Head of MADD Canada calls on Nova Scotia premier to take action against drunk driving

·3 min read

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin's apology for a previously undisclosed impaired driving conviction must be followed up with action on the issue, the head of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said Tuesday.

Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada, says Rankin should follow the examples of Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, both of whom responded to revelations about drunk driving charges by taking a leadership role on the file.

In March 2003, Campbell was premier of British Columbia when he pleaded no contest to a drunk driving charge in Hawaii, following his roadside arrest two months earlier in Maui.

Murie said he was with Campbell when the Liberal premier later met with the victims of drunk drivers and committed to do more to combat impaired driving.

Last October, Moe was in the middle of a provincial election campaign when he revealed he had been charged with impaired driving and leaving the scene of an accident when he was 20 — but he said the 1994 charges were later stayed.

On Monday, Rankin confirmed he was convicted of drunk driving in 2003 and was cleared of a second drunk driving charge in 2005.

Murie said it is worth noting that Rankin is 38 years old.

"The premier of Saskatchewan's (offences) were in the '90s," Murie said. "(Rankin's) were in the 2000s. He's a young guy. It's a little bit more disturbing because he grew up with all of the public awareness and education."

Murie said the premiers of Saskatchewan and B.C. both took decisive action to reduce drunk driving after the charges were made public — and Murie said Rankin should do the same.

"We're definitely looking for some leadership on the issue," Murie said in an interview Tuesday. "It's one thing to say, 'I'm sorry.' But can you actually put some of those words into action?"

David Johnson, a political studies professor at Cape Breton University, said the premier did the right thing by disclosing the conviction, and he suggested Rankin was unlikely to face much political blowback.

"I think most Canadians are forgiving of these types of transgressions when someone is relatively younger," Johnson said in an interview Tuesday. "The problems start for politicians when they lie about these issues."

As an example, Johnson cited the former leader of the Nova Scotia NDP, Robert Chisholm, who failed to disclose a conviction when asked by a reporter if he had ever broken the law.

Just days before the conclusion of the 1999 provincial election campaign, a Halifax newspaper reported Chisholm had been convicted of drunk driving when he was 19 years old — a revelation that immediately became the focus of an election the NDP would lose.

"A lie is much worse that the actual initial offence," Johnson said.

Rankin told reporters Monday he wanted to disclose his run-ins with the law because his office had received inquiries that morning about the previous cases. The premier made the announcement as speculation mounted about a provincial election call.

"Of course, the politicos were trying to get ahead of it, as they've done," Johnson said. "(Rankin) would have been foolish to think he could have kept this a secret. Better to face the music now."

The premier confirmed he was fined and his licence was suspended in 2003 for driving while impaired, and that he was charged two years later with the same offence but was declared "innocent."

He called his actions "selfish" and said he was "very, very sorry" for his behaviour.

Rankin said that when he first ran for office, he disclosed the incidents to former premier Stephen McNeil, and that he informed the Liberal party about them when he ran for leader and won in February.

"I moved on with my life, but it is known in my community where I grew up, in Timberlea-Prospect, and among all my friend groups," Rankin said of the charges. "Whenever I was asked, I never shied away (from discussing) that very poor decision I made."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 6, 2021.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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