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Fildebrandt takes leave of absence from finance critic role after AirBNB rentals surface
CTV Calgary Staff
Published Thursday, August 10, 2017 6:20AM MDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 10, 2017 9:33PM MDT
Critics say that Brooks-Strathmore MLA Derek Fildebrandt broke the rules when he listed his Edmonton apartment, paid for by taxpayers, on the popular rental website Airbnb.
Fildebrandt has admitted that he rented out his apartment online while he claimed a housing allowance on the same property.
MLAs from outside the capital region are allowed to expense over $23,000 per year on accommodations while in Edmonton.
Fildebrandt is standing by his decision to list the property, calling it a waste to leave the apartment empty for half a year while not in Edmonton.
On Thursday morning, he also released the following statement in defence of his actions:
When I want a ride in a city, I use Uber. When I want to communicate with constituents, I use Facebook and Twitter. When I have an empty house, I use AirBnB.
I confirmed that letting out my Edmonton home while it is not being used is compliant with the rules. Everything has been open, public, and transparent. Given that my use of the service has always been public knowledge and shared openly with my colleagues, I hope that my stance two days ago concerning the UCP Leadership race in no way influenced the timing of this story being released the following day.
Letting out an unused residence is reasonable and a part of the modern sharing economy.
I'm not interested in letting the politics of smear distract from the real issues.
Letting out my Edmonton home earned $2,555 over 8 months, or an average of $319.38 a month, and so I'm happy to donate it in full to paying down the provincial debt.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the agency that Fildebrandt worked with before turning to politics, is now calling for a wider review of MLA expenses.
Colin Craig, interim Alberta Director of the CTF, says Fildebrandt's actions were wrong.
"When MLAs are given these funds they're not meant to be used in turn to profit from it. When they are given these funds, they are meant to cover off the cost of living."
Craig said the CTF actually identified the issue with MLA expense back in 2012, but nothing has been done about it since then. He added that the Airbnb is a new part of the same old story, but MLAs had a history of using their living allowances to purchase entire homes.
"When they go on to retire in 15, 20 years then sell those homes, they end up pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars. We think that those laws overall need a review and need to be tightened up."
It's not just the living expenses that need a review, Craig said. "It's also how they expensive their mileage, their gas receipts, they can expense it when they get their cars detailed. There are things that can be cleaned up when it comes to things MLAs are able to afford."
Craig said he didn't know why Fildebrandt used the living expenses in such a way, especially because he served as director of the CTF when the expense issue was first discovered.
He says that it won't be the government who decides the consequences for Fildebrandt's actions.
"Ultimately, his constituents are going to decide if he's addressed the situation well enough. For us, it's not just that the funds are returned; we need to see a change to the rules overall so that it's a fair system."
Lori Williams, a politicial scientist with Mount Royal University in Calgary, said it is surprising to hear Fildebrandt at the centre of such a controversy.
"The problem is his entire public life he has been advocating for responsible expenditure of taxpayer money; spending less and spending it ethically and wisely. This isn't ethical. It may not be illegal, but to essentially double-dip, to make a profit off of taxpayer dollars, goes against his entire history."
She says that when MLAs claim expenses when no expenditures were actually incurred, they are getting more than the cost of accomodations. "You're getting money from the government and you're getting money from whoever the renters are."
Williams says the situation doesn't fall in line with responsible use of taxpayers' money.
"It's not an excuse he would have ever accepted as CTF chief or as finance critic. I think hypocrisy is a real problem for him."
She adds that this issue will mean far reaching consequences for the political groups in Alberta that will all have to look closely at their own expenses and determine if others have made similar arrangements.
As for Fildebrandt himself, Williams says his position as finance critic could be in jeopardy.
"It's a good thing he decided against going for leadership of the party because this would have tanked it."
On Thursday evening, interim UCP leader Nathan Cooper announced Fildebrandt would be taking a leave of absence from his role as co-finance critic. "The UCP believes in fiscal accountability and protecting taxpayers," said Cooper in a statement.