An interesting question is being asked, and possibly answered, in Saskatchewan: can and should a person with a DUI run for office?
No less than five candidates for the April 4th Saskatchewan election have drunk driving convictions. To be fair, some of those convictions happened decades ago: Advanced Education Minister Scott Moe’s was in 1992, when Moe was 18 years old. A Saskatoon city councilor has two, but they are from 1992 and 1993. One candidate has a conviction from 2001.
Party leaders seem not to be fazed by this, and they have the letter of the law on their side. The Election Act of 1996 says that one is not qualified to be a candidate if he or she is “a person who, on polling day, is in a correctional facility, jail or prison because of being convicted of an offence against an Act or an Act of the Parliament of Canada.”
None of the candidates will be in prison on polling day. Premier Brad Wall of the Saskatchewan Party and NDP leader Cam Broten both defend their party’s nominees, claiming that politicians who have reformed and become constructive contributors to society should not have a misstep from long ago held against them. They want to determine who is a candidate on an individual basis.
This view makes sense. It’s well known that the largest number of drunk driving convictions happen in the 20-to-24 age group, followed by the 25 to 34. Indeed, those two groups make up about half of all drunk drivers. If a drunk driving conviction is caused exclusively by a faulty character or criminal disposition, then why are people less likely to drive drunk as they get older?
A better explanation is that a lot of youthful drunk driving is the result of impulsive, reckless and very bad decision making – exactly the types of decisions a lot of 20-somethings make. Provinces impose consequences on those decisions – fines, prison, ignition interlock requirements – and for many offenders those are enough to get people back on the right path. For others, treatment and a longer ignition interlock period are advisable.
So it makes sense that a person who has turned his or her life around should be able to represent the people as an elected official. Drunk driving is a crime and a stupid, preventable act, and we need to do what we can to take impaired drivers off the roads. But stigmatizing offenders for decades-old offenses won’t make the highways safer, and might rob a person of the chance to contribute to society.