog said he wishes his mother were there to see his three children grow. She would have cooked them perogies and watch their hockey games.
He tries to channel her toughness, independence and love to better himself as a man and a parent, he said.
"She was an amazing, hard-working woman that faced adversity a few times in her life, and kept getting back up," Balog said,describing how she worked as a waitress, then went back to school to become a lab technician.
“She decided she wanted better for us."
Balog said he still has questions about the police investigation into the crash. In October 2020, he filed an access to information request to see the RCMP's file. He's still waiting.
Balog said he also struggles with why Moe didn't check on them in the car, as he believes his mother would have done if the tables were turned.
At the same time, Balog said, he knows he needs to move on.
“(Moe and I) did shake hands and that was the biggest thing I wanted to show my son. You have to forgive a person for being who they are."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2021.
Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press