The United Conservative Party, being less than a month old, is still in its infancy but it has officially been christened by its first bozo eruption. Derek Fildebrandt, MLA for Strathmore – Brooks, was found to have been renting out his taxpayer funded apartment in Edmonton through AirBnB for personal profit. Claiming his actions “never cost the taxpayer anything extra“, Fildebrandt released a statement claiming his subletting for personal profit was “not against the rules” and has “always been… shared openly with (his) colleagues”. While the latter ensures each and every one of his WRP/UCP mates can be regarded as comfortably complicit in Derek’s stewardship of taxpayer dollars, his leave of absence from his role as “co-shadow finance minister” suggests those same colleagues weren’t willing to defend him in the face of public disappointment.
Alberta MLAs are eligible to claim up to $23,160 non-taxable dollars each year ($1,930 per month) to cover their accommodation expenses in Edmonton. Upon his arrival in the Legislature in 2015, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark called for a change in the reimbursement process when he discovered he was unable to easily claim less than $1,930 per month. In March of 2016, Clark’s recommendations requiring MLAs “to claim actual living expenses” rather than a blanket amount were approved by the Member’s Services Committee. This change in accommodation expense rules is what will likely come back to haunt Fildebrandt as Clark has now requested an investigation and review of accommodation expenses claimed by current MLAs.
Fildebrandt staunchly claims he did nothing wrong and he is receiving some public support. Personally profiting from taxpayer funded accommodation “absolutely isn’t an issue” said the Strathmore-Brooks Wildrose/UCP constituency association president, Ronda Klemmensen. Had the shoe been on the other foot, most (if not all) people who don’t support Fildebrandt feel strongly that he would have thrown everything he had in his meme arsenal at the offending MLA(s). Frankly, this double standard, although not new, is confounding.
Had he used the rental income to decrease the cost to Alberta taxpayers, his actions would have been widely applauded. In fact, it is that type of ingenuity one would have expected of a “fiscal hawk” and “champion of the taxpayers”. Back in 2013, Fildebrandt stated expense policies should require actual receipts in order to hold public servants accountable. While campaigning for his seat in 2015 he claimed that it was the responsibility of politicians to first get their “own spending under control“. In fact, Derek Fildebrandt the MLA is facing such acute public backlash because of Derek Fildebrant the former Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation.
Whether you support Fildebrandt now or not, if you have heard anything from him over the past 8 years, you have heard him rail against irresponsible spending by government and elected officials. One gets the impression from Fildebrandt of old that he would be the first person to ensure his own expenses and spending were above board. While one right wing publication suggested what he did was not against the rules, it would appear they are unfamiliar with the change Greg Clark successfully implemented in 2016. “Actual expenses” ensure that Fildebrandt’s Air BnB profits should have reduced the amount of accommodation expenses claimed by the MLA.
There is no grey area here. Fildebrandt’s apartment was paid for by Alberta taxpayers. Fildebrandt profited personally from that apartment and still charged Alberta taxpayers the full amount. Even though he reimbursed taxpayers after he was caught, Fildebrandt the MLA should not be absolved because Fildebrandt the Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation would never have allowed it.
Update: Greg Clark has been combing over Fildebrandt’s expenses and discovered more anomalies; claiming expenses in more than one city and claiming both receipts as well as his per diem expenses (ie twice for the same meals). Clark has once again called for an investigation into all MLA expense claims.