Nfld. & Labrador

Hickey claims vindication, threatens suit against Grimes

Transportation Minister John Hickey said Friday the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has cleared him in an investigation over double billing of his constituency allowance.

No intention to apologize, former premier says

Transportation Minister John Hickey said Friday the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has cleared him in an investigation over double billing of his constituency allowance.

Hickey— who briefly left his cabinet post in January over the issue— said he may sue former premier Roger Grimes for defamation, over comments Grimes made about whether Hickey's double billings were deliberate.

"I did not get into politics to steal or to take monies from the public purse," Hickey told reporters Friday.

Hickey said he was a victim of poor controls, faulty bookkeeping at the house of assembly and errors within his office.

"Yes, mistakes were made, and we fully …recognize that," said Hickey.

"I'm very, very pleased with this outcome. This has been a very, very tough time for me over the last month."

Hickey and former Tory backbencher Kathy Goudie were named by Auditor General John Noseworthy in a January report of both having double-billed on their constituency allowances.

Noseworthy found that Hickey, while he was still a backbencher in the Progressive Conservative caucus, had had numerous double billings of claims. In all, they added up to $3,770.

Premier Danny Williams, upon learning of Noseworthy's findings, asked Hickey to step away from his cabinet responsibilities.

However, Williams reinstated Hickey four days later, saying he had found no evidence of wrongdoing on Hickey's part.

Williams's decision to reinstate Hickey appalled Grimes, a former Liberal premier who was defeated byWilliams in the 2003 election.

Grimes, who said Williams prejudged a police investigation, also said he believed Hickey could not have double-billed repeatedlyby accident.

Hickey, who had repaid the money in January,said Grimes has until Monday morning to apologize for his remarks.

"I'm just sending a message loud and clear here this morning. He has 72 hours to make a clear, unambiguous, unqualified apology for the disparaging comments, defamatory comments he has made on the public airwaves," Hickey said.

Call your lawyer, Grimes tells Hickey

Grimes told CBC News on Friday he is standing by his comments. He said Hickey may as well contact his lawyer because he will not apologize.

"Well, they better sue me, because freedom of speech is alive and well in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Canada," Grimes said.

"I said nothing wrong. I said nothing that I didn't think to be right and proper," he said.

"The court of public opinion is in on people like Mr. Hickey. They were stupid and dumb, and they double-billed, and they got caught."

Grimes said a possible court case would only be a waste of taxpayers' money, although he said it will not cost him anything, because he will defend himself.

Goudie, who represented the west coast district of Humber Valley, resigned her seat in January, citing stress from Noseworthy's findings as a key factor in her decision to leave politics.

A byelection to fill the vacancy created by her resignation will be held Monday.

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