REGINA –The former deputy premier of Saskatchewan, who resigned from the government caucus after being charged with drunk driving last August, is back.
Don McMorris asked to rejoin the Saskatchewan Party caucus and members voted Monday to allow him to return to the government benches.
McMorris says he wants to help prevent drunk driving.
“I think I can have some input that will help government moving forward,” McMorris said Monday when the spring sitting of the legislature started in Regina.
“It’s going to be a challenging year, absolutely, and if my experience can help this government through those challenging times, I’m glad to be able to offer that up.”
McMorris has been sitting as an Independent member of the legislature since he was pulled over by police in a construction zone on the Trans-Canada Highway east of Regina on the morning of Aug. 5
He pleaded guilty in September to having a blood-alcohol level over .08, was fined $1,820 and lost his licence for a year.
But the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving says it’s too soon for the government to welcome McMorris back.
“He deserves the right at redemption. He made a poor choice last year. I just don’t believe that right now is the time for that,” said Wendell Waldron with MADD in Regina.
Waldron notes that Saskatchewan enacted tougher drunk driving laws in January, so he says the caucus move sends a mixed message about how seriously impaired driving is taken in Saskatchewan.
“On one side of the equation, we say that we don’t like impaired driving. On the other side of the equation, we’re willing to accept someone back into the party that seven months ago was driving impaired two times over the limit at 11 o’clock in the morning,” said Waldron.
“It’s not the message that we want to send to this province. Very dangerous precedent.”
But Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall disagreed.
“He is still paying a huge price for this terrible mistake that he has made. He is not in the cabinet. He is not a deputy premier. He’s part of a government caucus,” Wall said Monday
The premier says McMorris has learned his lesson and wants to help prevent drunk driving.
“This has been a passion of his and I think we want that passion inside of government,” said Wall.
Statistics Canada says Saskatchewan had the highest rate of police-reported impaired driving among all the provinces in 2015. There were 575 incidents per 100,000 people in Saskatchewan, nearly twice as high as Alberta’s 314 per 100,000, the province with the second-highest rate.
The national rate was 201 incidents per 100,000.
The new law that kicked in Jan. 1 includes a three-day vehicle seizure for drivers who are caught for the first time with a blood alcohol content between .04 and .08.
It also extends mandatory ignition interlock for repeat drunk drivers and applies it to those who refuse to provide a breath sample.
McMorris says he was eligible to have an interlock device put on his car after three months and it has changed his perspective.
“I think it’s a great program and I think it could be expanded,” he said.