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Suspension of maverick MLA didn't amount to much, even before Wildrose leader's apparent flip-flop

Brian Jean & Derek Fildebrandt

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That was quick!

Not much more than 48 hours after Brian Jean announced in a terse news release that high-profile shadow cabinet member Derek Fildebrandt had been suspended from the Wildrose caucus, the Opposition leader appears to have caved in to pressure from the party's clamorous far right to readmit the often truculent Strathmore-Brooks MLA as quickly as possible.

Whether or not Fildebrandt agrees to the mild terms sought by his leader, if the intention of Jean and his advisors was to neutralize the Fildebrandt problem, the short-lived suspension seems to have had the opposite effect.

Moreover, it now appears the party never did the paperwork necessary to make the suspension official, so it is a moot point whether Fildebrandt was ever suspended at all!

The official reason for Fildebrandt's brief spell in the doghouse was an injudicious social media message that seems to have unintentionally implied the Wildrose finance critic endorsed a constituent's homophobic point of view.

There were, of course, other reasons, not least that Fildebrandt has been a loose cannon on deck throughout the past year, embarrassing Jean several times, culminating in his insulting performance in the legislature last Thursday during a visit by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. The party insists it approved his message, but regrets the timing. Still, it seemed at times as if he also had his eye on Jean's job as leader.

Officially, the Wildrose Party says there are conditions Fildebrandt must meet before he may return -- a gesture possibly designed to help the leader save face under embarrassing circumstances. Party officials won't say what the conditions are.

However, blogger Dave Cournoyer reported yesterday on his Daveberta.ca blog that a source within the party informed him there are five conditions Fildebrandt must agree to meet to be allowed to return to the caucus:

  1. He must accept a suspension until the end of the current session
  2. He will be "on probation" for three months, until Sept. 1, 2016
  3. He must commit to some form of "personal improvement"
  4. He must give no media interviews except to media within his own rural constituency
  5. When he returns, he will no longer hold the high-profile finance critic's portfolio

In fact, the government says, Wildrose Party officials never took the required step of formally informing the Speaker's Office Fildebrandt had been suspended from his caucus. As a result, the Assembly's web page continues to show Fildebrandt as a Wildrose MLA and the party's finance critic. At best, therefore, the "suspension" was purely symbolic.

Wildrose communications staff did not respond to my question about whether the Speaker had been informed, or to my request for confirmation Cournoyer's report of the list is accurate. However, the Daveberta.ca blogger has been reporting on Alberta politics for a decade, so it is said here readers can take his scoop to the bank.

A suspension until the end of the current session is not very meaningful. The session probably won't now end on Thursday because of the impact of the Fort McMurray fire, but it will only run another week or so after that until MLAs break for the summer. After that, sittings are scheduled to resume on Halloween, well after the end of Fildebrandt's "probation."

According to the Calgary Herald, meanwhile, the conditions included "professional development training and anger management courses." If that is so, it is interesting, since no one from the Wildrose Party has said anything publicly about Fildebrandt having problems managing his anger.

Judging from the tone of at least some comments on social media, Jean’s latest move does not seem to have placated the Wildrose Party's angriest fringe, which the claimed suspension of Fildebrandt had riled up considerably.

It remains to be seen if Fildebrandt will submit to this discipline even temporarily. At the moment the ball seems to be in his court.

Either way, it is hard to believe the leadership of Jean -- who had looked good through the Fort Mac fire, in which he lost his own home and several other houses he owns in the community -- has not been diminished by this brouhaha.

Whatever Fildebrandt now decides to do, it is easy to suspect he will be emboldened. Having reversed course on the suspension, it seems likely Jean's troubles with his turbulent MLA are far from over.

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

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