A politician with Alberta’s United Conservative Party (UCP), who also serves as finance critic for the Official Opposition, came under fire Wednesday night after a report emerged that he had been advertising his Edmonton apartment, which is subsidized by taxpayers, on Airbnb.
The Edmonton Journal reported Derek Fildebrandt, the MLA for Strathmore-Brooks, had posted an online ad for his downtown Edmonton apartment, describing it as “newly renovated, modernly furnished and very well-kept.”
The Airbnb listing appeared to have been taken down late Wednesday night, however, an ad for an apartment posted by a user calling themselves “Derek” and whose photo resembles Fildebrandt, still appeared on the travel site alltherooms.com as of 10 p.m.
According to the Journal, eight Airbnb customers reviewed the apartment between January and March. Legislative expense documents reveal Fildebrandt claimed $7,720 in accommodation expenses between January 1 and March 31.
In a statement issued on Thursday morning, Fildebrandt said he confirmed that letting out his Edmonton home while it isn’t being used was “compliant with the rules.”
“When I want a ride in a city, I use Uber. When I want to communicate with constituents, I use Facebook and Twitter. When I have an empty house, I use AirBnB.”
“Everything has been open, public, and transparent,” he said. “Given that my use of the service has always been public knowledge and shared openly with my colleagues, I hope that my stance two days ago concerning the UCP Leadership race in no way influenced the timing of this story being released the following day.”
On Tuesday, Fildebrandt ended speculation about whether he would run for the leadership of the UCP, saying he would not do so in order “to focus on policy development and ensuring that our new United Conservative Party is founded on a strong foundation of fiscal conservatism, individual liberty and reasserting Alberta’s place of strength and leadership in Canada.”
Watch: Mount Royal University political analyst Duane Bratt joins Global Calgary to discuss MLA Derek Fildebrandt’s controversial choice to rent out his taxpayer subsidized home in Edmonton.
Fildebrandt said letting out an unused residence is “reasonable” and a “part of the modern sharing economy.”
“Letting out my Edmonton home earned $2,555 over 8 months, or an average of $319.38 a month, and so I’m happy to donate it in full to paying down the provincial debt.”
Mike Ellis, the UCP’s caucus deputy leader, issued a statement to Global News on the matter late Wednesday night.
“We are reviewing this matter carefully,” the statement reads. “While it has been explained to be an approved LAO (Legislative Assembly Office) activity, we take fiscal responsibility seriously.”
Legislative rules stipulate that MLAs from outside Alberta’s Capital Region can claim up to $23,160 a year towards accommodations.
Watch: Alberta Party leader Greg Clark responds to the Derek Fildebrandt AirBNB controversy.
Finance Minister Joe Ceci took to Twitter to respond to the Journal’s report.
“Yes, Derek, it’s the 21st century and reasonable people don’t Airbnb their tax-funded apartment for personal profit,” he tweeted.
“It’s not his property,” Mount Royal University Political Science Professor Duane Bratt said. “He is renting, and then he is re-renting. Even if he had deducted off of his housing allowance the rent that he had received by subletting it, it would’ve looked bad. By not doing that, it looks like he’s trying to profit off of an apartment that he doesn’t own — that is essentially being paid for by Alberta taxpayers — when he’s not there.
Before becoming a politician, Fildebrandt worked with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a not-for-profit that says it is “dedicated to lower taxes, less waste and accountable government.”