As MLA Hugh MacKay prepares to make a public statement next week addressing allegations of drinking and driving, two members of his district riding association have resigned from their posts.
Katherine Williams and Ron Meagher both quit the Chester-St. Margaret’s Liberal Riding Association on Thursday in the aftermath of the provincial party’s handling of accusations that MacKay drove through his riding while impaired in November 2018.
Those allegations first reached the ears of Premier Stephen McNeil‘s chief of staff in May of 2019, but Laurie Graham decided they had no merit and never shared them with the premier himself. Nine months later, MacKay was charged with drinking and driving in relation to an incident on the same date described in the initial allegations.
Neither Williams nor Meagher could be reached for comment on Friday, but Premier Stephen McNeil thanked them for their service.
“They’ve obviously made a decision based on what’s happened with the riding association and the riding association now will rebuild and move forward,” he told reporters in the legislature.
“We can sit here and look back a year… as I look at the circumstances surrounding what’s taken place, I would have made same decision that my chief of staff made because there was no evidence, we had no history of that, and other private and personal information that we’re not at liberty to talk about.”
Earlier this week, the Official Opposition tabled an email in the legislature containing explosive allegations against MacKay.
Dated May 6, 2019, it was addressed to former Chester-St Margaret’s Liberal Riding Association president Andre Veinotte, Nova Scotia Liberal caucus officer Patricia Culbert and Richard Hattin, a member of MacKay’s campaign team in 2017.
“As President of the Chester-St. Margaret’s Liberal Riding Association, please accept this email as my official notice of resignation from the Board of Directors,” wrote the email’s author, whose name is redacted.
“I have been struggling for the past while hiding an incident that I can no longer keep hidden regarding the conduct of certain members of the Board along with our MLA — Hugh MacKay.”
The email describes in detail efforts to stop MacKay from driving drunk through his riding, before he eventually crashed into a lamp post on Nov. 22, 2018. That’s the same date cited in a charge of impaired driving laid against him by police earlier this month.
None of the allegations have been proven in court and MacKay has resigned as a member of the Liberal caucus. While declining an interview, in an email to Global News on Friday, MacKay wrote:
“I will be making a public statement next week which will provide clarity on this alleged incident.”
The handling of the entire affair has been a black eye for McNeil and his closest advisers, who have been accused by the Nova Scotia PC Party of participating in a “coverup” that left MacKay without support for his addiction for far too long.
McNeil vehemently denies these claims and states that his chief of staff ensured MacKay received the treatment he needed.
“There are personal and private issues that she would be privy to that determined the decisions she made, and at no time have I or my chief of staff ever condoned impaired driving or drunk driving of any kind,” said the premier.
MacKay never disclosed that he struggled with alcohol when he was vetted for cabinet, but was frank about the problem in a statement last October, when he pleaded guilty to a separate offense of impaired driving.
PC leader Tim Houston said the premier’s office should have taken the allegations brought forward in May 2019 “more serious” and reached out to the author of the email directly, instead of only MacKay and his caucus assistant.
“I think the moral behaviour of the government is important to Nova Scotians,” said Houston on Friday, adding that the recent resignations of both Meagher and Williams are proof that Nova Scotians are “offended” by the way the allegations have been treated.
The NDP’s Gary Burrill told reporters that the affair raises questions of the premier’s “inner circle,” while the resignations are evidence that members have “lost confidence” in the party.
In Chester, many constituents told Global News that MacKay ought to resign altogether — whether or not he is convicted of impaired driving for the alleged Nov. 22, 2018 incident.
“I think he should resign for sure and get the help that he needs, most definitely,” said East Chester resident Nadine Reid.
“I think if the second allegation is true — that he was, within a one-year period of time — driving drunk to the point where he had an accident, he shouldn’t be sitting as an MLA,” said Darrell Tingley. “I thought he should have resigned with the first one.”
Mary MacInnis, also of Chester, said she’d be asking serious questions of her own staff if they concealed details of an incident like the one alleged from her.
“What I’d like to see is the former British tradition of ‘the buck stops here,’ and some people in some high places resigning, and setting an example for our society in general with attitudes toward that kind of behaviour,” she told Global News.
MacKay is currently receiving treatment and is due in court to face the impaired driving charge next month.