Fildebrandt under fire for leasing subsidized apartment on Airbnb
The UCP MLA says letting the Edmonton residence doesn't break any rules, but a policy expert says the move looks hypocritical
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A United Conservative Party (UCP) MLA who rented his taxpayer-subsidized apartment on Airbnb may have destroyed his chances of landing a senior role within the newly-formed party, according to a Mount Royal University (MRU) policy expert.
Derek Fildebrandt, opposition finance critic and former national research director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), said Thursday he let the government-funded residence in downtown Edmonton during a period of eight months, earning a total of $2,555 – an average of $319.38 a month.
He claimed the maximum living allowance each month during that time.
The Strathmore-Brooks MLA said he checked the practice is ‘compliant’ with the rules of the legislative assembly office (LAO) and defended his actions, saying they were open and transparent.
“I’m not interested in letting the politics of smear distract from the real issues,” Fildebrandt said, adding he will donate the full amount incurred towards provincial debt.
The matter is under review, according to deputy leader of the recently-formed UCP Mike Ellis.
"While it has been explained to be an approved LAO activity, we take fiscal responsibility seriously,” Ellis, MLA for Calgary-West, told Metro in a statement.
Lori Williams, associate professor of policy studies at MRU, said it’s likely Fildebrandt will be in a much more diminished role within the UCP caucus.
“It would call into question the seriousness to which his party takes spending taxpayer dollars,” Williams said. “The last thing (the UCP wants) is to be seen that they are perpetuating the kind of entitlement and secrecy that was associated with the Progressive Conservative government.”
She said the optics are particularly bad because Fildebrandt’s public life has been devoted to touting the responsible and ethical use of taxpayer dollars.
He was hired as the CTF’s national research director in 2009 and became the Alberta director before running for a seat in the legislature with the Wildrose Party in 2015.
“This goes against his brand, against his public image, and it looks very hypocritical,” Williams said. “It looks like he is benefiting from taxpayer dollars … in a way that, while technically running afoul of the rules, is certainly questionable ethically.”
Colin Craig, interim Alberta director of the CTF, said the legislature needs to conduct a full review of MLA expense rules.
“We actually identified this problem back in 2012,” Craig said. “There doesn’t seem to be any rules to prevent this – that doesn’t mean that MLAs should do it – but it’s certainly a gap that we’ve identified previously and unfortunately the legislature hasn’t done anything to address this problem.”
MLA’s outside Alberta’s Capital Region are allowed to claim up to $23,160 a year towards accommodations. In 2016, Fildebrandt claimed the maximum amount, according to legislative documents.
Alberta Party leader Greg Clark immediately called on Fildebrandt to produce all records associated with renting the apartment and asked the Speaker to audit living expenses of all MLA’s.
NDP Finance Minister Joe Ceci told reporters the Strathmore-Brooks MLA owes Albertans an apology and said a decision to review MLA expense rules would have to be made by the LAO.