The fine that Derek Fildebrandt must pay is only $402, an insignificant sum for a well-off man of 32.
The consequences for the political career of the Independent MLA for Strathmore-Brooks of the fine for hitting another vehicle and then just taking off are likely to be more severe.
For by simply driving away from a minor traffic accident in the parking lot of the Edmonton apartment building where he owned a condominium that morning in June 2016, as the former member of the United Conservative Opposition Caucus was found guilty of doing yesterday in Edmonton Traffic Court, he showed deplorably bad judgment, contempt for the owner of the automobile struck by his big red pickup, and a measurable ethical shortfall.
By loudly telling his neighbour he could prove he wasn't there and then failing to do so, he added arrogance and the appearance of bullying to the metaphorical bill of indictment for his political crimes. A whiff of dishonesty will always adhere to Fildebrandt's not-guilty plea in light of the Traffic Court Commissioner's verdict yesterday morning.
More than a whiff if you're a political opponent of the United Conservative Party, which he once contemplated running to lead before opting to back the campaign of the eventual victor, Jason Kenney. "It shows he is very, very comfortable with lying, according to the courts," NDP Premier Rachel Notley told the Edmonton Journal's reporter yesterday. "One should wonder whether this is the place for him," she said, referring to his seat in the Legislature.
We can forgive Fildebrandt's political foes, who are legion and members of more than just one or two parties, for the schadenfreude they undoubtedly felt upon learning of the verdict. The former Canadian Taxpayers Federation agitator was a bitter opponent of all parties of the centre left, a harsh and relentless critic of public employees and trade unions, and an uncooperative and defiant subordinate to his former Wildrose leader, Brian Jean.
It will be interesting to see if Kenney is prepared to pay the political price of allowing his injudicious young friend back into the UCP Caucus -- which Fildebrandt had left before the hit-and-run incident came to light.
The proximate cause of his departure from the UCP was that he had embarrassed the newly formed party and its new leader by getting caught double dipping by renting out his taxpayer-subsidized Edmonton condo through Airbnb and pocketing the cash. The assumption at the time was that he would soon be invited back by Kenney, who like Fildebrandt is an alumnus of the CTF anti-tax Atsro-Turf group.
Fildebrandt, who was a member of the Wildrose Party Caucus at the time of the parking-lot incident, argued that the damage must have been done by the unknown driver of another, similar large red truck. And it's true that the witness, who saw her car being struck, didn't manage to get the truck's plate number at the time. She recognized her neighbour as the driver, though, which Fildebrandt argued must have been a case of mistaken identity because his face is well known.
Significantly, Traffic Court Commissioner Stewart Douglas concluded that Fildebrandt couldn't prove his assertion he was elsewhere at the time. Apparently none of the more than 20 Wildrose Caucus members who were at the meeting he said he was attending could recall if he was there, and there was no written record of participants.
To add to Fildebrandt's troubles, a week ago he was charged with illegally hunting on private land without permission. He is scheduled to appear Feb. 2, 2018, in Provincial Court in the town of Didsbury on that charge. As was observed in this space earlier, this will not stand him in good stead with many constituents of his rural riding east of Calgary.
Of course, Fildebrandt's supporters on social media are right when they observe this isn't a Criminal Code matter. Still, it's arguably a crime anyway -- the crime of having terrible political judgment, the only kind of political crime technically allowed in a democracy.
The punishment for that "crime," of course, will be meted out in the court of public opinion, not the courts of law.
Image: Derek Fildebrandt
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca
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