It was snowing in Didsbury on Groundhog Day 2018, when Derek Fildebrandt, former United Conservative Party leadership wannabe and self-described "Liberty Conservative," was dispatched into deepest political darkness.
Fildebrandt, elected as a Wildrose Party MLA in the Strathmore-Brooks constituency in 2015 but lately lingering in limbo as a much-diminished Independent for his multitude of political sins, had hoped to be readmitted to the UCP Caucus in the Alberta Legislature by his old friend Opposition Leader Jason Kenney. This outcome had been expected in many political quarters, including this one -- mea culpa.
Alas, instead of seeing the end of his period in political purgatory Friday, Fildebrandt was cast into eternal exile by Kenney.
Several of the Ottawa native's political sins were of the deadly variety, but two turned out to be unpardonable:
The first such was being caught in unlawful possession of wildlife -- to wit, a deer shot on a famer’s private property in rural Alberta. To this Fildebrandt pleaded guilty in Didsbury Provincial Court Friday. He was thereupon fined $3,000.
A plea deal had been worked out -- the sort of thing conservative politicians normally decry -- and another charge of illegally hunting on private property was dropped.
Given the date, the weather and the location, Fildebrandt is likely forever after to be associated with groundhogs, and the sobriquet "Didsbury Derek" therefore suggests itself as appropriate.
Perhaps the town north of Calgary can recruit a suitable candidate from the species Marmota monax for the role. If the rodent appears in town on Feb. 2, another full year of winter will be forecast for the province's "Liberty Conservatives."
Conservative political parties in Alberta depend on their reliable rural base, and if there’s anything real farmers hate it’s city boys with high-powered rifles trespassing on their property, endangering livestock and humans, and generally behaving like fools with firearms. Of this, it has now been established, Fildebrandt was literally guilty.
His second unpardonable political sin was that he turns out to have been less than completely forthright with Kenney about it.
Given his loyalty to the UCP and the active role he played in getting Kenney elected as the party's leader, it seems likely Fildebrandt would otherwise have been forgiven for his earlier political embarrassments -- among them getting caught renting out his taxpayer subsidized Edmonton condo on Airbnb while claiming expenses from the Legislature and being found guilty of damaging a neighbour's automobile with his pickup truck and then just taking off. He was found guilty and fined $402 in December for that crash-up.
Lying to your leader is rarely forgiven in politics, however, and never when the leader is a past lieutenant of former prime minister Stephen Harper. But it could hardly have helped that all these stories broke during a time Kenney was in the process of asserting himself as the leader of the newly established UCP.
Less than an hour after the court had made its decision, Kenney issued a blunt press release stating Fildebrandt had "deliberately misled" party inquisitors and failed to meet the standard of integrity required of UCP members and candidates.
"Given this pattern of behaviour, on November 29, 2017 myself, House Leader Jason Nixon and my Deputy Chief of Staff met with Mr. Fildebrandt. The purpose of this meeting was to question Mr. Fildebrandt on whether there were any other outstanding matters of which we should be aware before considering an application from him to rejoin our caucus," the news release said.
"We questioned Mr. Fildebrandt extensively for an hour. At no point during that meeting did Mr. Fildebrandt disclose that just 25 days prior he had been charged with the offense which led to the Court hearing today." As a result of that omission, Kenney went on, "I can only conclude that Mr. Fildebrandt deliberately misled us in refusing to disclose this outstanding charge. Consequently, neither I nor our Caucus can have confidence in the veracity of his undertakings to us.
"I have therefore decided that Mr. Fildebrandt will not be permitted to return to our Caucus, a decision supported by our Caucus following consultations earlier today," the leader’s statement concluded.
By permanently skidding Fildebrandt, Kenney has proved he is tougher than former Wildrose Party leader and unsuccessful UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean, who tried to kick the Strathmore-Brooks MLA out of caucus for endorsing a Facebook user's homophobic attack on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne back in May 2016.
After howls of outrage by Fildebrandt's supporters -- including a "Save Derek" campaign on Rebel Media -- Jean folded and meekly readmitted his then finance critic to the Wildrose tent. I imagine Jean allowed himself a grim smile of satisfaction.
Kenney will be a tougher nut to crack for Fildebrandt's supporters, if any remain. Indeed, there was no mention of Fildebrandt's difficulties Friday on the alt-right video blog that championed his cause in 2016.
It is highly unlikely Fildebrandt's Alberta political career, which appears to be done to a turn, will ever recover.
He could return to his role as Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, since the position is now occupied by an interim director, although he left that supposedly non-partisan organization abruptly in November 2014 after a blogger reported he was being recruited to run for the Wildrose Party.
It seems more likely Fildebrandt will serve out his term in Strathmore-Brooks until the next election, and then return to his home province of Ontario, where the pastures are bound to be greener for a person like him than they are now in rural Southern Alberta.
Fatally self-absorbed yet barely self-aware to the bitter end, Fildebrandt Tweeted his last word Friday with the observation that "Revolution devours its own children." This doubtless confirmed for Kenney, who may not wish to be perceived as a revolutionary plotting a Parisian Terror or worse, that he had made the right decision.
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Don MacIntyre suddenly leaves UCP and politics
The United Conservative Party Caucus also lost a member Friday with the sudden resignation of Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Don MacIntyre.
MacIntyre, best known as being among the UCP Caucus's most aggressive climate change deniers, said in a 13-word Tweet late in the day that he is leaving politics to focus on his family.
UCP Leader Jason Kenney acknowledged MacIntyre's departure in an even more economical news release, which required only 12 words.
Media swiftly reported the reason for MacIntyre's departure from politics, then abruptly withdrew their stories in whole or in part. Anyone who was paying attention Friday afternoon knows the reason, and traces of the stories linger on the Internet.
I expect at least one news organization with a legal department will attempt to remedy this situation over the weekend, after which reasonable discussion of the public interest can take place.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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