Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt dropped a political bombshell Tuesday night by issuing a news release saying he is stepping down from the United Conservative Party caucus.
“Right now, media controversy is distracting from the work that must be done as the UCP is founded,” the statement reads. “The UCP leadership race should be focused on issues of leadership and values, and not on personalities.”
The development comes less than a week after news surfaced Fildebrandt had been renting out his taxpayer-subsidized apartment in Edmonton on Airbnb. Fildebrandt reacted by saying his actions were “compliant with the rules” but that he would donate money towards paying for Alberta’s debt.
On Monday, Global News reported records suggested Fildebrandt also claimed reimbursement for both restaurant expenses and a daily meal allowance – or per diem – for the same meals on multiple occasions. The MLA described the discrepancies as errors but said he takes full responsibility for everything that happens in his office.
Watch below: On Aug. 14, 2017, Kim Smith filed this report about Alberta MLA Derek Fildebrandt coming under fire for allegedly making questionable meal expense claims.
“I have made honest mistakes – always doing what I believed was best at the time – and I accept responsibility, and am truly sorry,” Fildebrandt said Tuesday night.
On Tuesday, it came to light Fildebrandt was expected to appear in court next month on an unrelated matter – the MLA has been charged with failing to report an accident in connection with an incident alleged to have occurred in Edmonton. The charge is not of a criminal nature and falls under Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act.
“We’re now dealing with not one, not two, not three, but four incidents involving Derek Fildebrandt,” Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt said.
Watch below: He was once seen as a potential future leader of the United Conservative Party but now that a number of question have arisen about his expense claims, Derek Fildebrandt is no longer with the UCP. On Aug. 16, 2017, Tom Vernon took a closer look at what happened.
WATCH: Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt joins Global Calgary to discuss the resignation of UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt.
UCP interim leader Nathan Cooper issued a statement Tuesday night suggesting Fildebrandt had been asked to resign from caucus but that a return shouldn’t be ruled out.
“If Derek can live up to the expectations he has outlined in his statement, to the satisfaction of the UCP caucus and to Albertans there would be consideration for a future path for him back to the UCP caucus.”
Lori Williams, associate professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University, said she believes the Fildebrandt’s expense scandal posed a threat to the young UCP party.
“My guess is that both he and the party were keenly aware of the fact that a party that is supposed to be about renewal, about upholding the values of conservatism, will have a problem if the entitlement of the former Progressive Conservative governments are so obviously a part of their caucus.”
While Fildebrandt is stepping down from the UCP caucus, he said he intends to continue serving as an MLA for Strathmore-Brooks.
“My family and my constituents are the most important things to me, and I want to do them proud,” he said. “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 I am the man that I hold as the standard for trust and integrity.”
On Wednesday, the Strathmore-Brooks Legacy Wildrose Constituency Association released a statement saying they stand behind Fildebrandt.
“We understand and support Derek’s decision to resign from the UCP caucus, enabling the continuation of the Unity process, without the distractions of the negative press relentlessly being directed towards him,” the association said. “We believe in Derek Fildebrandt’s integrity and values, and we are greatly disappointed in the low-level, ridiculous mud-slinging taking place through the media, and the people behind this are ultimately hurting our province.”
“Derek’s decision to resign from caucus is the right decision at this time for his family, for Strathmore-Brooks constituency, and for Alberta.”
On Wednesday, Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman suggested Fildebrandt’s apology was too little too late.
“It took until there was many days of negative coverage and there was clearly political ramifications before anyone would step up and say that it was wrong and take some ownership,” she said.
“I think this demonstrates that UCP, Wildrose, PC – it’s just the same values by a different name and only when they really felt the political heat did they take any responsibility.”
Hoffman said she was also open to a call from Greg Clark – leader of the Alberta Party – for more scrutiny of MLA expense claims.
“This is something that the Members’ Services Committee will be looking at and they govern all of the expenses and other behaviours but certainly I wouldn’t resist to there being further oversight.”
Fildebrandt had been serving as the finance critic for the now essentially defunct Wildrose Party. Last month, Wildrose members voted to merge with the Progressive Conservatives to form the UCP.
A contest to determine who will lead the new party is currently underway between candidates Jeff Callaway, Doug Schweitzer, Jason Kenney and Brian Jean.
Before entering politics, Fildebrandt worked for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. As an MLA, he has developed a reputation for speaking out on issues of fiscal prudence and accountability.
“Since he’s the finance critic, former head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, someone who has a reputation for going against others for not being good stewards of taxpayer dollars – I just think it was untenable for such a person to be a member of a party that’s trying to make a new start,” Williams said.
“The reason he became a high-profile target is because of his previous life with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, where he would be outraged by any one of these incidents – let alone all of them,” Bratt added.
“He built up his entire political brand on being careful with taxpayers’ money and focusing on politicians who abused that. The fact that you have now been caught multiple times with your hand in the cookie jar – I don’t know how you recover from that.”
“The rules and the ethics I think are two different things and I think if I left here tonight and I was driving my government-paid vehicle as an Uber service, you would know that that was wrong and so would I,” Hoffman said.
Fildebrandt’s resignation is not the first time his actions have seen him be removed from his party’s caucus. Last year, the MLA was suspended from the Wildrose caucus over a comment he made on social media in response to someone who appeared to mock the sexual orientation of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is openly gay. Fildebrandt later apologized and said he misread the poster’s comment and that it was “100 per cent against my views.”
To read Fildebrandt’s statement in its entirety, click here.
– With files from Melissa Gilligan