Former N.S. MLA fined $1,000 for drunk driving incident

Hugh MacKay, left, pleaded guilty to impaired driving in provincial court on Wednesday.  (Craig Paisley/CBC - image credit)
Hugh MacKay, left, pleaded guilty to impaired driving in provincial court on Wednesday. (Craig Paisley/CBC - image credit)

A former member of the Nova Scotia Legislature has been fined $1,000 and lost his licence for a year after admitting to driving drunk.

Hugh MacKay pleaded guilty to impaired driving during a brief appearance in provincial court in Halifax Wednesday morning.

Judge Ann Marie Simmonds accepted a recommendation from Crown and defence to impose the mandatory minimum penalties in this case.

MacKay's lawyer, Don Murray, indicated earlier this month that a guilty plea was coming, thereby pre-empting the need for a trial. Wednesday's appearance made the plea official.

Court was told that on Nov. 22, 2018, MacKay's constituency assistant, Penny Lawless contacted her husband Michael to say she had been in touch with her boss and thought he was impaired.

She told Michael Lawless that MacKay was sitting in his vehicle somewhere around New Ross and that he sounded extremely intoxicated. She then used a tracking app on her cellphone to pin down his location. It was around 1:47 in the afternoon.

Vehicle damaged

The Crown told the judge that Michael Lawless found MacKay on the side of Highway 12. He was in his vehicle and it was running. According to the statement read in court, Lawless found MacKay slumped over the steering wheel with a near empty bottle of vodka in his lap.

Lawless told MacKay he was there to take him home. He said MacKay became combative and drove off.

Lawless followed MacKay as he left Highway 12 and pulled onto Highway 103, the major highway running along Nova Scotia's South Shore. MacKay drove for about 50 kilometres before exiting toward the Halifax suburb of Tantallon.

MacKay's vehicle struck a lamppost in the parking lot of a mall there, although his lawyer said the collision was due to black ice, not impairment.

The collision damaged MacKay's vehicle enough that it wasn't drivable and he then accepted an offer from Lawless to be driven home.

A couple of days after the collision, on Nov. 24, 2018, MacKay shared pictures of his damaged vehicle in a group chat with family members. He captioned the pictures: "Don't drink and drive. This could have been much worse for me and others. A totally stupid act on my part. I apologize to all of you."

Incident reported a year later

MacKay's lawyer said his client did not intend for his online comments to his family to be entered as evidence in a criminal case but he doesn't dispute their contents.

But Murray did question some of the evidence Michael Lawless provided in his statements to police. Murray noted that Lawless waited a full year, until the following November, before going to police.

"It was when his marriage began to fall apart and he was seeking to get some leveredge against his wife by lashing out at her employer, who happens to be Mr. MacKay. And wanted to create reputational damage to him," Murray told the court.

The delay in handling the drunk driving allegation caused friction within MacKay's Liberal constituency association.

The allegation against MacKay surfaced at the same time as he was dealing with another drunk driving charge from 2019. While he pleaded guilty in that case and was fined $2,000, the courts looked on the 2018 incident as a first offence and he was penalized as a first-time offender.

MacKay resigned from the Liberal caucus and sat as an independent MLA after the second charge was laid. He did not run in the last election.