Strathmore-Brooks constituency stands by Fildebrandt


No matter where United Conservative Party Derek Fildebrandt ends up on the legislature floor come the fall session, his constituency association says it has his back.

The member for Strathmore-Brooks resigned from the UCP caucus Tuesday night after a series of controversies unravelled around him, including renting out his taxpayer-funded apartment on Airbnb, double-dipping on meals paid by the public purse, and facing a court date over a vehicle hit-and-run charge.  

Ronda Klemmensen, president of the legacy Strathmore-Brooks constituency association, said the board stands by its representative. 

Klemmensen blamed the media for the MLA’s departure from the UCP caucus, calling the multiple controversies surrounding the 31-year-old “distractions.”

“We believe in Derek Fildebrandt’s integrity and values, and we are greatly disappointed in the low-level, ridiculous mudslinging taking place through the media,” she said in an emailed statement.

“Derek’s decision to resign from caucus is the right decision at this time for his family, for Strathmore-Brooks constituency, and for Alberta.”

Fildebrandt took a swipe at the media in his resignation letter, saying stories were “distracting from the work that must be done as the UCP is founded.”

When the Journal revealed he was renting out his apartment on Airbnb, the MLA initially called the story a political “smear” over his criticism of former Wildrose leader Brian Jean.

It was more than 24 hours before Fildebrandt offered an apology and took leave from his post as the party’s finance critic, saying he recognized the perception of the Airbnb arrangement wasn’t good enough.

Fildebrandt has informed the Speaker of his resignation from the UCP caucus and intention to sit as an independent.

Details on his caucus office location aren’t yet finalized and questions remain about who will pay for his constituency office.

As an independent MLA, Fildebrandt is entitled to a pro-rated share of a $192,000 annual budget, comprised of the $78,907 all members receive and a $112,724 committee research allocation.

The physical location of Fildebrandt’s seat on the floor of the legislature will be sorted out closer to the assembly reconvening Oct. 30. In the past, independent MLAs have ended up behind where the Alberta and Liberal party MLAs currently sit.

Leadership race focus

Fildebrandt was one of the united conservative movement’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders.

He was even considering running for the leadership of the United Conservative Party and formed a political action committee called United Liberty to push for a “yes” vote and advance libertarian values in the new party.

In his resignation letter Tuesday night, Fildebrandt said the race for the UCP throne needs to focus on leadership and values, not on personalities, and the young party cannot afford to be distracted.

Leadership hopefuls have all weighed in. 

Late Tuesday night, in a statement emailed to the Journal, Jean thanked Fildebrandt for his contribution to unity and to his work as finance critic. 

“As United Conservatives, we must focus on building our party, and providing a united, compassionate, and principled alternative to the NDP,” Jean wrote.

On Wednesday, former Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney said he respects Fildebrandt’s “difficult decision to step out of the United Conservative caucus as he seeks to resolve various issues.”

Kenney, who burst onto the provincial political scene last year while holding the unity banner high, thanked Fildebrandt as an early voice for reuniting Alberta conservatives and wished him well in his continued role as Strathmore-Brooks MLA.

Leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer also thanked Fildebrandt for his contributions. By stepping down from caucus, he said, Fildebrandt “is showing that he appreciates his conduct was improper.”

“Elected officials need to uphold the highest standards,” Schweitzer said.

On Wednesday, former Wildrose president Jeff Callaway, also a leadership candidate, called Fildebrandt a friend.

“An apology is one thing, it’s about learning from it and earning trust back from Albertans,” Callaway said.

“I think that’s what (Fildebrandt) is going to do, and if I can help him with that, I will.”

Electronic expense system on the way

The Legislative Assembly Office, which oversees MLA reimbursements, is in the midst of upgrading to a new, electronic system.

The work was underway well before controversies surfaced around multiple MLAs — including Fildebrandt — double-claiming meals on the public dime.

Despite the change, MLAs will still be responsible for filing their claims correctly.

A history of independents in Alberta 

Resigning from a party caucus to sit as an independent is rare in Alberta, but not unheard of. According to legislature records, 27 MLAs have made that transition — however briefly — since 1905. 

Here they are in alphabetical order: 

Mike Allen: Left PC caucus July 16, 2013. Returned to the party July 7, 2014. 

Joe Anglin: Left Wildrose Nov. 2, 2014 and sat as an independent until May 4, 2015.

Daniel Backs: Left the Liberal caucus Nov. 20, 2006. Remained an independent MLA until March 2, 2008.

Andrew Beniuk: Left the Liberals to sit as an independent June 23, 1995. Joined the PC caucus May 23, 1996.

Albert Bourcier: Left the Social Credit caucus March 6, 1950. Remained an independent until Aug. 4, 1952. 

Guy Boutilier: Left the PC caucus July 17, 2009. Sat as an independent until joining Wildrose Oct. 25, 2010. 

Dan Bouvier: Left Social Credit to become an independent June 2, 1972. Rejoined the party Oct. 5, 1973.

William Chant: Left Social Credit Sept. 24, 1937. Remained an independent until leaving the legislature March 20, 1940. 

Deborah Drever: Left the NDP caucus May 26, 2015. Returned to the caucus Jan. 10, 2016. 

Kurt Gesell: Left the PC caucus May 3, 1993. Sat as an independent until June 14, 1993. 

James Hansen: Left Social Credit. Sat as an independent from Feb. 25, 1937 until March 20, 1940. 

James Henderson: Left Social Credit and sat as an independent from Sept. 14, 1973 to March 25, 1975. 

John Hugill: Left Social Credit Sept. 24, 1937. Remained an independent until March 20, 1940. 

Donna Kennedy-Glans: Left the PCs March 17, 2014. Returned exactly six months later. 

Paul Langevin: Left the Liberals April 5, 1994. Crossed to the PCs April 25, 1995. 

Thomas Milnes: Left United Farmers of Alberta April 11, 1924. Sat as an independent until Oct. 15, 1925.

Lyle Oberg: Left PC caucus March 23, 2006. Returned four months later. 

Pamela Paul: Left Liberals Nov. 15, 1999. Remained an independent until March 11, 2001.

Peter Sandhu: Left PCs May 15, 2013, returned to caucus Dec. 5 that year. 

Raj Sherman: Left PCs Nov. 22, 2010. Crossed to the Liberals Sept. 12, 2011. 

Thomas Sindlinger: Left PCs Oct. 16, 1980. Remained independent until Nov. 1, 1982. 

Lloyd Snelgrove: Left PCs Jan. 26, 2012. Remained independent until April 22, 2012.

David Taylor: Left the Liberals April 12, 2010. Crossed to the Alberta Party Jan 24, 2011.

Leonard Webber: Left PCs March 13, 2014. Remained independent until Sept. 28, 2014.

Arthur Wray: Left Social Credit Feb. 29, 1947. Remained independent until Aug. 4, 1952. 

Gene Zwozdesky: Left Liberals July 17, 1998. Crossed to PC caucus Aug. 13, 1998. 

egraney@postmedia.com

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