Up to voters to decide on drunk driving conviction: Bhuller

Liberal candidate Mandeep Bhuller.

Liberal candidate Mandeep Bhuller.

Mandeep Bhuller’s campaign staff and volunteers are still supporting him even though he was convicted of drunk driving for an incident in 2003, even one whose mother was killed by a drunk driver.

“They appreciate the gravity of my bad choice, but they don’t hold up a bad choice eight years old against me because there’s a consistency of public service before and after the incident,” Bhuller said Thursday.

Since word came out Wednesday about his conviction, the Liberal candidate for Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission said he’s been getting phone calls from friends, acquaintances and the public that have been “understanding and supportive.”

Bhuller’s official agent Brian Rice said the party expected the issue to come out during the campaign, but not as early as it did, and wanted to be the first to do it.

The issue had a personal meaning for Rice. His mother was killed by a drunk driver when he was 16. That required serious personal reflection for him, but he noted that Bhuller has paid his penalty and it shouldn’t have prevented him from seeking office.

Rice is writing a personal letter of support for Bhuller that was to be e-mailed Thursday to supporters and the media.

“This is my letter of support. I know about this and I’m supporting him.”

Campaign organizers had discussed the issue, but hadn’t decided when they would have made it public.

Bhuller also called each campaign worker  Wednesday night to explain the situation.

“We have not had a single person leave the campaign yet,” Rice said.

Bhuller is not assuming the conviction won’t hurt his chances at the polls May 2.

“Quite honestly, it would be arrogant and irresponsible for me to say that,” he added.

“Every voter makes their choice based on what they feel is relevant information. All I’m saying is that I’m extremely apologetic about a very bad choice that was made eight years ago.”

Bhuller was stopped in Nov. 29, 2003 after leaving a bar and charged with two counts, driving with a blood level over .08 and impaired driving. Both charges are normally laid in such cases with one usually dropped and the other prosecuted.

He fought the impaired driving charge in 2005, but was convicted, fined $800 and banned from driving for a year.

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell also was convicted for drunk driving in Hawaii in January 2003.

Bhuller served on Maple Ridge school board from 1999 to 2002 and pointed out that he wasn’t in public office at the time of the conviction.

“This was something that happened to me when I was wasn’t engaged in public service. But I didn’t get a public platform to announce that this occurred.”

He also disclosed it on his screening forms he filled out for the Liberal party for the 2011 election, but given his community service before and since the incident, the party approved his candidacy.

Bhuller is a consultant who helps fundraise for non-profit groups. He also volunteers with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Arts Council and serves as a commissioner on the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows parks and leisure services commission and as a volunteer director with the Maple Ridge Youth Centre Society. In the past three years, he’s helped raise money for the Ridge Meadows Child Development Centre.

Bhuller has discussed his drunk driving conviction over the years during his involvement in youth crime prevention and recreation programs, but until Thursday it hadn’t been in the campaign. But he couldn’t say if he would have disclosed it or not during the election if hadn’t come out in the media.

“I can’t say that I wouldn’t have – because given a situation where it needed to be addressed, I wouldn’t shy away from it. I wouldn’t back away from it, that’s all I can say.”