Mayor to councillors: Lay off the booze
By KELLY SHIERS Staff Reporter | UPDATED 4:59 p.m.
Wed. Jul 14 - 2:14 PM
Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly says he’s had to speak to some regional councillors about drinking and driving, after getting complaints about councillors abusing alcohol in the past few weeks.
In a July 9 memo — sent anonymously to The Chronicle Herald — the mayor says he’s been approached by a number of councillors, municipal staff and members of the public with concerns about the abuse of alcohol, including drinking and driving, by some members of council.
“I take this very seriously and have raised these concerns with the individuals involved,” Mayor Kelly wrote.
According to the memo — which Kelly acknowledged Wednesday he wrote, and was first made public on thechronicleherald.ca — there has been an increase in the number and frequency of reports “relating to this worrying state of affairs.”
The memo marks the third time the mayor has raised the issue of excessive drinking to councillors since 2005.
In January 2007, Kelly sent an email to the politicians reminding them to drink alcohol responsibly, after several people contacted him about councillors consuming booze at public and private functions. In an interview at that time, Kelly told The Chronicle Herald that his message was a followup to a similar one he sent in 2005.
In an interview Wednesday, Kelly said he’s not aware of charges of impaired driving being laid against any councillor nor is he aware of any police investigation into allegations of impaired driving by a councillor.
“There is no concrete (proof) of anything. There is a lot of innuendo and speculation,” he said, adding “in the last few weeks issues have been brought to my attention.”
He didn’t specify what those issues are.
But Kelly said an issue of this significance can’t be ignored.
“There is just no public tolerance for such events in this day and age,” he said.
In the July 9 memo, Kelly wrote that councillors have a “collective obligation to the public, not to mention a moral responsibility towards individual councillors and their families” to ensure a safe working environment.
“I urge all members of council to exercise good judgment and lead by example while carrying out your duties. I would also remind you that we have a moral obligation to advise the proper authorities (911) if we witness an individual’s attempt to drive if we have reason to believe they are under the excessive influence of alcohol.”
Kelly said he’s not aware the abuse of alcohol has had any direct effect on any councillor’s work.
Former regional councillor Andrew Younger, now a Liberal MLA, acknowledged he saw a council colleague affected by excessive drinking. Younger was on council from 2004 to 2009.
“During that period, I witnessed at least on one occasion where a fellow member of council was under the influence of alcohol,” he said. “I spoke to the mayor about it at the time.”
Coun. Gloria McCluskey (Dartmouth Centre) said Wednesday she supports Kelly’s decision to write and distribute the memo, even as she criticized the “gutless” way someone leaked it to this newspaper.
“I’m glad the mayor sent it out. I sure am,” she said.
“The mayor was absolutely right to send that out.”
McCluskey, a member of the municipality's police commission, said she finds the number of people who still drink and drive “disturbing.”
She said she’s not surprised to learn the mayor has been approached about the issue. She said she has also heard stories of councillors who drink and drive.
“I think for their own health, No. 1, and for the safety of others, they better smarten up.”
She said she’d tell any councillor she saw drinking and driving that she was calling 911.
But she said she doesn’t think regional councillors who are abusing alcohol should be removed from council.
In the memo, Kelly reminded councillors of the municipality’s substance abuse policy, which includes a confidential treatment program for alcohol and drug abuse.
The policy also states that a conviction for impaired driving when driving on city business or in a municipal vehicle may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.
At least two municipal councillors in other parts of the province have been in court to face charges of drunk driving in recent years.
Cape Breton regional councillor Vince Hall decided not to reoffer in 2008, after twice pleading guilty to drunk driving. That same year, Kings County councillor Eric Smith also pleaded guilty to impaired driving. Smith remains on council, winning his last election by an overwhelming majority.
Theresa Rath, spokeswoman for Halifax Regional Police, said getting drunk drivers off the road continues to be a priority.
“We are very vigilant about it. It is surprising to us, though, the number of people we are still able to charge. ... It is still a problem, unfortunately,” she said.
“Lives are lost because other people still drink and get behind the wheel.”
In June, Halifax police charged 49 people (46 men, three women) with drunk driving and/or refusing a breathalyzer.
Link to PDF Memo: