Darryl Hickie has decided that after a public outcry, one job is enough.
After completing his recertification as a Prince Albert Police Service officer on Thursday, the Carlton MLA went back on leave Friday.
“I felt this was becoming a big distraction to members of the Prince Albert Police Service and I never wanted that,” he says.
The issue came to light last week when NDP justice critic John Nilson told the Daily Herald that his party had received calls on Monday from individuals who reported that they had seen Hickie “out as a traffic cop” that day.
“We don’t think it’s right that somebody who gets a full-time MLA salary should be splitting his attention and then doing part-time or … full-time work as a police officer,” Nilson said.
Hickie denies that he was ever in a uniform. He says the only police work he did was making some calls one day for the lead investigators in the Marlene Bird assault case.
“My initial reaction, like a lot of people, was outrage at the drive-by smear,” he says. “I took a deep breath and thought that’s the job of Opposition I guess, to bring up concerns. What bothered me was Mr. Nilson framed it that I was seen doing police work and I wasn’t. They’re taking liberty with the truth there.”
Premier Brad Wall quickly put out a statement after the initial NDP criticism saying that he had approved Hickie’s temporary job. If Hickie decided to go back to policing permanently, he would resign as an MLA.
Hickie says he wouldn’t have done that because it would have forced a byelection.
He wishes the episode could have turned out better.
“I have mixed emotions,” Hickie says. “I miss policing and I thought I could do both jobs because I’m a very driven, A-type personality. I understand the public’s concern that I was taking two salaries but I was working very hard at both jobs.”
Nilson also noted that police officers have access to information about people and their criminal records that an MLA would not have. By the same token, MLAs may access information not available to police officers.
He suggested that it was inappropriate for a sitting MLA to be involved in police work involving one’s own constituents.
That criticism puzzled the Carlton MLA.
Hickie notes there was no perceived conflict when he was initially made minister of policing or when, as an active officer, he campaigned in his first election in the evenings. He was on leave from policing during his entire tenure as an MLA.
“That’s an interesting argument that they put forth,” Hickie says. “I’m perplexed by it. I don’t quite understand what they’re talking about,” he says. “I have police officers who are constituents who have the opportunity to come up to me and bring up police concerns, if they so choose.”
During the re-certification process, Hickie worked full days from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hickie said he spoke to the conflict of interest commissioner and police Chief Troy Cooper prior to returning to the force and that it was cleared by both.
“I made a commitment to the chief of police when we decided to have this arrangement where I wouldn’t mix both jobs up and I made the same commitment personally,” Hickie said. “When I talked to the conflict commissioner he addressed and I said that I wouldn’t do it. The premier, my boss, was made aware of it as well. Never did it conflict.
“I took the responsibility of both jobs very seriously.”
In a letter to the editor on today’s Opinion page in the Daily Herald, Cumberland MLA Doyle Vermette continued the attack for the NDP.
“Taxpayers provide him a significant salary to do that job on a full-time basis, not as a sideline,” the letter reads. “If he isn't committed to that job, he should resign and let the people of Prince Albert choose an MLA who is fully committed and willing to stand up for them.
Hickie says he respects the criticism that he couldn’t do both but said he only addressed MLA business during his lunch hour or after work.
He said his executive assistant was able to route most of the enquiries to the appropriate place in government.
Cooper said on Friday said Hickie is now up to date on his training. A position was made available to Hickie but chief says the MLA decided on his own to withdraw.
“There were duties and assignments available to him here that would not have been a conflict for him but he decided that rather than be a bit of a distraction, I guess that he would return to government,” Cooper said. “I respect that.”
Hickie is most disappointed by the fact that some much-needed work won’t take place.
“Part of my responsibilities had I stayed on with the service over the summer, I would have been assigned to the cold case unit working with them in advance of the historical missing and murdered aboriginal women files. Now that won’t take place.”
The earliest that the next provincial election could take place is September of 2015. If it conflicts with a federal election, it could be pushed as far back at the spring of 2016.
Hickie says he still has work to do as an MLA, citing his desire to see the hospital study completed.
“There are always things to do. There is always unfinished business.”