By Miriam Ostermann, Associate Editor
It’s been a year riddled with lessons, challenges, and highs and lows for Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who dealt with controversial and triumphant events in his personal life and political career, and personal matters turned political.
While the most notable moment in Fildebrandt’s private life presented itself with the birth of his daughter nine months ago, the 32-year-old became the topic of several controversies over the past six months. From double dipping accusations of subletting his taxpayer-paid-for apartment on Airbnb – money which he later donated to pay down provincial debt and a situation he said he discussed with various members of legislature beforehand – to double-claiming public purse-funded meals for a total of $192.60 over a span of two and a half years, to fighting a claim of a hit-and-run in traffic court and, finally, shooting a deer on private property.
Fildebrandt took full responsibility for claiming certain meals more than once and chalked it up to administrative errors.
“This has been a very challenging year, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons in the last six months,” said Fildebrandt. “A lot of it is a combination of being more careful and minding the simple stuff, and some of it is just a reminder of how nasty politics can be and that our personal lives are not kept personal in this business.”
The former Alberta Wildrose Party shadow finance critic played a key role in the unification of the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservative Party into the United Conservative Party (UCP) of Alberta, and supported newly-elected UCP leader Jason Kenney. Shortly after reports became public about the issues surrounding the subletting of his apartment, meal claims and hit-and-run – all of which happened over a span of a couple of weeks – Fildebrandt resigned from the UCP and took his seat as an Independent. Yet when he reflected on the past year, he recalled numerous trials and achievements.
Mainly, Fildebrandt focused on Wheatland County’s situation with Green For Life/Bio-Can, championing for a dialysis unit in Strathmore, and a noticeable increase in rural crime.
“I really want us to start moving forward on action on Bio-Can, we need to move beyond talk and we need to move to action now, and begin the drive to get a dialysis unit,” he said.
“There’s been a massive hike in rural crime. It’s a difficult issue admittedly for any government regardless of who’s in power, but it’s being ignored, and we need to do something about it.”
The MLA plans to hold town hall meetings in the new year to address rural crime.
Fildebrandt also advocated for the Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission to revisit the proposed boundaries that would separate Strathmore from Brooks, and divide Wheatland County into three electoral districts.
The Alberta politician added he is also concerned about an asymmetrical recovery, and that jobs aren’t paying salaries equivalent to pre-recession figures.
“I’m extremely grateful to be able to serve the constituents of Strathmore-Brooks, they’ve been good to me and I do my best to work hard for them,” he said. “I’m looking forward to a new year where we can roll up our sleeves and get the best results possible for our community and Alberta.”
Fildebrandt fined for hit-and-run
On Dec. 18, Fildebrandt was charged under the Alberta Traffic Safety Act with leaving the scene of an accident and failing to notify the owner of a damaged vehicle, and was fined $402.
Although he stands firm that he was not involved in the accident, a former neighbour of Fildebrandt’s said she saw his red pickup truck back into his neighbour’s van and scraping the grill of the vehicle on June 6, 2016, and then driving away without leaving a note.
Fildebrandt had previously stated he could produce witnesses that could confirm he was at a scheduled meeting at the legislature at 7:30 a.m. while in Edmonton.
Once back in court earlier last week, Fildebrandt was unable to produce any witnesses or evidence, such as recorded minutes, that he was not at the scene of the crime.
“I was issued an administrative traffic ticket, and I never would’ve conceived that fighting a traffic ticket in a traffic court, like many people do when you receive a speeding ticket, would become a political issue,” Fildebrandt said.
“The traffic commissioner said he was confident that I did not believe that it happened, I still don’t believe that it happened, but at the end of the day I have to accept that. I was given a $402 fine, below the minimum fine of $575, and no demerits, which I’ve paid. I just never conceived that a traffic ticket would have so much interest from the press. I was fighting a traffic ticket that became very political in nature once it became a story.”
Oh deer, MLA back in court
Two months ago, Fildebrandt, together with a friend, were on their way to crown leased land for a hunting expedition, when they stopped on private property – they said they believed it to be crown leased land – and shot a deer.
According to Fildebrandt, the owner of the property approached him, and upon finding out he was on private land, Fildebrandt apologized, took responsibility for his action, and donated the deer meat to the Sundre food bank.
“I actually did shoot that deer and it was a complete accident, and as soon as I realized it, I felt horrible about it and apologized to the owner,” he said. “I mistakenly thought it was crown land I was on, I did not do my due diligence in verifying that, it was nobody’s fault but my own. I immediately took responsibility with the Fish and Wildlife officer and it’s always been my intention to take responsibility for it, because even though it was a mistake, it’s a violation of the Fish and Wildlife Act and I take that seriously for others and for myself; accidentally or intentionally.”
The incident occurred on Nov. 4. Fildebrandt is charged with unlawful possession of wildlife and entering onto private land without permission from the landowner. He is due to appear in court on Feb. 2 in Didsbury.