Derek Fildebrandt, 'the mosquito … they just can't quite kill': MLA amps up the frank talk after UCP ouster
'I don't think that Alberta is being treated much better than a quasi-colony right now'
Derek Fildebrandt may be a politician without a party — but he's not a man without a purpose.
The outspoken Independent MLA for the Strathmore-Brooks riding southeast of Calgary has been growing increasingly vocal since being shunned by the party he fought to found.
It's been three months since Fildebrandt was officially ousted from the United Conservative Party (UCP), an eviction that came at the conclusion of a year of conflict and controversy for the Ontario-born politician.
"I've been described as the mosquito in the tent they just can't quite kill," said Fildebrandt one windy morning outside a diner in Calgary's Bowness neighbourhood.
"I'm going to stand for what I believe is right," he said.
Fildebrandt recently sat down with CBC News for wide-ranging interview where he reflected on his focus, his future — and even mused about Alberta renegotiating its constitutional relationship with the rest of Canada.
Wants conservatives to go in 'liberty-oriented direction'
Striking an increasingly autonomous tone, Fildebrandt said he wants to steer Canada's conservative movement in a "liberty-oriented direction."
Fildebrandt classifies himself as a non-traditional conservative and says he would like to see more ideological consistency from Canada's right.
In Alberta, he's critical of conservative politicians who rail against government interference in the economy, but support government regulation of controversial social issues such as abortion and gay-straight alliances in schools.
"I'm not okay with that," said Fildebrandt. "I think as long as you're not hurting anybody else it's none of my bloody business."
And Fildebrandt supports legalizing marijuana, despite thinking most of his constituents don't agree with him.
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He is also an unabashed champion of freedom and individual choice.
"I believe," he said in a recent tweet, "that you have the freedom to hunt with an unregistered firearm, dressed in drag, while smoking a flavoured Cuban cigar."
Here's an idea for parties left and right: if what people do in their own lives doesn't hurt anybody else, we accept that it's none of our business. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ableg?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ableg</a> <a href="https://t.co/j4zOnJNcwK">pic.twitter.com/j4zOnJNcwK</a>—@Dfildebrandt
Sitting as an Independent has definitely given the 32-year-old more freedom than his former colleagues in the UCP.
While UCP MLAs have been walking out of Alberta's legislative assembly during recent votes on the governing New Democrats' abortion clinic safe-zone bill, Fildebrandt has debated — and successfully amended — the proposed law.
And Fildebrandt, a former director with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, has definitely dialed up his straight talk since leaving the UCP.
When asked how he felt about being left out of a party he fought to found at a March news conference, Fildebrandt's response was succinct: "Politics is full of bullshit."
Controversy and conflict
Fildebrandt was first elected to the legislature in 2015 as a Wildrose Party MLA. In 2017, he became a vocal supporter for uniting the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties into one.
But soon after the two parties merged last summer, Fildebrandt withdrew from the newly formed UCP after getting in hot water for meal expense claims and renting out his Edmonton condo on Airbnb — profiting on the rental, while simultaneously claiming a housing allowance.
Then, in December, Fildebrandt was fined $402 for leaving the scene of an accident.
- Derek Fildebrandt charged with illegal deer kill on private land MLA Derek
- Fildebrandt found guilty in hit-and-run, fined $402.
Two months later, Fildebrandt faced more legal trouble for shooting a deer on private land in central Alberta.
Less than an hour after a Didsbury court heard Fildebrandt was "extremely remorseful" for killing a white-tailed deer in a field near Sundre, the UCP dumped Fildebrandt and banned him from rejoining the party's legislative caucus.
UCP leader Jason Kenney insisted it wasn't the conviction, but Fildebrandt's deception about the illegal hunting that led to his banishment. In a news release, Kenney charged that Fildebrandt "deliberately misled" him.
Fildebrandt apologized for his mistakes last summer, and said he is "a flawed man."
When asked what the controversies have taught him, Fildebrandt mused about "most politicians [who] never ever admit when they're wrong" before turning to the importance of focusing on his family over politics.
Then, after some thought, Fildebrandt offered a somewhat defiant manifesto about the lessons he's drawn from the controversies.
"I've learned don't take any bullshit," he said, referencing promises Kenney allegedly made concerning Fildebrandt's eventual return to the UCP caucus.
Thinks UCP MLAs have 'shame in their eyes'
Fildebrandt's status as an Independent MLA allows him a certain freedom. He doubts he would be speaking his mind on issues like abortion or gay-straight alliances if he was still in the UCP caucus.
Critical of the control Kenney has imposed on the UCP caucus, Fildebrandt also questions Kenney's grassroots guarantee.
And he's not alone, others have criticized Kenney for backtracking on his promise to let party members decide policy. After the policy convention last week, Kenney said he is the one who ultimately holds the pen and will decide what platform the UCP runs on in the next election.
"I can see shame in their eyes," said Fildebrandt referring to his former UCP caucus colleagues who have avoided debating and voting on the NDP's abortion clinic safe-zone bill.
'"They don't feel they're doing their job."
But Fildebrandt's criticisms aren't solely focused on conservatives.
Alienated Albertans talking about 'outright independence'
With pipelines and the economy top of mind for most people in the prairie province, Fildebrandt said he's hearing a lot of alienated Albertans talking about "outright independence" in his constituency.
"[People have] had enough... and think it's time to go," he said.
Fildebrandt understands the frustration.
"I do believe this country is broken," he said, referencing the current impasse between British Columbia and the Alberta and federal governments over expanding Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline.
Fildebrandt said NDP Premier Rachel Notley's "rolling over" and "showing our belly" approach to getting the pipeline built hasn't worked.
"I think Canada is broken. It needs to be fixed and I don't think that Alberta is being treated much better than a quasi-colony right now."- Derek Fildebrandt
And, in the next breath, he takes aim at Kenney, saying his "bark louder" at the federal government approach also is doomed to fail.
Fildebrandt added his thinking about Canada — and Alberta's place in it — has evolved, suggesting it's time to "hold a referendum on renegotiating our constitutional relationship with the federal government."
"I think Canada is broken," he said. "It needs to be fixed and I don't think that Alberta is being treated much better than a quasi-colony right now."
And Fildebrandt's independent thinking has support back in his riding.
Sentiment in Strathmore
You can find all sorts of opinions on the streets of Strathmore about the town's MLA.
"I think it's great," said Karen O'Keefe. "It just means that he's open to more ideas and he speaks his mind."
But others in the riding would prefer to see their local lawmaker in the UCP fold.
"He should belong to some group, right?" said Therese Kapitany. "I think he should belong."
Fildebrandt would like to run for the party he helped found, but doubts that will happen because he says the party wants MLA Leela Aheer to run in the new riding of Chestermere-Strathmore.
If Jason Kenney had the guts to allow the local members of my constituency to actually select who they want to be their candidate for MLA, I got a pretty good feeling about how it would go.- Derek Fildebrandt
"If Jason Kenney had the guts to allow the local members of my constituency to actually select who they want to be their candidate for MLA, I got a pretty good feeling about how it would go," said Fildebrandt.
He hasn't ruled out running as an Independent in the next provincial election.
But political scientist Faron Ellis, Research Chair at Lethbridge College's Citizen Society Research Lab, thinks Fildebrandt faces an uphill battle running as an Independent in such a historically conservative riding.
"The vast majority of voters will side with the party rather than an Independent to ensure that they get what they want," Ellis said.
And what voters in Strathmore-Brooks want, Ellis predicts, is to replace the governing NDP with a UCP government.
He isn't likely to go quietly, though.
So while Fildebrandt may not have a party, he's likely to find new purpose in getting re-elected.
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- An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Faron Ellis as leading the Centre for Applied Research and Innovation at Lethbridge Community College. The post-secondary institution has dropped "Community" from its name and Ellis is the research chair at its Citizen Society Research Lab.May 14, 2018 1:25 PM MT