August 10, 2017 2:55 pm

What are the rules surrounding Alberta politicians’ living allowances?

The Alberta Legislature on July 26, 2017.

Emily Mertz, Global News
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The controversy surrounding MLA Derek Fildebrandt and his admission of renting out his taxpayer-subsidized apartment has thrust the rules of MLA living allowances into the spotlight.

READ MORE: Derek Fildebrandt advertised taxpayer-subsidized apartment on Airbnb: ‘when I have an empty house, I use AirBnB’

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So what can members of the Alberta’s legislative assembly claim when it comes to accommodation?

The rules are spelled out here in this Member’s Services Order that breaks down salaries, expense items, allowances and travel.

READ MORE: Derek Fildebrandt Airbnb scandal reaction: Greg Clark says Albertans are ‘right to be upset’ 

The order for living allowances says a member from outside the Edmonton area who qualifies under section 5.1 of the order can claim up to a maximum of “$23,160 in a fiscal year” for their housing.

MLAs may also claim an allowance for accommodation in a “temporary residence” (hotel) in or near Edmonton for $193 per day while the assembly is sitting or while in or near the Capital Region while on public or official MLA business.

While Fildebrandt maintains he did nothing illegal, others don’t see it that way.

“It’s not his property,” said Duane Bratt, a professor of political science at Mount Royal University.

“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. It defeats the whole purpose of a housing allowance.”

Watch below: Political analyst Duane Bratt on Derek Fildebrandt’s home rental controversy

Earlier Thursday, Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark wrote a letter to the Speaker of the Assembly, asking for an audit of all MLA living expenses.

“There is no question he broke the rules,” Clark said.

“You ask any accountant, you ask anyone: actual costs are expenditures less revenue. If he got revenue for renting it out, then his actual costs are lower. It sure sounds like he has double-dipped.”

“I can assure you if the NDP had done this, Derek Fildebrandt – finance critic – would have set his hair on fire.”

Watch below: Greg Clark responds to Derek Fildebrandt AirBNB controversy

In a statement, 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.

READ MORE: Alberta MLA Derek Fildebrandt will not join leadership race for new United Conservative Party

“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.”

Bratt thinks having a housing allowance is a good idea.

“Otherwise you’re just going to have people from the greater Edmonton area — and coming from Strathmore, Brooks, that’s a long hike — and you need a place to stay up there. The government should provide it but that doesn’t mean that you expense the cost of your apartment and then sublet it, even if it’s only 300 bucks a month that you’re making.”

“There’s no rule on subletting,” Bratt added. “If that’s the strength of your argument, that’s pretty weak.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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