Alberta MLA Fildebrandt says 'administrative errors' to blame for double dipping on meal expenses

An Alberta politician who has made a career out of championing taxpayers says he made mistakes when he wrongly billed the government for meals over a period of years, and also blames some of the problem on administrative errors.

Interim UCP leader says claims 'concerning' and 'part of a larger pattern of behaviour that is unacceptable'

Last week, UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt apologized and paid back $2,555 after a media report revealed he had been subletting his Edmonton apartment while claiming his MLA accommodation allowance. (Mike Symington/CBC)

An Alberta politician who has made a career out of championing taxpayers says he made mistakes when he wrongly billed the government for meals over a period of years, and also blames some of the problem on administrative errors.

"I take full responsibility for everything that happens in my office," embattled United Conservative Party member Derek Fildebrandt said in a statement Monday night.

"There were some administrative errors in processing meal receipts for staff, constituent and stakeholder meetings, with a potential total of up to $192.60 over a period of two and half years."

Fildebrandt also said he is "thankful" the issue was brought to his attention. 

"I should have been more careful in reviewing them before signing off. I will fully reimburse any discrepancy and take immediate action to ensure that errors like this do not happen again," said the former Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation who was first elected to the Legislative Assembly in May 2015. 

Fildebrandt's statement came hours after Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark released records that he said show the MLA for Strathmore-Brooks claimed food expenses and also the per diem for the same meal nine times.

Alberta MLAs are permitted to claim meal expenses at per diem rates when they travel 60 kilometres or more from their permanent residences. But they can't also claim the same meals under other expense provisions.

The expenses originally flagged by a Reddit user and picked up by Clark are from May, June and October 2015; February, August, and November 2016; and January, February and April 2017. All expense claims and receipts are posted on the Legislative Assembly website. 

Clark said there needs to be an audit of all MLA expenses to ensure other politicians aren't contravening the rules. 

"I have concerns that there may be other situations where MLAs have claimed multiple reimbursements or double dipped, either intentionally or unintentionally," Clark said in a statement Monday.

"An audit is needed to ensure that all members are using taxpayer dollars wisely, and are not improperly financially benefiting from their role representing the people of Alberta.

"If they are, there needs to be a penalty applied to send a message that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable." 

Interim UCP Leader Nathan Cooper also weighed in, saying in a statement late Monday: "These expense claims are concerning and appear to be part of a larger pattern of behaviour that is unacceptable for a member of the United Conservative Party caucus.

"We will be working with the Legislative Assembly Office and the Members' Services Committee to ensure these expense claims are rectified."

Latest trouble to plague the MLA

Last week, Fildebrandt apologized for subletting his Edmonton apartment on accommodation rentals website Airbnb while claiming a housing allowance. He said he paid back the $2,555 he earned from the sublets. 

The documents flagged by the Alberta Party include forms used by MLAs to list their travel expenses and meal allowances, in addition to copies of receipts from restaurants.

In one case, there were three meals on a receipt for the Brooks Hotel on May 20, 2015. A handwritten note on the debit receipt indicated the meals were for "lunch with Terry [last name illegible] and Heather Pigott." 

However, this is the only claim that listed the MLA's dining partner. 

In the other cases, it isn't clear whether Fildebrandt's meals were included on the submitted receipt or if they were all for stakeholders or constituents. 

Fildebrandt is on vacation out of province. 

Clark repeated his call from last week for the legislature to review all expenses claimed by MLAs. 

He also wants members found breaking the rules to face a fine.

"The only penalty seems to be having to pay back the money, and that doesn't feel right," Clark said.

With files from CBC Calgary


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