Day says he regrets costs of lawsuit

Stockwell Day says he's sorry a defamation suit against him cost Alberta taxpayers so much money.

"It's been heartbreaking, actually, and deeply regretful for me to see the costs that have been associated with this particular case," the Canadian Alliance leader told a news conference Thursday.

The suit, filed by Red Deer lawyer Lorne Goddard, was settled out of court just before Christmas. Figures released Tuesday revealed the total cost of the settlement was more than $792,000. The money is coming from the province's Risk Management Fund, which is paid for by taxpayers.

Of the total, Goddard got $60,000 for damages, while about $720,000 was spent on legal fees.

"This has been a very long and a very agonizing process, especially for someone like myself as a tax cutter," said Day, who is in Calgary for a meeting of his party's national council. "The only way I can sleep at night with this regret is knowing that at all times I have acted in good faith and with sincerity."

Goddard sued Day in June 1999 after the former provincial treasurer wrote a letter to the Red Deer Advocate. In it, he criticized Goddard for representing a convicted pedophile in a child pornography case. He also questioned Goddard's own views on child pornography. Goddard was also a school trustee at the time.

Asked whether he regrets writing the letter, Day said, "That's in the past now" and "hindsight's 20-20. I certainly stand and will continue to stand on the principles that I expressed."

Pressed for an apology by reporters, Day said "I've been very clear that I regret it, I am sorry about the costs of this.

"Does the word 'heartbroken' conjure up mirth to you? Does that not sound like something very sincere? Does the fact that I say every night I go to bed with regret thinking about the cost; does that not conjure up some sorrow? I'm not going to try and fake crocodile tears for you. I said I'm broken hearted about this and I don't know how much clearer I can be about that."

Some of Day's former cabinet colleagues say they are shocked by how much the suit cost taxpayers.

Community Development Minister Stan Woloshyn says the numbers upset him.

"The numbers are obscene and I certainly don't agree with it," he says. "I have a lot of heartburn with the fact that the legal fees are in excess of $700,000 on a $60,000 settlement. That's totally inappropriate."

Learning Minister Lyle Oberg agrees.

"I think it's an absolute ripoff to the citizens of Alberta," he says.

But Agriculture Minister Ty Lund says he's not surprised by the numbers.

"Well, it's pretty obvious that it was a make-work project for lawyers," says Lund.

Government documents show Day was told to settle the case last fall. He didn't and the legal fees almost doubled over the next couple of months.

But a University of Alberta law professor says people shouldn't blame the lawyers. Gerald Gall says the numbers need to be put into perspective.

"We don't know how many lawyers worked on it. We don't know how many hours, not only how many hours in their offices but how many hours were in court," says Gall. "When a lawyer goes to court, the fee goes up. We don't know the complexity of the case and often lawyers charge more when a matter is more complex."

Gall also says the cost could have been greatly reduced had the suit been settled earlier.

Premier Ralph Klein has ordered a review of when MLAs should be covered by the Risk Management Fund, but the review won't include Day's controversial settlement.