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Elevation of Devin Dreeshen to role of UCP Boy Wonder must be a bitter pill for Derek Fildebrandt

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Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt listens to other bearded men in happier times (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

What a bitter pill the elevation of Devin Dreeshen to the role of Boy Wonder of the United Conservative Party must be to Derek Fildebrandt!

The Independent MLA for Strathmore-Brooks, after all, used to be the Boy Wonder of the UCP himself.

Unless Fildebrandt can pull off a truly spectacular turnaround, he will soon be an all-but forgotten footnote to Alberta politics, remembered only for a remarkable series of cock-ups that ended with UCP Leader Jason Kenney publicly humiliating him and banishing him forever from the Opposition caucus for the political sin of not telling his leader about a potential embarrassment that was about to become public.

That happened in early February immediately after Fildebrandt, 32, pleaded guilty to charges related to hunting on private property near the town of Sundre in November 2017.

Already having stepped aside from caucus voluntarily for such other embarrassments as getting caught renting his government-subsidized condo on Airbnb and being found guilty of leaving the scene of a minor accident, Fildebrandt might have been forgiven and readmitted as he obviously hoped.

After all, not long before he had been considered a potential candidate to lead the UCP and certainly credible cabinet material for some future conservative government.

But after an hour-long grilling by Kenney and UCP House Leader Jason Nixon on Nov. 29, "at no point during that meeting did Mr. Fildebrandt disclose that just 25 days prior he had been charged with the offence which led to his court hearing today," Kenney said in a statement to media on Feb. 2.

"I can only conclude that Mr. Fildebrandt deliberately misled us in refusing to disclose this outstanding charge," Kenney said. "I have therefore decided that Mr. Flidebrandt will not be permitted to return to our caucus, a decision supported by our caucus following consultations earlier today."

So what happened with Dreeshen, elected Thursday in a byelection for the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Riding that was left vacant when UCP and former Wildrose MLA Don McIntyre resigned after facing serious criminal charges?

During the byelection campaign, Dreeshen, 30, certainly covered up his eight-month role in 2016 campaigning for U.S. President Donald Trump, which is now being touted by Kenney as somehow being an advantage to Albertans.

But did he fail to disclose it to Kenney? If so, that must be doubly galling to Fildebrandt, since it would suggest not all cover-ups are created equal in the eyes of the UCP leader!

Or did Dreeshen fess up to Kenney about his adventures in U.S. politics -- he had written about them some time ago in the public prints, after all -- and, if so, did Kenney approve, or at least think it was no big deal?

In that case, it does suggest that to Kenney, shooting a deer on a farmer's property when you honestly thought you were on Crown land, as appears to have happened in Fildebrandt's case, is a far more serious matter than merely campaigning for a U.S. president who makes an enemy of Canada and separates innocent children from their parents!

Or maybe the hunting charges were merely a convenient excuse to sideline an ambitious potential future challenger to Kenney in a provincial game of thrones, while Dreeshen is considered sufficiently unthreatening to the Maximum Leader.

Even Prab Gill, the UCP MLA just pushed out of the UCP caucus, was allowed to resign with a little dignity, unlike Fildebrandt.

Fildebrandt is not a particularly sympathetic character, but in these circumstances, it's hard not to feel a little empathy for the fellow just the same!

It would be worth it for any ambitious young person in politics to remember that history shows the position of young pretender, to a throne or any other seat of leadership, comes with serious risks.

Fildebrandt can take comfort from the fact that, thanks to the work of generations of courageous "snowflakes" and "social justice warriors," victims of such purges nowadays are no longer clapped in irons, fed bread and water, or worse, but merely consigned to a future of bitter tweeting and underemployment.

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

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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