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Derek Fildebrandt's mini-Skypalace is proof Tory entitlement is still a thing in Alberta

Can you imagine how Derek Fildebrandt would have reacted if an Alberta civil servant had been caught on out-of-town work assignment staying with a friend and renting his government-paid hotel room to strangers for cash?

Can you imagine what Fildebrandt would have said if the civil servant in this hypothetical situation had been a member of a public service union?

I think we all know the answers to these questions. But just in case you can't imagine what he might have said, blogger Dave Cournoyer has imagined it for you.

Fildebrandt has literally made a career -- first as a spokesperson for the so-called Canadian Taxpayers Federation, later as a Wildrose and now United Conservative Party MLA -- of being a self-righteous and harsh critic of "government waste" (as defined by him) and special interest groups with their snouts in the trough (also as defined by him).

Now the Strathmore-Brooks MLA been caught red handed, plucky little entrepreneur that he was, renting out his government subsidized mini-Skypalace condo apartment high above downtown Edmonton to strangers through the Airbnb online lodging brokerage.

His defence? No rules were broken. If this sounds like Alison Redford to you, it surely must to others too.

Fildebrandt has been such an unfair, unpleasant and consistent critic of public employees in particular, it's hard not to feel a certain degree of schadenfreude at his self-inflicted predicament.

It's also easy to make light of his ethically questionable behaviour, all the more so because it's obvious he doesn't really think there was anything wrong with it. Many of us gave in to this temptation last night when the Edmonton Journal made official the story that had been broken, with additional salacious details, by Ottawa Frank Magazine on July 24. The Twitter hashtags that followed were priceless: #Fildepockets #Filderent #Fildekarma #PrincipledYoungConservative … Talk about Fildembarrassing!

But what Fildebrandt's latest problem and his initial reaction to it really made clear -- and not just about him -- is that Conservative entitlement in Alberta remains a thing. The normal rules of ethical conduct are still for everyone else, not for Tories of any stripe.

Fildebrandt called the Journal's report a "smear." He said no rules were broken. And he blamed former Wildrose leader and UCP leadership contender Brian Jean, his potential political nemesis, for the leak. That's possible, but Fildebrandt is a politician who has gone out of his way to make a lot of enemies, and then to thumb his nose at them. So Jean isn't the only obvious suspect for the leak.

"$2,555 over 8 months letting out my Edmonton home while unused," Fildebrandt Tweeted self-righteously. "I won't let smear distract from real issues & donate to the AB debt," he added, although whether or not the Journal's accurate report becomes a "distraction" won’t really be up to Fildebrandt.

Speaking of imagining things, can you imagine what the CTF would have said if it had been an NDP or Liberal MLA caught doing this? Instead, the reaction by the "tax watchdog" organization to its former Alberta director's misadventure seemed to me to be quite muted.

The group's national spokesperson, the usually prolific Tweeter Aaron Wudrick, referred all queries to its interim Alberta spokesman, Colin Craig, until recently a Manning Centre operative. (CTF Alberta Director Paige MacPherson is off on a maternity leave, presumably of the sort the group would normally think of as "taxpayer supported.")

For his part, Craig published a couple of mildly disapproving Tweets -- "the funds aren't meant for MLAs to earn income from" -- that hinted at a wish to get quickly back to more important stories, like complaining about the cost and aesthetics of public art in Calgary. Apparently embarrassed by Tweeted mockery, Craig later published a cringeworthy list of his media interviews on the topic.

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark certainly knew a good issue when he saw it, accusing Fildebrandt of "using taxpayer dollars to line his own pockets" and demanding a formal investigation. "Derek Fildebrandt broke the rules," Clark stated. "There is no way he can get out of this." Political commentator Warren Kinsella went quite a bit farther than that.

But how Jason Kenney, frontrunner for the UCP leadership, will react remains to be made clear. (The timing of the Frank story certainly puts Fildebrandt's withdrawal this week from the UCP leadership race in a different light.)

Like Fildebrandt, Kenney is a former CTF operative. Unlike Fildebrandt, he is not an MLA just now, but he is already, for all practical purposes, very close to being the boss of the UCP Caucus in the Legislature.

According to UCP MLA Mike Ellis, a former police officer, the caucus is "carefully reviewing" Fildebrandt's claims. It's not clear if that review will include all of Fildebrandt's expenses, just in case his condo's use as a hotel room strayed into its purpose as a home away from the MLA's residence in Calgary.

According to a statement by UCP interim Leader Nathan Cooper last night, "Derek has apologized for renting his Edmonton home out and has given the proceeds to the taxpayer. Effective today he is taking a leave of absence from his co-critic finance role."

Fildebrandt issued his own apology, or someone did on his behalf. "Since January I believed that renting out my Edmonton home while I was away was above board and never costed (sic) the taxpayer anything extra. I however recognize the perception that this is not good enough, and have spoken with my constituents, and they are never wrong. I apologize."

… "I am scheduled to leave for a family vacation out of province tomorrow and will be taking a leave of absence from my finance duties effective today," the statement said.

In light of the Alberta conservative movement's history of entitled attitudes, how the United Conservative Party deals with Fildebrandt will be an important test.

A mere leave of absence or the strategy Kenney used during his school "outing" controversy of leaving the province and not answering his phone isn't going to make the grade. Kenney needs to be heard from.

It's happened before, just not quite this way …

This kind of thing has happened before in Alberta, just not quite this way.

Back in April 1992, Conservative Municipal Affairs Minster Dick Fowler, MLA for St. Albert, and Economic Development Minister Peter Elzinga, MLA for Sherwood Park, were both discovered by an enterprising reporter to have billed the government for tens of thousands of dollars in living expenses when their ridings were about 30 minutes from the Legislature.

Between them, the two Tory MLAs billed the Legislature more than $40,000 for their Edmonton residences in the 1991-92 fiscal year.

Their defence? No rules were broken.

The public's reaction? Not very positive.

The result? They stopped claiming the city apartments -- although there's no indication from the newspaper reports of the day that either ever paid anything back. Premier Don Getty announced a review of MLA expense policy.

Farewell to Brad Wall, the 'real leader' of Western Canada

Farewell Brad Wall! It's not as if we can say we hardly knew ye.

The man Jason Kenney once hailed as "the real leader of Western Canada" has announced he is pulling the plug on politics after a decade as premier of Saskatchewan and 14 years at the helm of the conservatively inclined Saskatchewan Party.

After fibbing his way to another majority government in April 2016, the former Mr. Congeniality of Confederation has seen his popularity plummet among Saskatchewanians in recent months. According to one recent poll, the Saskatchewan NDP is 19 points ahead of the Saskatchewan Party government province-wide.

With NDP governments in British Columbia and Alberta, and Manitoba Conservative Premier Brian Pallister frequently missing in action, presumably making un-FOIP-able phone calls and emails on his wife's smart phone from his Costa Rican redoubt, it's unclear who will be the real (conservative) leader of Western Canada now.

I nominate … Derek Fildebrandt!

Image: Wikimedia Commons

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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