Tuesday, October 27, 2020

What was Saskatchewan’s media doing when it wasn’t reporting on Scott Moe’s driving record?

What was Saskatchewan's media doing when it wasn't reporting on Scott Moe's driving record?

Seriously, what was the media in Saskatchewan doing when it wasn’t investigating Scott Moe’s history of drunk and, on one occasion, deadly driving?

Wednesday morning, the province’s Saskatchewan party premier got up on his hind legs at a campaign event and “spoke to an impaired driving charge he faced following an incident in 1994,” as CTV News Regina carefully described it.

The details have never been publicly revealed, the premier told reporters, sounding as though he thought this was entirely reasonable, because prosecutors entered a stay of proceedings in the case two years after the charge was laid in 1994. The same thing happened to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident laid by the RCMP officer who attended the fender bender in the parking lot of the Co-op store in Moe’s hometown, Shellbrook, Saskatchewan, 45 kilometres west of Prince Albert.

“Because the charges were withdrawn, the incident has not been part of my public disclosure, but I am doing so now as I expect to be asked at some point in time, in particular in the environment and the atmosphere that we are operating in here today,” the premier said, making it sound as if he thought the real problem was the media, and maybe the NDP campaigning against him in the leadup to the October 26 provincial election, not his driving record.

Moe said he’d had a drink that day, but he wasn’t drunk. “Those charges were later withdrawn because I was not impaired and did not leave the scene,” he said.

The record would appear not to be quite that cut and dried. The information prepared by the Mountie certainly seemed clear enough, stating “his ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired by alcohol or a drug,” and he failed “to stop his vehicle and give his name and address contrary to Section 252(1) of the Criminal Code.”

And according to PressProgress, which broke the story Wednesday morning, Moe changed legal counsel a couple of times before the courts finally got around to dealing with the 1994 charges and the prosecutor decided the case wouldn’t fly. Court records suggested Moe’s lawyer in 1995 was not prepared to waive the right to argue the delay violated Moe’s constitutional rights.

Moe was also only 20 when this happened, he was also careful to tell the reporters. “I made some poor choices and I have learned from those mistakes,” he insisted. 

Of course, none of this would be of interest but for a couple of important factors beyond the mere fact Moe is the conservative premier of Saskatchewan.

For one thing, the province’s media were already aware of a similar incident two years earlier in 1992, after impaired driving charges laid against the 18-year-old Moe that year became an issue during the 2016 provincial election campaign, while the Saskatchewan party was still led by Brad Wall.

But, hey, as the party said at the time, “a person makes a mistake, pays the price, acknowledges their mistake and makes the changes necessary in their life to ensure it never happens again.”

Then, in 2017, when Moe was campaigning to become Sask party leader, he admitted he had also been involved in a horrific crash in 1997 near his home town that took the life of a 39-year-old woman.

Joanne Balog’s sons, Daniel Bulmer and Steve Balog, said Tuesday they never knew it was Saskatchewan’s future premier who was behind the wheel of the car that killed their mother until they read it in a social media post on a site associated with the former Saskatchewan Wexit party.

The 1994 charges against Moe clearly never would have surfaced were it not for Wednesday’s report in PressProgress, the progressive news organization associated with the Ottawa-based Broadbent Institute.

The 1997 fatality — long after Moe had supposedly made the changes necessary to ensure it never happened again — resulted only in charges of driving without due care and attention.

So Saskatchewan’s media has had at least since 2016, when the 1992 charge surfaced, to ask the question of whether there was more to the story. It’s hard to understand why they didn’t look a little harder after the 2017 revelation.

Maybe they were too busy not covering how much money the Alberta oilpatch funnels to Sask party coffers, another story on which PressProgress had to take the lead. There’s practically a pipeline from Calgary to Regina, and Saskatchewan is notorious for having the weakest campaign finance laws in Canada.

It sure sounds as if someone knew something.

Did that someone just get sick of waiting for local media to report a story lots of folks knew about?

Even if that’s not the case, didn’t anyone wonder if it might be worth picking up the phone and making some calls to see if something similar had happened?

Or is this kind of thing just not that big a deal in certain circles in a province where almost 10 per cent of all of the ruling party’s candidates have been convicted of drunk driving?

Maybe it’s about time for some intrepid Saskatchewan reporter to ask the premier straight up if there are any more drunk driving cases or serious crashes in his history that he hasn’t mentioned for one reason or another.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image: Scott Moe/Twitter

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