Alberta’s official Opposition finance critic Derek Fildebrandt will take a leave of absence from his duties effective immediately, according to a statement from the United Conservative Party MLA Thursday night.
It’s the first formal statement from the embattled Strathmore-Brooks MLA since the revelation broke that he was earning money by subletting his downtown Edmonton condominium while also claiming thousands of dollars in housing allowance.
“I believed that renting out my Edmonton home while I was away was above board and never costed the taxpayer anything extra,” Fildebrandt said in a statement provided by the United Conservative Party.
“I however recognize the perception that this is not good enough, and have spoken with my constituents, and they are never wrong. I apologize.”
Fildebrandt said he has paid back the $2,555 he earned from renting out his apartment over eight months “to the taxpayer.” A spokesperson for the UCP said Thursday Fildebrandt paid the money to the Legislative Assembly Office earlier in the day.
“I am scheduled to leave for a family vacation out of province tomorrow and will be taking a leave of absence from my finance duties effective today,” Fildebrandt said.
“The UCP believes in fiscal accountability and protecting taxpayers.”
The statement was immediately followed by a statement from United Conservative Party Interim Leader Nathan Cooper, who reiterated Fildebrandt’s apology and confirmed his departure.
“Derek has apologized for renting his Edmonton home out and has given the proceeds to the taxpayer,” Cooper said.
“Effective today he is taking a leave of absence from his co-critic finance role.”
Both news releases said there would be no further comment.
Fildebrandt questions timing of story
Earlier in the day, Fildebrandt had noted the information was leaked to the media the day after he said he would not be voting for former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, who is now campaigning for the leadership of the UCP.
“I hope that my stance two days ago concerning the UCP leadership race in no way influenced the timing of this story.”
Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark said he has asked the Speaker of the legislature to review Fildebrandt’s sub-rental of the apartment and wants a full review of living expenses claimed by all members of the assembly.
Clark said subletting an apartment being paid for by taxpayers is not right even if the current rules allow it.
“The spirit of the law should be that no MLA benefits personally from tax dollars — it is fundamentally wrong what he has done here,” Clark said in front of the legislature.
“It’s deeply hypocritical for someone who’s been such a fierce critic of government waste to take advantage of a loophole for personal benefit.”
No rules were broken, according to Speaker
Alex McCuaig, spokesman for the Speaker’s office, said Clark’s request is being reviewed. Under the current rules, McCuaig said no regulations forbid what Fildebrandt had done.
“The issue of subletting a temporary residence on Airbnb, or subletting in general, is not addressed in the orders established by the member services committee,” he said.
“We are not aware of any other MLAs who are currently subletting their temporary residence.”
NDP Finance Minister Joe Ceci, who has been the target of years of criticism from Fildebrandt over Alberta’s budget deficits and growing accumulated debt, took to social media to chide Fildebrandt.
“Yes, Derek, it’s the 21st century and reasonable people don’t Airbnb their tax-funded apartment for personal profit,” Ceci wrote in a post on Twitter.
A spokeswoman for the government caucus said no NDP MLAs are subletting taxpayer subsidized apartments.
The United Liberty website says Fildebrandt once served as the Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and led the fight against former Alberta premier Alison Redford government’s deficit budgets and abuse of taxpayers’ money.
Colin Craig, interim director of the federation in Alberta, said what Fildebrandt did was wrong, even if the rules technically allowed it. Craig said the federation has been lobbying for stricter regulations regarding MLA expenses for more than five years.
Politicians should be reimbursed for legitimate expenses, but should never profit on the backs of taxpayers, he said.
“It is wrong. MLAs shouldn’t be taking funds and using them to profit privately off of them,” he said. “Whether it is Derek or any other MLA in the legislature, that is our position.”