Jan. 7, 2007: Another Tory mess

Fage I, Foley Melvin and now… Fage II

The bigger mess, as is so often the case in Rodney MacDonald’s all-message-track-all-the-time government, has less to do with the initial stupidity and more — much more — to do with the premier’s inept mishandling of everything that happens afterward.

That’s not to suggest the specifics of the allegedly itself aren’t serious. They are.

The allegation — the usual caveats of the trade, that no charges have been laid and nothing has been proven in court, apply here — involves a hit-and-run collision early in the morning of Nov. 24, 2006.

Earlier that evening, the legislature had shuttered its doors after a short fall session, so some MLAs decided to celebrate at a downtown bar. According to one witness, who spoke to Daily News reporter Brian Flinn on condition of anonymity, Tory cabinet minister Ernie Fage was among them. He was drinking red wine.

At about 12:15 a.m., a black government Jetta rear-ended a red Nissan Sentra at a traffic light on Sackville Street.

The driver and passenger in the Nissan got out to see if the Jetta’s driver was OK. They say they could smell alcohol and the man in the driver’s seat — they didn’t recognize him — was slurring his words.

After a passerby named David Gamble stopped to see if everyone was OK, the driver of the black Jetta backed up and drove off through a red light and on the wrong side of the street. Gamble, a professional photographer, followed and used his cell phone’s camera to videotape the car and the man — he also didn’t know who he was — in the parking lot of his apartment. When he asked why he’d left the scene of the accident, the man said nothing. Gamble also smelled alcohol on his breath and described him as “acting sort of erratically.”

The driver of the Nissan, who says the rear-ender resulted in $3,500 in damages, immediately reported the accident— and the Jetta’s license number — to police.

But news of Fage’s involvement only surfaced publicly Thursday after police investigators saw Gamble’s video Wednesday and told him the man he’d photographed was Human Resources Minister Ernie Fage.

That’s not to say that nothing else happened between Nov. 24 and this week.

According to police, the Jetta driver — they won’t confirm it was Fage — did come forward, a week after the accident, to say he was involved.

The premier, who only finally accepted Fage’s resignation after CBC-TV reported the incident — says Fage told him “shortly before Christmas” he’d been involved a minor accident and reported it to police. MacDonald insists he only learned of the week’s delay in reporting it from the TV News report.

But that was all he would say. As usual, MacDonald had one message and he was going to keep repeating it until reporters gave up asking.

“At 7:30, I accepted Ernie Fage’s resignation from cabinet. Mr. Fage … said he did not want the incident to be a distraction from the job, or the work of the government… It would be inappropriate for me to make any [other] comment on the incident.”

It’s not that easy. This is the second time Fage, one of MacDonald’s key leadership supporters, has had to resign amid allegations of impropriety. After Fage I, MacDonald brought him back into the cabinet.

Which raises questions about the premier’s judgment.

As does his similarly inept handling of Scandal II: appointing unqualified Heather Foley Melvin — another key leadership backer — to head a key energy conservation agency.

Given the premier’s track record (he hasn’t even been premier a year), we have a right to know more about his pre-Christmas conversation with Fage? Did the premier ask Fage if alcohol was involved? Did he ask — given that this was a supposedly minor fender bender — what was so unusual about it that prompted Fage to tell the premier?

“I’ve shared with you all of the information I’ve had,” MacDonald insisted.

Not good enough.

If Fage had acted appropriately — immediately reporting his involvement to police and offering the premier his resignation over his lapse of judgment — this might have been another few-day embarrassment for a government that has had its share. But Fage — who has made a habit of not being forthcoming about his missteps — didn’t do the right thing.

And MacDonald — apparently — didn’t ask the right questions.

With the legislature set to return this week, perhaps the opposition will ask them. Just don’t bet on the premier answering them.

Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College, is an award-winning author of five nonfiction books and a novel, Reparations.

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