By Miriam Ostermann, Associate Editor
Three strikes and you’re out.
That’s the message the United Conservative Party (UCP) is sending Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt after the Independent remained optimistic the party would welcome him back in the fold.
The party released a statement last week stating that Fildebrandt failed to mention an administrative non-criminal charge during an hour-long meeting with UCP House Leader Jason Nixon and UCP Leader Jason Kenney on Nov. 29, 2017. He was subsequently fined $3,000 for the charge on Feb. 2 that led to the party’s decision to reject the Strathmore-Brooks representative’s application to rejoin the caucus. Yet, Fildebrandt claimed he was blindsided during the November meeting where moments before he was asked about disclosing any outstanding matters he allegedly was told his gender would pose a problem in participating in the next election.
“I was told that because of the low number of women in the caucus I’m not allowed to run in that particular constituency and if I wanted to return to the caucus I would have to agree to run in a different constituency,” said Fildebrandt.
“I was naturally very upset about being told that I’m not allowed to run in my own constituency where I’ve been elected by my members, my constituents, and that I wouldn’t even have the chance to run in it if I wanted to return to caucus.
“The UCP genuinely has to make a conservative effort to reach out and have female candidates in the next election. A lot needs to be done to recruit new woman, and the unfortunate gerrymandering that put Strathmore and Chestermere together obviously meant conflict. I was told on no uncertain terms that because I am not a woman that the woman gets preference and that I would not be allowed to return unless I agreed to run in a different constituency.”
The Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission’s final report showed a proposed boundary of Chestermere-Strathmore. The current MLA in Chestermere is UCP member Leela Aheer.
Fildebrandt stepped down from the UCP last summer, following a number of controversies and legal battles, yet he remained hopeful to rejoin the UCP – a party he championed for during last year’s merger of the former Alberta Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservatives.
According to Fildebrandt he intended on disclosing the illegal deer kill charge to Kenney – which occurred 25 days before the November meeting – but was unable to do so before the incident made the news at the end of last year.
“It is virtually without precedent that an administrative non-criminal charge, however serious I take it, would be leaked without due process to the media, and that happened before I could speak to Jason,” he said. “I’ve been extremely supportive of Jason and I’ve done everything I possibly could to help unite these parties, but hey if you’re going to throw somebody under the bus, you may as well back the bus over them and get as much political mileage out of it as you can I guess.”
Last Friday, Fildebrandt was charged with unlawful possession of wildlife and entering private land without permission, both provincial offences.
Fildebrandt previously said he was unaware he had shot and killed a deer on private land near Sundre, Alta. on Nov. 4, apologized immediately and took full responsibility. He pleaded guilty to the first charge while the Crown withdrew the second charge. Fildebrandt is required to pay a $1,000 fine and $2,000 restitution for the offence.
The former UCP finance co-critic made headlines previously at the end of last summer when he sublet his taxpayer-subsidized apartment on Airbnb and claimed food expenses while also claiming the per diem – an allowance per day – nine times for a total of $192.60 over a two-and-a-half year period.
Following that, the Independent was found guilty of a hit-and-run in June of 2016, and was fined $402 in December. The MLA was found to have backed into a neighbour’s vehicle with his pickup truck and left the scene without leaving a note.
The series of controversies resulted in the MLA’s resignation from the UCP in August.
According to Kenney, any prospective nominee that is found to be deliberately misleading the party about outstanding legal or ethical issues will be disqualified from seeking a nomination. He therefore stated that Fildebrandt will not be permitted to see a United Conservative Party nomination.
“I and other members of our caucus made it clear to Mr. Fildebrandt that he would need the support caucus to be re-admitted as a member, and that such support was highly unlikely if it was his intention to challenge an incumbent caucus member,” said Kenney on Feb. 7.
“I also pointed out that it would be peculiar for someone living in the west side of Calgary to challenge our deputy leader, who has lived in the new Chestermere-Strathmore riding for 25 years.
“Having said that we made it clear that if Derek wanted to seek re-admission without making an undertaking not to challenge a colleague, that he could do so, as long as there were no outstanding ethical or legal issues that could bring embarrassment to him or the party.”
Kenney said Fildebrandt was interviewed for nearly an hour to determine whether there were any outstanding problems, and added Fildebrandt denied any outstanding legal or ethical issues.
“He clearly misled us about these charges,” said Kenney. “As a result, I was forced to conclude that we could not believe his assurance about yet more possible ethical or legal problems … this dishonesty, on top of his pattern of bad judgment, is ultimately why Mr. Fildebrandt will not be re-admitted to our caucus.”
According to the UCP, a prescreening process will be in place for prospective nomination candidates, which will include an interview and questionnaire.
While Fildebrandt remains undecided of running for the Strathmore-Brooks in the next election, he was adamant about where his loyalties lie.
“Party elites might have given themselves the power to state that I’m not allowed to run as a candidate in my own constituency or any other without being given that power by the members first,” Fildebrandt said. “But I’m still going to represent the people of Strathmore-Brooks the best that I can. They elected me to do a job, and as much as I’ve cared about uniting these parties and have done everything I can for them, I don’t serve a party, I serve my constituents and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”