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

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, said 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. British Columbia under the Campbell government was the first province to begin impounding the vehicles of drivers with a blood-alcohol content at 0.05 per cent. That measure resulted in a 50 per cent reduction in impaired driving deaths in a year after the legislation was introduced, Murie said.

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.

 Earlier in 2020, Moe disclosed that in 1997 he was ticketed for failing to come to a complete stop and driving without due care and attention in a collision in which a woman died. As well, he revealed that five years earlier, he was convicted of impaired driving when he was 18.

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

"We're definitely looking for some leadership on the issue," he said. "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 -- 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.

On Tuesday, the Opposition Progressive Conservatives issued a statement accusing the Liberals of concealing the two cases from the public over the eight years since Rankin was elected to the legislature.

Rankin said Monday 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.

"While the premier continues to limit questions from the media, we may never get all the answers," said Tory legislator Barbara Adams, whose uncle was killed by a drunk driver when she was 18.

"I'm calling on the premier to release all documents related to both of these incidents and let Nova Scotians decide if he has been honest and open about his behaviour."

Provincial NDP Leader Gary Burrill issued a statement Tuesday saying Rankin wasn't being forthright with the people of Nova Scotia because he didn't disclose the conviction until "the media was asking questions."

Court records show Rankin was 20 years old on Sept. 5, 2003 when he was convicted of driving with a blood-alcohol content in excess of 0.08. He was fined $1,200 and banned from driving for a year.

In July 2005, Rankin was 22 when he was charged with the same offence and driving while impaired, court documents show.

He was found guilty on the impaired driving charge and was sentenced to 14 days in weekend custody, but he won his appeal of the conviction and a new trial was ordered on Jan. 9, 2007. The charge was dismissed on April 19, 2007 when the Crown offered no evidence to support its case.

On Monday, Rankin called his actions "selfish" and said he was "very, very sorry" for his behaviour.

Prof. Tom Urbaniak, who also teaches at Cape Breton University, said it's unlikely Rankin's conviction 18 years ago will have much of an impact on the looming campaign.

"But the public also expects a level of transparency," he said. "The premier had mentioned the disclosure to the party .... But he hadn't mentioned it to the public .... It is better to be transparent than to be pushed into being transparent."

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