PHOTOS: Former Wildrose and UCP caucus member Derek Fildebrandt, now an Independent Alberta MLA, in happier times for him when he was an employee of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Below: UCP interim Leader Nathan Cooper, former Progressive Conservative interim leader Ric McIver, NDP MLA Estefania Cortes-Vargas, and Canadian Taxpayers Federation operative Colin Craig.
Alberta conservative politicians were falling all over themselves on Thursday to create just a little bit more “red tape,” in this case blocking entrepreneurially minded “liberty conservatives” who happen to be out-of-town MLAs from renting their taxpayer subsidized capital-city apartments to strangers when they’re back home in their ridings.
Mind you, United Conservative Party interim Leader Nathan Cooper didn’t use a pejorative term like red tape – which is how conservatives nowadays describe sensible regulations implemented for the public good – when he introduced a motion at a meeting of the Alberta Legislature’s all-party Members’ Services Committee to ban “double-dipping” by MLAs who qualify for the housing subsidy.
And, in truth, Mr. Cooper didn’t actually ask that the policy be called “Derek’s Rule” in tribute to Derek Fildebrandt, the former UCP MLA who now sits as an Independent, whose shenanigans inspired it. I just made that bit up. Still, Mr. Cooper certainly would have been within his rights to do so.
“The vast majority of members always want to do the right thing,” the UCP leader told the committee, but in the unlikely event one of them took a notion not to, well, this would put a stop to that! Mr. Cooper is a former member of the Wildrose Party Caucus in the Legislature.
Don’t delay! Do not wait to act on this, agreed UCP MLA Ric McIver, former leader of the Legislature’s Progressive Conservative Caucus. “Let’s set the public’s mind at ease, or at least let the public know that we are aware of their concerns,” he urged the committee.
Neither of these honourable gentlemen added, “Move along, people … nothing to see here!” But that, one imagines, is what both of them had in mind.
As noted, the new rule passed Thursday by the committee had one of Messrs. Cooper’s and McIver’s former UCP caucus-mates in the metaphorical crosshairs when members made sure MLAs are now explicitly forbidden to rent their taxpayer financed apartments if they’re going to claim expenses for them.
For once, the NDP, members of other parties and the representatives of the UCP were all singing from the same hymn sheet – although not, perhaps, in perfect harmony. “What we did today was make it clear that nothing like this can occur again,” Estefania Cortes-Vargas, the NDP MLA who is deputy chair of the committee, said sternly.
“In my wildest dreams, I never thought something like this would happen,” marvelled Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark, his party’s sole MLA in the House and the member who asked the committee to deal with the issue.
He did so after Mr. Fildebrandt, former Wildrose and UCP finance critic and a sometime prospect to lead the new party, was caught renting his subsidized apartment through Airbnb, pocketing the cash and submitting full expense claims to the Legislature.
So never let it be said that Mr. Fildebrandt, the self-described “liberty conservative” and formerly self-described “fiscal watchdog” in his days as Alberta “director” of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, hasn’t made a valuable contribution to the operations of the province of Alberta!
When discovered, the first reaction by the MLA for the Strathmore-Brooks Riding east of Calgary was to dismiss the double-dipping report as a “smear” and sharply defend the practice as normal and proper. He then issued a half-hearted apology and departed for another continent on “vacation,” leaving no forwarding address.
Soon thereafter, when questionable meal expenses and charges laid by Edmonton Police for leaving the scene of a minor collision in the parking lot of his controversial apartment also came to light, Mr. Fildebrandt resigned from the UCP, though not from the Legislature.
The hit-and-run charge, to which Mr. Fildebrandt has pleaded not guilty, was heard by a traffic commissioner earlier this month. A ruling is expected on Dec. 18.
Meanwhile, speaking of the supposedly non-partisan Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the UCP, two organizations that have long enjoyed a relationship verging on intimate, UCP leadership candidates were busy yesterday hustling to sign pledges to the anti-tax Astro-Turf group to scrap the Alberta NDP government’s carbon tax the instant they manage to form a government.
Former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, former Progressive Conservative Leader and Harper Government cabinet minister Jason Kenney, and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer all hopped to it as soon as they were summoned by the CTF. The fourth candidate, former Wildrose Party President Jeff Callaway assured the CTF that, while he couldn’t be there to sign as required, he too supported the CTF in every regard.
It must have broken Mr. Fildebrandt’s heart as a former CTF operative not to be there as well, pledging fealty to his former employer.
Mr. Kenney, the frontrunner, is also a former employee of the Regina–based organization that purports to represent the interests of taxpayers while advocating market-fundamentalist bromides and acting as a farm team for Conservative Party politicians.
Conservative politicians certainly appear to fear the group and take seriously Alberta CTF Director Colin Craig’s mildly threatening boast at Thursday’s media event in Calgary that “if a candidate signs our pledge but breaks their promise once elected, it will cost them dearly with voters.”
If implemented, the CTF policy signed by the would-be UCP leaders means the federal Liberal government will then collect the same amount of carbon tax and Alberta will largely lose control over how it’s spent. In addition, without gaining any benefit, Alberta will reestablish the perception with Canadians elsewhere it is an environmental scofflaw and villain, which is not likely to help make our interprovincial infrastructure wish list a reality.
Conservative politicians in both Alberta and Saskatchewan, meanwhile, have talked bravely of a constitutional challenge of the federal carbon tax. Alas for them, the Canadian Constitution is unequivocal about the right of the federal government to “the raising of Money by any Mode or System of Taxation.”
Chances of such an action succeeding, in other words, are zero.