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Derek Fildebrandt, embroiled in embarrassing revelations, quits UCP caucus

Derek Fildebrandt and his red Ford

Self described "liberty conservative" Derek Fildebrandt, United Conservative Party finance critic and MLA for the Strathmore-Brooks Riding east of Calgary, fell on his sword last night -- or was pushed onto it.

The would-be gig economy entrepreneur caught renting his taxpayer-subsidized Edmonton condo through Airbnb, pocketing the cash and submitting full expense claims to the Legislature, announced he'd resigned from the United Conservative Party Caucus around 9 p.m. after additional embarrassing revelations surfaced on Monday and yesterday.

On Monday, it was revealed he’d submitted both MLA meal expenses and separate daily flat-rate payments for meals for the same date on several occasions.

Yesterday, the CBC reported he was charged in 2016 with hit and run for ramming his large Ford pickup truck into another vehicle in the parking lot of his controversial condo, then driving off, leaving a couple thousand dollars' damage in his wake but no hint of who did it.

That was three strikes, and yesterday evening he called himself out.

The UCP, formed less than a month ago, "cannot afford to be distracted from the formative period that it is in right now as we come together as conservatives," Fildebrandt wrote in a Facebook post. He has resigned from the UCP Caucus and will sit in the Legislature as an Independent.

"I have made honest mistakes -- always doing what I believed was best at the time -- and I accept responsibility, and am truly sorry," Fildebrandt wrote. Seemingly channeling the late Ralph Klein, he went on: "I'm a flawed man, and I can do better. If I have let anyone down, know that I have let myself down, and I will prove that that I am the man that I hold as the standard for trust and integrity."

Fildebrandt, 31, founder of the "Reagan-Goldwater Society" at his Ottawa alma mater, was never really what you'd call a nice guy, exactly.

But the Ottawa native's often mean-spirited shenanigans in support of fiscal austerity -- learned at the feet of the stunt masters of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation where, like would-be United Conservative leader Jason Kenney he was once employed as an anti-tax propagandist -- were always entertaining to watch, perversely, even when it was your side he was scorching.

He was the sort of sharp-tongued, hard-hearted young conservative who acted like he felt selfishness is a virtue and nice guys finish last while he excoriated "union bosses," public employees, "special interests" and Progressive Conservative premiers judged in his CTF days to be insufficiently inclined to implement harsh austerity policies.

In 2015, when just-elected NDP MLA Deborah Drever was implicated in an immature social media post using homophobic language, Fildebrandt was unrelenting, demanding recall legislation and saying her youth -- she was 26 at the time -- was no excuse. After sitting as an Independent for about seven months, Drever was welcomed back to the NDP's Government Caucus in January 2016.

When some of the newly minted "United Conservatives" quickly turned on one another, Fildebrandt was in the thick of the flashing blades.

Former Wildrose leader Brian Jean -- who in May 2016 tried to fire Fildebrandt as caucus finance critic for embarrassing the former Opposition party on social media by endorsing an attack on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne that used homophobic language -- was subjected to his young rival's wrath two weeks ago.

"I've had two-and-a-half years to work with him and seen his leadership up close and I've got more than enough experience to make a very confident decision that he is not the best man to lead the party and lead Alberta," said Fildebrandt, in an apparent effort to sandbag Jean's campaign to lead the United Conservatives.

It wasn't long before the revelations about Fildebrandt’s conduct began showing up in local media -- although the Airbnb revelation had been reported by Ottawa's Frank Magazine in mid-July.

If any of this information originated with Jean, as political watchers are bound to surmise, it's a bit of a surprise. Based on past conduct, we know former PC Leader Jason Kenney and his social conservative minions will happily slice up a political foe, metaphorically speaking. (Consider the fates of Sandra Jansen and Stephen Khan, for example.) But Jean? A lot of us didn't think he had it in him!

But whoever pitched the stories, they have now achieved what Jean couldn't back in May 2016.

When the first strike whizzed past the ambitious MLA in the form of l'affaire Airbnb, Fildebrandt immediately dismissed it as a "smear," then issued a not-very-convincing apology and swiftly decamped from Alberta on "vacation," leaving no forwarding address or cell phone number -- a recently used Jason Kenney maneuver.

"I believed that renting out my Edmonton home while I was away was above board and never costed the taxpayer anything extra," his statement, published by the party, said. "I however recognize the perception that this is not good enough, and have spoken with my constituents, and they are never wrong. I apologize."

When the second hardball buzzed by in the case of the double-dipped expense claims, Fildebrandt swiftly issued another unconvincing apology -- this time taking full responsibility and, in the next sentence, blaming his staff for an "administrative error."

The source of the double-dipping data was Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark, who called for an investigation into all MLAs' expenses, although the documents are public and some of them have been circulating in journalistic circles for a few days. To Clark's credit, though, he appears to have been the first to actually get around to crunching the numbers.

When yesterday's third strike blew past home plate, it was revealed that Fildebrandt, who seems to have always regarded himself as the smartest person in the room, had chosen to represent himself in court, arguing in his own defence that the other car's owner can't prove it was him that hit her vehicle. Having a fool for a client, as they say, is unsurprisingly not working out very well for him, as the story illustrates.

Needless to say, the suggestion that there’s a new generation of Tory arrogance and entitlement implicit in Fildebrandt’s recent activities is not the message the three-week-old UCP wants the public to absorb. It is trying to establish the narrative it's a principled and steady alternative to the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley, which is not exactly suffering as a result of Fildebrandt's self-inflicted wounds.

So it was probably inevitable Fildebrandt would become the first high-profile casualty of the UCP Civil War.

But getting the derailed UCP narrative back on track may not be the only reason for the unease in caucus ranks. What if the real issue among the United Conservatives is the thought of what might happen if Clark persuades the government to proceed with a thorough audit of MLA expenses?

Does anyone seriously think Fildebrandt is the only UCP MLA to have made an "administrative error" in his expense accounts?

And what if an audit revealed a UCP MLA or two -- or more -- used their constituency expense funds to help finance the successful effort to unite the Wildrose Party and the PCs?

There's reason enough right there to push the overconfident and impetuous Fildebrandt out of caucus and try to change the channel as quickly as possible on the not atypical attitudes he revealed.

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

Image: Facebook

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