Nova Scotia·Video

Email details effort to 'cover up' N.S. MLA's alleged drunk driving incident

A former member of a Liberal riding association says he spent about two hours chasing after Chester-St. Margarets MLA Hugh MacKay as the politician allegedly drove while drunk in 2018.

Email to Liberal officials alleges MLA Hugh MacKay spent 2 hours driving dangerously, crashed into pole

Hugh MacKay enters court in Halifax on Nov. 8, 2019. The now-Independent MLA was recently charged with drunk driving in relation to an alleged Nov. 22, 2018, incident. This is the second time he's been charged with drunk driving. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

A former member of a Liberal riding association says he spent about two hours chasing after MLA Hugh MacKay as the politician allegedly drove while drunk on Nov. 22, 2018, before his vehicle crashed into a lamp at a shopping plaza in Upper Tantallon, N.S.

MacKay, a former Liberal backbencher who now sits as an independent MLA for Chester-St. Margaret's, was charged with impaired driving last week in relation to the alleged Nov. 22, 2018, incident.

MacKay has said he has no knowledge of the specifics surrounding the newest impaired driving charge.

Last November, MacKay pleaded guilty to another drunk driving charge related to an incident that took place in October 2019. 

Cover-up alleged in email

In an email dated May 6, 2019, a "conspiracy to cover up criminal activity" is alleged by a former riding association member whose name was redacted. The email was tabled in the legislature by PC Leader Tim Houston.

None of the allegations in the email has been proven in court. MacKay was not at Province House on Tuesday and could not be reached at his constituency office.

Hugh MacKay timeline

3 years ago
Duration 2:30
The Chester-St. Margaret's MLA, who is now sitting as an Independent, was charged earlier in February in relation to a drinking and driving allegation dating back to November 2018.

The email was sent to Andre Veinotte, the president of the Chester-St Margaret's Liberal Riding Association, as well as Patricia Culbert, an officer for the Nova Scotia Liberal caucus, and Richard Hattin, who was a member of MacKay's 2017 campaign team.

The author of the email says he's resigning from the association and includes an account of the alleged incident.

'Frantic' phone call

Around 3:30 p.m. that day, the writer said he received a "frantic" phone call from Penny Lawless, who works in MacKay's constituency office, saying MacKay was "very drunk, texting and calling her while he was driving."

The writer said this was the "third or fourth time" this had happened to Lawless over the previous few months. He said Lawless instructed him to go to New Ross, N.S., to find MacKay. He said Lawless knew MacKay's location because of the iPhone's Find My Friends feature.

He said he eventually found MacKay approximately 10 kilometres south of the intersection of Highway 12 and Forties Road.

The writer said MacKay was sitting in the driver's seat, the engine was running and there was a bottle of vodka on MacKay's lap.

The writer said he told MacKay he was there to take him home, but MacKay refused to go with him and drove off, and ran over his foot in the process. The man wasn't injured.

'It was clear he was extremely drunk'

He followed MacKay in his car south on Highway 12. He said he flashed his lights at MacKay's SUV, but MacKay kept driving.

"It was clear he was extremely drunk. My observations consisted of erratic driving, the smell when I opened the door (I am very sensitive to alcohol smells), his speech and his apparent lack of awareness of his situational surroundings," he wrote.

The chase continued, the writer said, from New Ross to Chester Grant, and then MacKay began driving on Highway 103 toward Halifax and alternated between driving at estimated speeds of 30 to 150 km/h. 

MacKay pulled off and headed toward the Tantallon Shopping Centre, rolled through a red light, lost control of the SUV and plowed into a "lamp stand" at the entrance of the plaza's parking lot around 5:20 p.m., the writer said.

He said he ordered MacKay to get out of the vehicle and had to physically remove him. After a brief struggle, the author said MacKay got out of the vehicle. The man said he removed a bottle of vodka from the vehicle and then drove MacKay home.

He said MacKay's SUV was left at the site and was towed away three days later for repairs, the writer says.

Throughout the entire chase, the writer said Lawless discouraged him from calling police.

"This was done to protect Hugh's reputation, his seat in the legislature and Penny's income," the writer said.

Premier Stephen McNeil said only found out about Hugh MacKay's 2018 drinking and driving charge last week. (CBC)

The letter was brought up by Opposition Leader Tim Houston during question period at Province House on Tuesday. He repeatedly asked the premier if he knew about the details in the email before MacKay was charged in relation to the incident.

McNeil was emphatic that he did not know. 

Earlier in the day, McNeil told reporters that last week was the first time he learned of the charges against MacKay and the first time he'd learned of the alleged incident.

Houston told reporters on Tuesday his caucus received a copy of the email on Monday night. 

"The email is appalling," he said. "This is describing a situation that should concern every single Nova Scotian, anyone who drives, anyone who walks on the sidewalk, anyone who is around vehicles."

Houston said it's his understanding the email has been shared with police.

PC Leader Tim Houston repeatedly asked McNeil questions about former Liberal caucus member Hugh MacKay's second drinking and driving charge during question period on Tuesday. (CBC)

CBC News contacted Lawless and Veinotte for comment on Tuesday evening, but did not hear back.

MacKay pleaded guilty late last year to operating a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit in relation to an incident on Oct. 13, 2019. He was fined $2,000 and prohibited from driving for a year.

In court MacKay was asked if this was the only time he had driven drunk.

"I can't think of any circumstance where that's occurred," he said.

MacKay is due in Halifax provincial court on March 16 to face the latest impaired driving charge.

With files from Jean Laroche and Michael Gorman