Annus Horribilis 2017: Derek Fildebrandt ends his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year with a bang … literally!

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PHOTOS: United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney with Derek Fildebrandt in happier times. At the moment, Mr. Fildebrandt may be the bane of Mr. Kenney’s existence. One of them, anyway. Below: Elmer Fudd … the comparison to Mr. Fildebrandt is irresistible. And Mr. Kenney with Jason Nixon, the UCP’s House Leader and posterboy for how not to deal with sexual harassment in a company you run. (Photos come from politicians’ social media pages; the cartoon character from the Wikimedia Commons.)

Round up your livestock, O farmers of Alberta!

Derek Fildebrandt may be a city boy at heart, but he’ll likely have to run in rural Alberta if he wants to stay in politics. So Alberta’s Conservative problem child may have concluded shooting large hoofed mammals with powerful firearms would go over well with the yeoman farmers of southern Alberta who are his constituents now.

After all, it appears to work for rural Republican politicians south of the 49th Parallel, whence the querulous Ottawa-born founder of the “Reagan-Goldwater Society” at his alma mater, Carleton University, seems to get much of his strategic inspiration.

But it’s hard to imagine the Strathmore-Brooks MLA’s latest brush with the law, which involves being caught hunting illegally on private farm land, is going to do much to enhance his re-election chances in rural Alberta in the general election expected in 2019.

For one thing, we all know how farmers feel about city slickers wandering uninvited onto their property with big guns, Elmer Fudd caps from Cabela’s, a sketchy knowledge of large ungulates, and a desire to shoot something on four legs.

The self-described liberty conservative’s latest legal troubles won’t even assure his until-recently-assumed swift readmission to the United Conservative Party caucus in the Alberta Legislature by his friend Jason Kenney, that party’s leader.

Mr. Fildebrandt, 32, resigned under pressure from the UCP Caucus in mid-August in the wake of two politically embarrassing situations – getting caught renting his taxpayer-subsidized Edmonton condo on Airbnb and allegedly crashing his huge pickup truck into another vehicle in the building’s parking lot, then taking off without leaving his name.

As the Globe and Mail reported then, “the close scrutiny given to his questionable expenses and legal blunders likely stems from his long-time role as a political agitator.” Before becoming a Wildrose Party MLA in 2015, you see, Mr. Fildebrandt was well known as an unpleasantly aggressive operative for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, an anti-tax Astro-Turf organization.

Nevertheless, Mr. Fildebrandt’s readmission to the UCP Caucus was widely expected as soon as Mr. Kenney got himself a seat in the Legislature in the Calgary-Lougheed by-election taking place today. Mr. Fildebrandt needs to be welcomed back because there’s no way he’ll be reelected in 2019 unless he’s a candidate for the UCP.

Piling illegal hunting onto his previous legal and ethical troubles, though, will not speed his return!

News reports yesterday said Mr. Fildebrandt was caught near the town of Sundre on Nov. 4 in unlawful possession of wildlife (a deer he had shot) and being on private land without permission. A farmer complained to provincial Fish and Wildlife officers about an unwelcome hunter. The MLA does not dispute the charges. Indeed, he has apologized to everyone. He has a court date on Feb. 2 in the nearby town of Didsbury.

Meanwhile, his timing couldn’t be less propitious. Mr. Fildebrandt already has a court hearing next Monday in the matter of the disputed parking lot collision. As noted, Mr. Kenney’s by-election campaign reaches its climax in Calgary tomorrow. And the UCP Caucus in the Legislature was already scrambling to minimize the damage done by Tuesday’s revelation Opposition House Leader Jason Nixon’s former consulting company once fired a single mom it employed because she complained about a contractor who was sexually harassing her.

The discovery of Mr. Nixon’s method of dealing with harassment at his company came right after he’d argued in the Legislature such matters should be left to private companies like his to sort out. The UCP’s embarrassment was so acute it dropped its attack on the NDP Government’s Bill 30, An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans, which requires employers to implement sexual harassment policies.

The UCP had planned to stage a bitter fight against the bill, extending the 22-day fall sitting of the Legislature if possible. Instead, they gave up with a whimper yesterday, letting the NDP bring the busy session to an end as it desired.

Government House Leader Brian Mason mocked the UCP’s “damage control” efforts, suggesting “they’re getting out of there as fast as they can” with their “tail between their legs.”

Well, in fairness, they have bigger fish to fry today in Mr. Kenney’s bid to get into the House, where he can control his fractious, B-Team caucus.

At least one poll – albeit one readers may not have full confidence in – is said to have given Mr. Kenney 60 per cent support in the safe Conservative riding.

Still, in light of unexpected election outcomes in the past couple of days, Mr. Kenney would surely rather be concentrating on his main chance right now.

On Monday in British Columbia, Liberal Gordie Hogg won what was supposed to be a rock solid Conservative seat in a federal by-election for the South Surrey-White Rock riding. It was the first time in 70 years the Liberals have managed to represent any part of the riding.

And yesterday, of course, Democrat Doug Jones scored what is being called “an unimagined victory” in the race for the U.S. Senate seat in another seven-letter jurisdiction starting with A.

So the possibility, however slim, that since political lightning has struck twice, it might strike a third time, must have occurred to Mr. Kenney’s strategic brain trust.

Mr. Fildebrandt’s big game hunting adventure, at least, probably means Mr. Nixon is less likely to be demoted or sent packing by Mr. Kenney after Tuesday’s embarrassment. As for the errant marksman’s return to the bosom of the UCP, that may depend on Mr. Kenney’s margin of victory today.

If it is huge, the UCP leader may feel he can do what he pleases. If it is lower than expected, he may be inclined to take more care with his personnel problems. And if by some miracle he loses, well, all bets would be off, wouldn’t they?

Categories Alberta Politics