Derek Fildebrandt, the United Conservative Party MLA under fire for subletting his Edmonton condo while claiming thousands of dollars in housing allowance, is taking a leave of absence from his duties as finance critic for the United Conservative Party.
Fildebrandt also apologized Thursday, in his first formal statement since it was learned the Strathmore-Brooks member of the Alberta Legislature was earning the Airbnb rental money.
"I believed that renting out my Edmonton home while I was away was above board and never costed the taxpayer anything extra," said his statement, provided by the UCP.
"I however recognize the perception that this is not good enough, and have spoken with my constituents, and they are never wrong. I apologize."
Fildebrandt said he has paid back "to the taxpayer" the $2,555 in subletting income earned over eight months. A spokesperson for the UCP said Thursday that the money went to the Legislative Assembly Office earlier in the day.
"I am scheduled to leave for a family vacation out of province tomorrow [Friday] and will be taking a leave of absence from my finance duties effective today," Fildebrandt said.
"The UCP believes in fiscal accountability and protecting taxpayers."
In a statement released immediately after Fildebrandt's, UCP Interim Leader Nathan Cooper said: "Derek has apologized for renting his Edmonton home out and has given the proceeds to the taxpayer.
"Effective today, he is taking a leave of absence from his co-critic finance role."
Both news releases said there would be no further comment.
Fildebrandt questions timing of story
Earlier Thursday, Fildebrandt noted the rental information was leaked to the media the day after he said he would not be voting for former Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean, who is campaigning for the UCP leadership.
"I hope that my stance two days ago concerning the UCP leadership race in no way influenced the timing of this story."
Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark said he has asked the Speaker of the Legislature to assess Fildebrandt's apartment rental situation, and wants a full review of living expenses claimed by all members of the assembly.
Clark said subletting an apartment being paid for by taxpayers is not right, even if the current rules allow it.
"The spirit of the law should be that no MLA benefits personally from tax dollars — it is fundamentally wrong what he has done here," Clark said in front of the Legislature.
"It's deeply hypocritical for someone who's been such a fierce critic of government waste to take advantage of a loophole for personal benefit."
No rules were broken, according to Speaker
Alex McCuaig, spokesman for the Speaker's office, said Clark's request is being reviewed. Under the current rules, McCuaig said no regulations forbid Fildebrandt from renting out his condo.
"The issue of subletting a temporary residence on Airbnb, or subletting in general, is not addressed in the orders established by the member services committee," he said.
"We are not aware of any other MLAs who are currently subletting their temporary residence."
MLAs from ridings outside the Edmonton capital region are allotted a maximum housing budget of $23,160 each fiscal year to own or lease a property in the city, or $193 per night for a hotel while in the city on official business.
According to the rules of the Legislative Assembly Office (LAO), the allowance can be used on expenses like rent and utilities but the money is only meant to cover the "actual costs" incurred by members.
NDP Finance Minister Joe Ceci, who for years has been criticized by Fildebrandt over Alberta's budget deficits and growing accumulated debt, took to social media to chide him.
"Yes, Derek, it's the 21st century and reasonable people don't Airbnb their tax-funded apartment for personal profit," Ceci wrote on Twitter.
A spokesperson for the government caucus said no NDP MLAs are subletting taxpayer-subsidized apartments.
The United Liberty website says Fildebrandt once served as the Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and led the fight against former Alberta premier Alison Redford government's deficit budgets and abuse of taxpayers' money.
Colin Craig, interim director of the federation in Alberta, said Fildebrandt was wrong in subletting his place, even if the rules technically allowed it. Craig said the federation has been lobbying for stricter regulations regarding MLA expenses for more than five years.
Politicians should be reimbursed for legitimate expenses, but should never profit on the backs of taxpayers, he said.
"It is wrong. MLAs shouldn't be taking funds and using them to profit privately off of them," he said. "Whether it is Derek or any other MLA in the legislature, that is our position."