Brian Jean’s Wildrose Party leadership is now unquestioned: the fall of Derek Fildebrandt explained

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PHOTOS: Brian Jean will be in the background no more … Back in 2015, Derek Fildebrandt was dominating the conversation, refusing to answer questions from a Globe and Mail reporter who had annoyed him, as his former party leader looked on, apparently bemused (CBC photo). Below: Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, from her Twitter page, and a very cool Lyndon B. Johnson, who, astonishingly, didn’t even have a web page when he became president of the United States!

The Wildrose Party’s Legislative caucus has without doubt homophobes in its ranks. Derek Fildebrandt, notwithstanding many flaws, is not one of them.

But it was an injudicious social media message unintentionally implying the Wildrose finance critic endorsed a homophobic view that brought him down.

Wynne This is a genuinely ironic climax to a situation in which Mr. Fildebrandt behaved abominably – although not in that particular way – and which demonstrates at least three profound truths about politics, and perhaps life:

Profound Truth No. 1: He who challenges the leader risks everything

Profound Truth No. 2: We are all potentially just one Tweet or Facebook message from oblivion, or at least unemployment

Profound Truth No. 3: They who take up the sword shall perish by the sword

Just before midnight Friday, Mr. Fildebrandt was banished from the Wildrose Party by its leader, Brian Jean – a fate from which there is no codified process of appeal.

The proximate cause of his harsh dismissal by Mr. Jean – who, tellingly, was at the time in Vancouver in the company of his ruthless former bench mates in the defeated government of Stephen Harper dealing with the issue of gay marriage only a decade too late – was the notorious Facebook message. One of Mr. Fildebrandt’s constituents had taken a homophobic shot at Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is gay, and an inattentive Mr. Fildebrandt thoughtlessly seemed to endorse it.

The original message also praised Mr. Fildebrant for the insults he had hurled at Ms. Wynne during her visit to the Legislature the day before. When Mr. Fildebrandt realized his error, he quickly tried to take it back. Alas for him, it was too late.

Mr. Jean, who of late the high-profile Mr. Fildebrandt by turns seemed to challenge and ignore, took the opportunity to strike while the iron was hot, and he struck hard.

LBJ2A terse news release from the Wildrose Party appeared: “This evening, Mr. Fildebrandt made an unacceptable comment on social media that does not represent the values of the Wildrose Caucus. He has been suspended from our Caucus effective immediately.”

Chop! The next bump you hear – probably tomorrow morning, when the Legislature resumes sitting – will not be the sound of another shoe dropping!

The Wildrose Party now says there will be no further comment on this matter. Still, it’s hard to believe Mr. Fildebrandt’s apparent unwillingness to acknowledge the authority of Mr. Jean and the anger stirred up by Thursday’s ruckus in the Legislature didn’t play a role.

As of now, Mr. Jean is the unquestioned leader of the party. Anyone who challenges him knows what fate awaits.

There is nothing for Mr. Fildebrandt to do but beg for forgiveness. Whether it is too late remains to be seen. No one here is privy to what has been said or done in the Wildrose Caucus chamber, but surely nothing like this would have happened if there wasn’t more to it than an inattentive and arrogant MLA mistaking a “Mr.” for a “Ms.” on his smartphone, something that could have happened to almost anyone.

Mr. Fildebrandt was immediately contrite. He was too late. In a statement on his Facebook page, he expressed surprise and pleaded to be taken back.

“I receive on average of 800 comments on my public Facebook page daily and I do my best to respond personally,” he tried to explain. “I did not read a comment posted to my page by a constituent as carefully as I should have. If anyone felt that I shared those sentiments, I do not, and I apologize.”

“My colleagues know that those views do not reflect my own opinion and they recognize that I made an honest mistake. …” Perhaps, one wonders, some of them know this because the original comment reflects their views.

“I accept this decision. …I look forward to rejoining my Wildrose colleagues in holding the government to account. …”

Realistically, Mr. Fildebrandt doesn’t have much choice but to grovel. As an Independent MLA he will have no power. Any dreams he had of leading the party in Mr. Jean’s wooden but determined stead are dashed. Lyndon B. Johnson’s famous dictum is right, even when you reverse it to fit the facts: “Son, in politics you’ve got to learn that overnight chicken shit can turn to chicken salad.”

After Thursday, no other party in the Legislature would touch Mr. Fildebrandt with the proverbial bargepole, even if they might once have been inclined to do so. He is not chicken salad!

Forgiveness is Mr. Fildebrandt’s only hope – and forgiveness, if it comes, will come with conditions. One will be the political equivalent of a peace bond. Another is almost certain to be demotion from the high-profile finance critic’s shadow portfolio.

What else can he contemplate? Founding the political wing of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, whence he sprang? If he goes into the next general election without a political party, he is done for.

This is what happens in politics when you “live by the sword.”

Mr. Fildebrandt gave no quarter to any political enemy. He goaded opponents to foolish anger, then ridiculed and attacked their response, a technique he honed as an operative of the CTF. He refused to answer questions from a prominent journalist who offended him. He showed no mercy or empathy to those like NDP MLA Deborah Drever also caught posting foolish things on social media. He mocked her to promote his hobbyhorse, recall legislation. As he demonstrated with his attack in the House on visiting Premier Wynne, he never knew when to quit.

Now the decision to quit has been made for him by, of all people, Brian Jean.

As an astute Alberta political observer of my acquaintance put it, Mr. Fildebrandt may not be a homophobe, but he is “a blindly partisan nincompoop and it was bound to catch up to him.” In other words, he is the victim of hubris.

Luckily for him, there is no recall legislation in this province.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Categories Alberta Politics