N.S. premier’s chief of staff knew of allegations against former Liberal MLA for months

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil insists he didn’t know about serious allegations of impaired driving against a Liberal MLA because his chief of staff decided it wasn’t necessary to inform him.

McNeil has told reporters repeatedly this week that he found out about the accusations against Hugh MacKay, the representative for Chester-St. Margaret’s, when police charged him with impaired driving earlier this month.

Pressed by media on Wednesday however, McNeil said his chief of staff, Laurie Graham, has known about the alleged incident since their trade mission to Europe in May of 2019.

“She would have received a call that said to her there was this allegation, that it had been investigated and there was no substance to it and that was the end of it,” he explained.

The premier’s press secretary, David Jackson, later clarified those comments by email, saying the investigation cited by the premier wasn’t “formal.”

“The matter was looked into and it was determined it had no credibility,” Jackson wrote. “The chief of staff then made a number of follow-up inquiries and also deemed the allegations not to be credible.”

MacKay announced his resignation from the Liberal caucus on Sunday after he was charged for a second time with impaired driving, in connection with an incident in November 2018.

Opposition Leader Tim Houston launched a scathing attack against McNeil in the legislature on Wednesday, accusing Liberal staffers of trying to protect their party brand, “above the safety of Nova Scotians.”

“This is a very serious allegation,” Houston told reporters Wednesday. “If the premier is surrounded by people who think that this isn’t serious, there is a real problem with the way we’re governed in this province.”

At the heart of the explosive allegations is an email written by a former member of his riding association’s board of directors, presented by the Progressive Conservatives during question period on Tuesday. It describes an alleged impaired driving incident involving MacKay on Nov. 22, 2018.

The email from the former member, whose named is redacted, details the pursuit of an allegedly impaired MacKay in an effort to get him off the road as he weaved through is riding, eventually crashing into a light pole.

It was addressed to former Chester-St Margaret’s Liberal Riding Association president Andre Veinotte, as well as Nova Scotia Liberal caucus officer Patricia Culbert and Richard Hattin, a member of MacKay’s campaign team in 2017.

The email was sent on May 6, 2019, about six months after the alleged incident occurred; its author says they are resigning from the board of directors because they are “struggling for the past while hiding an incident” they can no longer keep hidden.

MacKay was ‘extremely drunk,’ writer alleges

The writer said they received a “frantic” phone call at 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 22, 2018 from Penny Lawless, who works in MacKay’s constituency office, claiming MacKay was “very drunk, texting and calling her while he was driving.”

“This was approximately the (third) or (fourth) time this happened to her over the previous few months,” the writer stated, “so she instructed me to get in my car and drive to New Ross.”

The writer said Lawless knew MacKay’s location by using the iPhone’s Find My Friends feature, and he was “driving around New Ross with his locations changing moving around the back roads.”

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