For the past few weeks, the story of Joanne Balog’s death as a result of a motor vehicle accident that was the fault of the other driver, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, has been lingering against the backdrop of Saskatchewan’s 2020 election campaign.
Lingering, because it’s a story that is almost too unwieldly, too troubling to move forward, whether in the media or in our minds. The implications – for Moe, for Steve and Joanne Balog, for the RCMP and for the entire province – are enormous.
They’re also unavoidable, which is one of the reasons why I’m writing this today. What has become abundantly clear (to me, anyway, but I think I have a pretty good handle by now on how this works, and so do you, which is why you’re here) is that this does not end with the election campaign. It likely just begins, in fact.
And I really want to know how both the Saskatchewan Party and the government are going to handle that, given I suspect it’s also going to be a mighty distraction from, you know, that whole economic recovery and whatever.
Throughout the campaign, reporters in Saskatchewan are doing their best (I know this, despite my recent Twitter tantrum, for which I apologize if I hurt anyone’s feelings) to work on getting all the important stories out, though it appears they are also adhering to Moe’s instructions not to ask him any more questions about this accident during the campaign, which is disappointing. The entire point of an election campaign is for voters to be presented with enough information on each party’s platform and candidates, and given they are vying for the top spot in the province, each party’s leader, to enable an educated, responsible decision at the ballot box.
I won’t lecture you on the most important qualities of good leadership. You already know that honesty and personal accountability are way up there.
But you know, I also get it. This sucks. Politics is a dirty business and no normal person uses, or even wants to be perceived as using an innocent woman’s death against a politician. Some of you will bitch and moan and accuse me of doing that, but I’m not, whether you believe that or not.
Politics is the business Scott Moe chose for himself, and the problem here, believe it or not, is not the fact he killed someone. I don’t believe he’s a bad person; so many people who have met him, which I have not, say he’s a really nice guy.
I believe he’s a dad whose kids love him dearly, just like Joanne Balog’s loved her. I believe he is a man who wants to live a better life, as did she.
I believe people who have navigated personal adversity are perhaps even more equipped to lead than someone who has never sailed stormy seas. That people can make horrendous mistakes, even deadly ones, and still come out the other side and go on to find and deserve success – if, and only if, they have fully and completely dealt with the full scope of their mistake, both publicly and privately.
The problem with this issue, for me anyway, is not the accident. It’s what has happened since that awful day, in light of new allegations coming forward from the only other living witness to the actual crash, Steve Balog. I am writing this with his approval and consent.
The bottom line is that this issue is, in part, political. It’s re-emerging now because Moe is running for Premier – and that’s not Joanne or Steve Balog’s fault. After speaking extensively to Steve, who is disgustingly being accused of politicizing his own mother’s death, I believe him entirely when he says he didn’t know Saskatchewan’s most recent premier was the driver who killed his mom.
It seems there’s good reasons for why he and his little brother Dan were in the dark, which I will get into in a separate post. For now, let’s just say it appears a bunch of grownups failed Steve and his little brother.
It’s also not Steve’s fault that he learned this news now, during the 2020 election campaign period. Instead, that was the work of anonymous political hacks who created a Twitter account for the sole purpose of resurrecting the story of Joanne’s death. The Tweets were then picked up by an anonymous blogger, who has since removed his or her website altogether.
Steve says it was a good friend who sent him the above screenshot and I’ve confirmed this to be true. In fact, his friend actually assumed Steve knew Moe was the driver, and thought they were simply letting him know, as a courtesy, that the clip about his mom was in circulation. Shocked, Steve then posted the screenshot to his own Facebook page, with a heartbreaking note detailing his new pain from an old wound that had been reopened in a brutal, blunt manner:
Before we go any further, however, let’s be real clear how this whole sordid situation actually started. Right now Sask Party diehards are pointing fingers at anybody and everybody, but the truth is the Sask Party brought all of this on itself.
And it should have been perfectly obvious to all who know exactly what happened on May 29, 1997 (and there are many, they know who they are), that this was eventually, one day, going to blow up. If it wasn’t, or they had reason to believe it wouldn’t, there’s likely a reason for that too – one that will also come out, and isn’t going to make this better for anyone.
The rest of us first learned about this accident in 2017, only a few weeks after then-Premier Brad Wall announced he was peace-ing out. Scott Moe, who had the majority of the support of the Sask Party caucus, quickly threw his hat into the leadership ring. Alanna Koch did too, shamelessly backed by the same backroom powers who have been running the Sask Party’s show since its inception. Wall was clearly also on Team Koch, as was Saskatchewan’s last AM radio talk show host, John Gormley.
On the morning of September 5th, 2017**, Moe made a telephone appearance on Gormley’s show to talk about his leadership bid. Here’s a transcript of the exchange:
John Gormley: Another one, uh, and I want to ask you about this because there’s a bit of a weird whisper campaign… uh when a very senior cabinet minister Don McMorris was uh arrested, charged, later pled guilty quickly to impaired driving, uh there was talk about, uh in fact even in the lead up earlier than that in the 2016 campaign, about different candidates who had convictions for drunk driving.
Scott Moe: <chokes>
Gormley: You were one of those people – teenager, in 1992, is that right?
Moe: That’s right…
So that’s the setup – Moe confirms that he had a DUI in 1992, which Gormley then goes on to tie to, well, you can read:
Gormley: Okay the whisper campaign is this, and it’s really hard for me to put it to you but I heard it the other day, you know, perfect- a guy I hardly know said, well “Didn’t Scott Moe take someone’s life in that drunk driving incident?” How do you respond to that?
I produced Gormley’s show for four years and you know what NEVER HAPPENED?
We never, ever, ambushed an unsuspecting guest on-air with “Hey, did you kill someone?”.
Like seriously, the entire notion is laughable and Gormley knows it. To his credit he was obsessed with facts; 99% of my job was preparing them for him. To this day my work is still guided by the principles he taught me and used to adhere to – opinions must be rooted in fact, and every single word must be chosen and applied carefully. As far as Gormley has fallen in recent years, I’m frankly still surprised he agreed to be a part of this stunt, even for his Sask Party bffs.
What I’m nearly 100% certain actually happened is somebody, likely from one of his leadership competitor’s camps – or from inside the Sask Party, anyway – gave Gormley some form of information on Joanne’s death and he agreed to ambush Moe with it, live on the air.
Now that – THAT – is the politicization of a woman’s death. The entire point was to humiliate and possibly even disqualify Moe from the leadership race.
Except the sparse facts Gormley had, were wrong:
Moe: No I didn’t. Um, I, I was, uh, I… I was charged uh with uh with impaired driving over 25 years ago I was 18 years old. Umm it’s something that I truly regret, it’s something that I… (deep breath) that crosses my mind, you know, each and every day, uh since then. The… the fact of the matter is that’s part of who I am now. I can’t change that. I do regret it, but I can’t change it. And it’s also part… of how I make my decisions each and every day. I.. I make decisions in my personal life, I make decisions in my professional life, I make decisions as I’ve had the opportunity to sit at the caucus and the cabinet table. And this.. the fact that this is part of who I am, is now part of that decision-making process for me.
Gormley: But…<sputters> there was no-… there was no FATALITY <heavy emphasis, his> as a result of this.
It’s f**ked up enough that he was willing to go to air with unverified information he claims he got from some rando off the street, but why tie it to the wrong DUI? I guess that’s the risk you take when you appear to violate every ethical and professional standard you’ve got by publicly accusing a guy of killing someone based on shoddy or incomplete information.
But I digress.
Seemingly surprised that the answer he got from Moe was, more or less truthfully, “No”, Gormley puts the tasteless exchange out of it’s misery.
Gormley: Ok. Cause I… I, again a guy I- I hardly know just kind of came out with this blithely, and I thought god, I- I didn’t… I don’t recall that ever being on the record. But, okay.
Anyway, Moe knew his secret was out and being used against him by his Sask Party leadership opponents, and he had to address it. Three days after that Gormley interview, on Friday September 8, 2017, Moe released a media statement admitting that he had been responsible for taking someone’s life in a motor vehicle accident. He followed the statement with a broad round of media interviews (crisis communications ProTip: if you ever have to put out a statement of defense, you must also be prepared to speak on the issue robustly and immediately via in-person media interviews, otherwise you’ll make things worse for yourself).
Unfortunately now that the only (for now) other living witness to that crash, Steve, has come forward, Moe’s interviews now serve only as the basis for more questions.
Questions that aren’t going to be answered before Monday October 26th, 2020, but questions that aren’t going away until they’re answered. I know that for a fact, after talking to Steve and getting a better handle on what the hell is really going on here.
On the morning of May 28, 1997, 37-year-old Joanne was taking her 18-year-old son, Steve Balog, into Saskatoon for a medical consultation on his upcoming surgery.
The plan had been to leave the house at 7am, but their car wouldn’t start – the battery was dead and it needed a boost. After about a half-hour delay she was on her way, with Steve in the passenger seat.
It was a typical late spring day in Saskatchewan, according to data reported by the Farmer’s Almanac website. Skies were blue, and the temperature was slated to reach a high of 24 degrees. Joanne was westbound* on Highway 55, planning on driving to Saskatoon via Blaine Lake.
Cruising up the highway, Steve says he remembers noticing a truck to his left, traveling northbound at high speed on a graveled grid called Hazel Ridge Road, which ran perpendicular to the highway.
As you can see, it was a rather wide open space, even by Saskatchewan standards.
Steve’s next memory is looking over at his mom and seeing the grill of that same truck about to smash through her driver’s window. He still frequently dreams about opening his mouth to scream, but not having time. He says his mom very likely didn’t know what hit her, and that she had no time to swerve or hit her own brakes.
The next thing Steve remembers is waking up in the car in the ditch. It had rolled numerous times. Steve’s life was spared, likely because he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. The steering wheel was jammed into his left side, permanently dislocating one of his ribs, but he managed to live, as freed of any restraints, he was able to press up against his passenger door and wasn’t crushed.
Joanne bore the full brunt of the impact. Death would eventually arrive, but it wasn’t an easy one. Steve remembers a woman at his mom’s car door, struggling to get at Joanne in order to attempt to save her life. He says another woman appeared at his door, shouting instructions at him to maneuver his left hand to release his mom’s seatbelt, upon which she was finally removed from the car and laid on the ground for CPR.
While acknowledging that he thinks he very likely briefly lost consciousness upon impact, Steve is adamant that he was awake as soon as the vehicle came to rest. He says the first people he saw after landing were the women who came to the car to try to help him and his mom; he didn’t see Scott Moe at all.
From the accident scene, Steve was transported by ambulance to Prince Albert’s Victoria hospital, where he was treated for dislocated and broken ribs and released the following day. He says the RCMP came to see him in the hospital on the day of the accident. He remembers them asking a few perfunctory questions, then he asked them about the other driver, who they refused to identify.
That was the first and last time Steve Balog ever spoke to the RCMP about that accident. There was no interview, he was not asked to provide a statement; in fact there was no RCMP follow-up with him directly whatsoever.
Which is a problem.
In my next posts we will look at what’s been said about that crash, and what’s been alleged since Balog’s October 5, 2020 Facebook post – the one reignited this issue for everyone.
And to Scott Moe, I want to say now that I’m sorry, I’m not trying to hurt you or your family. Honestly.
But Joanne Balog’s life was as important as yours. I know you know that. So, if there’s nothing else here to hide, the fact I’m writing about it shouldn’t be an issue.
*I originally wrote “eastbound”, because I am directionally challenged.
**I originally wrote 1997. Then changed it to 2020. I’m rattled, this wasn’t an easy one to write. The correct year is 2017.
Thanks for the corrections everyone.
I’m Tammy Robert. I’m a writer, but pay the bills consulting in media and public relations. Feel free to email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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