High-profile MLA Derek Fildebrandt, embroiled in embarrassing revelations, falls on his sword, quits UCP caucus

Posted on August 16, 2017, 2:33 am
11 mins

PHOTOS: Derek Fildebrandt buying extra fuel for his big red Ford pickup truck on New Year’s Eve 2016 to illustrate how much more gasoline was going to cost after the NDP’s carbon tax took effect the next morning. (Photo from the politician’s Facebook page.) Prices immediately went down. It turns out the Ford also figures in a hit-and-run case that is now before the courts. Below: Former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, now a candidate to lead the United Conservative Party; Mr. Jean’s principal rival for the job, former PC Party leader Jason Kenney; NDP MLA Deborah Drever; and Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark.

Self described “liberty conservative” Derek Fildebrandt, United Conservative Party finance critic and MLA for the Strathmore-Brooks Riding east of Calgary, fell on his sword last night – or was pushed onto it.

The would-be gig economy entrepreneur caught renting his taxpayer-subsidized Edmonton condo through Airbnb, pocketing the cash and submitting full expense claims to the Legislature, announced he’d resigned from the United Conservative Party Caucus around 9 p.m. after additional embarrassing revelations surfaced on Monday and yesterday.

On Monday, it was revealed he’d submitted both MLA meal expenses and separate daily flat-rate payments for meals for the same date on several occasions.

Yesterday, the CBC reported he was charged in 2016 with hit and run for ramming his large Ford pickup truck into another vehicle in the parking lot of his controversial condo, then driving off, leaving a couple thousand dollars’ damage in his wake but no hint of who did it.

That was three strikes, and yesterday evening he called himself out.

The UCP, formed less than a month ago, “cannot afford to be distracted from the formative period that it is in right now as we come together as conservatives,” Mr. Fildebrandt wrote in a Facebook post. He has resigned from the UCP Caucus and will sit in the Legislature as an Independent.

“I have made honest mistakes – always doing what I believed was best at the time – and I accept responsibility, and am truly sorry,” Mr. Fildebrandt wrote. Seemingly channeling the late Ralph Klein, he went on: “I’m a flawed man, and I can do better. If I have let anyone down, know that I have let myself down, and I will prove that that I am the man that I hold as the standard for trust and integrity.”

Mr. Fildebrandt, 31, founder of the “Reagan-Goldwater Society” at his Ottawa alma mater, was never really what you’d call a nice guy, exactly.

But the Ottawa native’s often mean-spirited shenanigans in support of fiscal austerity – learned at the feet of the stunt masters of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation where like would-be United Conservative leader Jason Kenney he was once employed as an anti-tax propagandist – were always entertaining to watch, perversely, even when it was your side he was scorching.

He was the sort of sharp-tongued, hard-hearted young conservative who acted like he felt selfishness is a virtue and nice guys finish last while he excoriated “union bosses,” public employees, “special interests” and Progressive Conservative premiers judged in his CTF days to be insufficiently inclined to implement harsh austerity policies.

In 2015, when just-elected NDP MLA Deborah Drever was implicated in an immature social media post using homophobic language, Mr. Fildebrandt was unrelenting, demanding recall legislation and saying her youth – she was 26 at the time – was no excuse. After sitting as an Independent for about seven months, Ms. Drever was welcomed back to the NDP’s Government Caucus in January 2016.

When some of the newly minted “United Conservatives” quickly turned on one another, Mr. Fildebrandt was in the thick of the flashing blades.

Former Wildrose leader Brian Jean – who in May 2016 tried to fire Mr. Fildebrandt as caucus finance critic for embarrassing the former Opposition party on social media by endorsing an attack on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne that used homophobic language – was subjected to his young rival’s wrath two weeks ago.

“I’ve had two-and-a-half years to work with him and seen his leadership up close and I’ve got more than enough experience to make a very confident decision that he is not the best man to lead the party and lead Alberta,” said Mr. Fildebrandt in an apparent effort to sandbag Mr. Jean’s campaign to lead the United Conservatives.

It wasn’t long before the revelations about Mr. Fildebrandt’s conduct began showing up in local media – although the Airbnb revelation had been reported by Ottawa’s Frank Magazine in mid-July.

If any of this information originated with Mr. Jean, as political watchers are bound to surmise, it’s a bit of a surprise. Based on past conduct, we know former PC Leader Jason Kenney and his social conservative minions will happily slice up a political foe, metaphorically speaking. (Consider the fates of Sandra Jansen and Stephen Khan, for example.) But Mr. Jean? A lot of us didn’t think he had it in him!

But whoever pitched the stories, they have now achieved what Mr. Jean couldn’t back in May 2016.

When the first strike whizzed past the ambitious MLA in the form of l’affaire Airbnb, Mr. Fildebrandt immediately dismissed it as a “smear,” then issued a not-very-convincing apology and swiftly decamped from Alberta on “vacation,” leaving no forwarding address or cell phone number – a recently used Jason Kenney maneuver.

“I believed that renting out my Edmonton home while I was away was above board and never costed the taxpayer anything extra,” his statement, published by the party, said. “I however recognize the perception that this is not good enough, and have spoken with my constituents, and they are never wrong. I apologize.”

When the second hardball buzzed by in the case of the double-dipped expense claims, Mr. Fildebrandt swiftly issued another unconvincing apology – this time taking full responsibility and, in the next sentence, blaming his staff for an “administrative error.”

The source of the double-dipping data was Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark, who called for an investigation into all MLAs’ expenses, although the documents are public and some of them have been circulating in journalistic circles for a few days. To Mr. Clark’s credit, though, he appears to have been the first to actually get around to crunching the numbers.

When yesterday’s third strike blew past home plate – it was revealed that Mr. Fildebrandt, who seems to have always regarded himself as the smartest person in the room, had chosen to represent himself in court, arguing in his own defence that the other car’s owner can’t prove it was him that hit her vehicle. Having a fool for a client, as they say, is unsurprisingly not working out very well for him, as the story illustrates.

Needless to say, the suggestion there’s a new generation of Tory arrogance and entitlement implicit in Mr. Fildebrandt’s recent activities is not the message the three-week-old UCP wants the public to absorb. It is trying to establish the narrative it’s a principled and steady alternative to the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley, which is not exactly suffering as a result of Mr. Fildebrandt’s self-inflicted wounds.

So it was probably inevitable Mr. Fildebrandt would become the first high-profile casualty of the UCP Civil War.

But getting the derailed UCP narrative back on track may not be the only reason for the unease in caucus ranks. What if the real issue among the United Conservatives is the thought of what might happen if Mr. Clark persuades the government to proceed with a thorough audit of MLA expenses?

Does anyone seriously think Mr. Fildebrandt is the only UCP MLA to have made an “administrative error” in his expense accounts?

And what if an audit revealed a UCP MLA or two – or more – used their constituency expense funds to help finance the successful effort to unite the Wildrose Party and the PCs?

There’s reason enough right there to push the overconfident and impetuous Mr. Fildebrandt out of caucus and try to change the channel as quickly as possible on the not atypical attitudes he revealed.

27 Comments to: High-profile MLA Derek Fildebrandt, embroiled in embarrassing revelations, falls on his sword, quits UCP caucus

  1. August 16th, 2017

    I’ve read speculation that the initial scandal, the Airbnb one, was retaliation by Jean for Fildebrandt denouncing him. But the story was actually broken two weeks earlier by Frank Magazine. I think people just didn’t take notice because the additional angle in the Frank story — the suggestion that Fildebrandt walked in on renters filming adult material (!) — just seems too salacious to be true.

    The second and decidedly more miniature scandal about Fildebrandt being tricky with his per diems didn’t come from an establishment source either — it’s sourced to a clever Redditor.

    As for the tip-off about the hit-and-run — well, I just have no idea there.

    Reply
  2. jerrymacgp

    August 16th, 2017

    All of this talk about who surfaced this information loses sight of the fact that none of it is actually confidential. These aren’t “leaks”. All of the information is in the public domain, although some may have required some serious web digging. Who did that digging is beside the point; it may even have just been some investigative reporters, a rapidly dwindling breed of journalist, acting on their own initiative. But there are no State secrets being revealed here.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      August 16th, 2017

      This is a fair point, although it’s not reasonable to expect the journalistic employees of even adequately staffed news organizations – which nowadays would only be the CBC – to be scanning Airbnb and like listing services looking for public figures among the “hosts.” As for the courts, they are still staffed properly by beat reporters, as in the old days, so it astonishes me that someone wasn’t aware of the charges against Mr. Fildebrandt. In fact, I would be astonished if someone from, say, Postmedia, wasn’t. If they were, of course, that raises another question. The meal expenses are public documents, easy to access on the government website, and going through them should be a matter of routine for mainstream media. Political parties do this too, and some politicians – like the late Sheldon Chumir – are masters of it. All you need is a good researcher and what we used to call a well-stocked Rolodex. Please don’t ask bloggers to take this on as well. Most of us have day jobs, and are on our own with regards to liability. Commentary is manageable, both from a work flow and liability perspective. DJC

      Reply
      • August 16th, 2017

        The other question, of course, is why they did not consider the charges newsworthy, and would they have felt the same way if one of the government MLAs was charged.

        I wonder if someone from Frank, who originally broke the Airbnb story, was just looking for a place to stay in Edmonton.

        David, I think you should take on the research. First though, please cure cancer and find out which came first, the chicken or the egg. (Thanks for a great blog)

        Reply
      • Nameless altruism?

        August 16th, 2017

        Is it not possible for bloggers to benefit from the efforts of nameless volunteer research assistants and data miners whose motives are simply keeping public servants accountable and transparent while supporting the closest thing Alberta has to a secular, humanist party in order to keep selfish, misanthropic conservatism at bay?

        Reply
    • Sassy

      August 16th, 2017

      I think who leaked the the three Fildelbrandt “indiscretions” might be of some importance to those who voted PC or Wildrose. As those conservatives decide which leader and/or which party to support, conniving tactics to remove one of their own (whether they totally support Fildebrandt or not) won’t sit well; the conservatives I know highly value loyalty. The PC and Wildrose supporters have been burned more than once by their leaders and the backroom operatives. Trust is shaky right now for this group of voters. Personally, I think Kenney and the higher-up UCP controllers were keeping a “Fildebrandt list” and were just waiting for the right moment. We’ll probably never know but I bet Fildebrandt will figure it out.

      Reply
  3. August 16th, 2017

    I would love to see an audit of all mla expenses, not just wildrose and pc, I want to know how many of these socialist elite twenty-somethings have spent $10,000 on coffee at our expense.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      August 16th, 2017

      I doubt a formal audit would uncover much about the coffee habits of MLAs that you couldn’t discover for yourself by going through the MLA filings, which are public documents and easy to access, although I suppose a latte or two might be “hidden” in the per diems, as long as they were consumed at lunch or dinner. And what will you do if, as I suspect but don’t know for certain, the “socialist elite twenty-somethings” (very few of whom are socialist, elite, or in their 20s) have not misbehaved at all? I say this because the NDP Government, inexperienced as it was, has maintained remarkably good message control, which makes me suspect they have made MLAs behave themselves in other ways as well. Remember, to their credit, the Wildrose Party’s researchers were very good at digging through public documents looking for things to attack the government for, and they never came up with anything from the expresso file. Be that as it may, if you’re so sure those elitists are up to something, have at it, I say! DJC

      Reply
      • tom in ontario

        August 16th, 2017

        Vacation or not, Mr. Climenhaga, this one was too juicy to pass up.

        Reply
    • Murphy

      August 16th, 2017

      You tell ’em, Tailgunner Shayne! (The Y adds extra gravitas to your name. Kudos!)

      Reply
  4. J.E. Molnar

    August 16th, 2017

    Live by the sword — die by the sword. What a political sleaze ball.

    Double-Dip Derek was never able to recover from his crimes of stupidity. Unfortunately for the constituents of Strathmore-Brooks the nightmare of deceit is probably not over. Until Fildebrandt resigns as a MLA his political death is not permanent. Through this embarrassing UCP debacle, the feigned bombastic defender of taxpayers and the sworn enemy of politician entitlement revealed himself for what he truly was: a political fraud.

    Anyone who thinks Fildebrandt resigned on his own has probably been drinking too much of the conservative Kool-Aid. He was finally forced out by the party’s leadership after numbing accusation after numbing accusation continued to emerge on a daily basis. It probably put a stop to further media investigations about Fildebrandt charging for parking and other incidentals that would also be considered questionable (which emerged on Twitter).

    No, this was definitely not the mea culpa Fildebrandt painted it out to be.

    Reply
  5. August 16th, 2017

    Mr. Fildebrandt, IMHO, may have had the maturity to be a Wildrose candidate but I really do think that he he has proven that he lacks the integrity or the maturity to be an Alberta MLA.

    Hopefully he will reflect on his situation and consider a career change that is more in line with his skills and talents.

    Who knows, my understanding is that Rebel Media may have soon have some employment opportunities for him.

    Reply
  6. August 16th, 2017

    Given the support Derek Fildebrandt got when Brian Jean tried to suspend him earlier, I expect Wildrose 2.0 just got a bit of a boost in Strathmore-Brooks.

    Reply
  7. Ron

    August 16th, 2017

    Dig for the dirt folks … these hypocrites can’t resist … there’s buried treasure there for sure.

    Reply
  8. CuJo Calgary

    August 16th, 2017

    Expresso may refer to:

    Espresso, a coffee beverage
    eXpresso, a hosted workspace for Microsoft Office communities
    Expresso (Donkey Kong), a character in Donkey Kong Country series
    Expresso (newspaper), based in Lisbon, Portugal
    Expresso (film), a 2007 English comedy short
    Plymouth Expresso, a 1994 compact concept car
    Sud Expresso, or Sud Express, an international train between Lisbon and the Spanish/French border at Handy

    Reply
    • Murphy

      August 16th, 2017

      “I will cling to the old rugged crook, and exchange it one day for a crown!”

      Reply
      • Murphy

        August 17th, 2017

        Sorry, make that “exchange it one day for a clown!”

        Reply
  9. David

    August 16th, 2017

    I suppose this is the end of double dippin’ Derek for now, although the statement from the interim UCP leader sort of implied they might be ready to let him back in some time when all the embarrassment dies down. However, for now he should probably just go back to being on an extended “vacation”.

    I think Mr. Jean’s political instincts to demote Mr. Fildebrandt actually look quite good in hindsight, although I also doubt he was the one who leaked any of the info . Had the party dealt with Fildebrandt some time ago, he might not have been such an embarrassment at such an inopportune time when the UCP as a new party is struggling to establish its image and reputation. As for that “vacation” ploy, it might work for Kenney to avoid having to talk about controversial things, but unfortunately for Fildebrandt, those digging up the info. on him didn’t go on vacation.

    While not directly involved, this does create a perhaps unanticipated problem for the Kenney coronation. I believe getting Fildebrandt to run and pummel Jean was Kenney’s Plan A. I suspect it was abandoned once Kenney’s researchers realized (probably a bit before the rest of us) that Fildebrandt had a number of serious flaws. Now on to Plan B – get a former Wildrose official to run and pummel Jean. However, the problem is that official does not quite have the profile or following that Fildebrandt did.

    I am sure there is also a hard lesson in this for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. It is easy to be an armchair critic, but if you want to get in the game and play people actually expect you to walk your talk.

    Reply
  10. August 16th, 2017

    It’s good to know that Fildebrandt ‘always does what he believes to be best at the time’. He obviously considers driving away from a motor accident he caused to be the best thing to. Fleecing taxpayers with fraudulent claims is also the best thing to do in his opinion. This fleecing will continue as long as he sits in the legislature as an independent of otherwise. He certainly has the conservative approach to politics down pat.

    Reply
  11. Murphy

    August 16th, 2017

    I do not recall seeing the likes of Fildebrandt even among the degenerate PC slime that put the people and resources of the province at the disposal of our self-entitled aristocracy for most of the last thirty-odd years. His apology consists of stating how much admiration he has for himself. When can we start deporting these neoliberal crypto-fascist eastern creeps and bums back to Saskatchewan and Ontario?

    Reply
  12. pogo

    August 16th, 2017

    Ok. Fine! Here is what I think anyone with even a small percentage of a conscience should listen to and wait for the english to let them in to what is happening here. https://youtu.be/a1yy9kVQW_E

    Reply
  13. brett

    August 17th, 2017

    If Strathmore Brooks do decide to toss him they might consider Rob Anders. Sounds like he would be a good replacement for their constituency candidate. Fresh back from the US, working to help Trump get elected.

    He needs a job, has virtually no skills, never worked for a for profit organizaiton. He even has a very nice MP pension so he might not be predisposed to nickel and dime the taxpayer for chump change. Beware though…he does have a habit of falling asleep.

    Sounds like he could be a great replacement for this constituency even though he was tossed from one constituency and failed to make the second ballot in another.

    Reply

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