Derek Fildebrandt, the self-described "Alberta redneck" who now leads the minuscule Freedom Conservative Party, has a talent for getting up his opponents' noses.
This has served the university-educated Ottawa native extremely well in his tireless quest to earn himself a place in the headlines, and it worked for him again last week when he provoked his former Best Friend Forever, United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, into directing a remarkably intemperate blast his way.
"We are not going to be distracted from our focus on defeating the NDP by a political vehicle designed to gratify a discredited MLA's ego," huffed Kenney in a Facebook post.
"Derek Fildebrandt was caught cheating on his expenses, renting out a taxpayer-funded apartment, and was found guilty by courts of law of a hit and run, and poaching," Kenney went on -- inaccurately insofar as the now-Independent Strathmore-Brooks MLA was not found guilty of poaching, although the difference between that and being found illegally in possession of the carcass of a deer you just shot is, as they say in the legal profession, a nice distinction.
Kenney continued: "He was barred from running for the UCP because of this pattern of poor judgment and unethical conduct, and because he lied to the UCP leadership about outstanding legal charges. Most recently, he attacked the UCP for barring a prospective candidate for having said that an entire faith community is an 'evil cult' that should have been 'snuffed out.'
"We are not surprised to see Derek's latest political stunt, and expect more of the same from him," the Opposition leader concluded his peroration. "It is unfortunate to see this desperate effort to be relevant, but it will neither deter nor distract us …" yadda-yadda.
This was exactly the same Kenney, of course, who only a year ago tweeted of Fildebrandt: "Thank you for being an early leader in the unity movement … and a principled voice for more freedom and less government!"
That, of course, was before Fildebrandt's notions of "freedom" began to make trouble for Kenney -- as it seems to have done sooner or later for all of the interim FCP leader's employers since he turned up in Alberta as a Canadian Taxpayers Federation agitator half a dozen years ago. (It only seems longer.)
It's the same Kenney, too, who has engaged in dog-whistling to the Conservative base not really so different from Fildebrandt's cruder attacks on "political correctness."
Kenney's not-very-thoughtful response, of course, was exactly what Fildebrandt was hoping for, the clever lad.
The UCP leader really should have known better. After all, he too was once an agitator for the CTF, an Astroturf organization best known for its anti-tax stunts. Well, Kenney did say he wasn't surprised by Fildebrandt's antics.
Fildebrandt's effort certainly had the desired effect of ginning up an enormous amount of media coverage for the FCP, much more than it arguably deserves.
As an aside, this must be deeply frustrating to the leaders of the Alberta Party, which in former Edmonton Mayor and Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Stephen Mandel has a far more credible leader, and yet struggles to get on the province's political radar. Perhaps Mandel should invest in an Elmer Fudd cap and go hunting! But … je digresse.
In addition to how annoying they are to his opponents, Fildebrandt's shenanigans can be counted upon to be entertaining, which is why journalists love covering the guy.
Remember, Fildebrandt is the fellow who once called the Alberta NDP liars because they were keeping their election promises -- complete with head-bobbing support from the Conservative establishment. Whatever he gets up to, he's good for a front-page headline. So professional journalists really should be embarrassed to pretend they're shocked, just shocked, by his latest nonsense.
The risk is small -- though perhaps not infinitesimal -- that Mr. Fildebrandt could end up holding the balance of power in a hung legislature like B.C.'s Greens, or the Democratic Unionist Party in the Mother of Parliaments, as blogger Susan Wright warned Saturday.
Kenney's huffy dismissal, she reckons, is therefore "a serious mistake because tiny rump party with a handful of seats can lead the government around by the nose if the governing party fails to win a majority."
"It would be a mistake for Kenney to ignore Fildebrandt and the FCP," she concluded. "It would be an even greater mistake for progressive Albertans to pull back their support of the NDP because they think the FCP will split the conservative vote, allowing the NDP to win."
Regardless, with Fildebrandt's latest success, we can all rest assured we will hear plenty more from the founder of the Reagan-Goldwater student club at his hometown alma mater, Ottawa's Carleton University.
By the way, Fildebrandt objects to references to his hometown and status as a relatively new Albertan, now that he's taken to Alberta-splaining to the rest of us what it takes to be a real "Alberta patriot." He harrumphed at me recently about this on Twitter, complaining, "Nativist 'Birtherism' is a phenomenon of the left in Alberta."
No one's asking for Fildebrandt's birth certificate, of course, nor Kenney's. But I think he should embrace it …. And perhaps he will. After he's defeated, presumably by UCP deputy leader Leela Aheer in the 2019 general election, he can tear a page from the book of the defeated Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett and proclaim, "you may all go to hell and I will go to Texas."
Never mind how that turned out.
A note on the UCP's first anniversary
Sunday was the first anniversary of the existence of the United Conservative Party, a political party created in the image of Jason Kenney on the high political principle that you really can fool all of the people all of the time.
Back in the good old days, marginally less cynical than the present era, opponents of the Tory Dynasty used to say the Progressive Conservative Party existed only to be in power, but otherwise seemed to have no underlying philosophy or principles.
This always felt a bit like a rhetorical excess, and yet the swift demise of the PCs after 44 years in power when the Alberta NDP was unexpectedly elected on May 5, 2015, seems to suggest that it was actually quite close to the mark.
At any rate, I suppose we should wish the UPC a slightly belated happy birthday, although not necessarily many happy returns.
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