Fildebrandt says Kenney delivered ultimatum to him on 2019 riding
'I was completely shocked and floored that this is the way our party would be functioning'
Former United Conservative member Derek Fildebrandt says party leader Jason Kenney gave him an ultimatum in November that if he wanted to return to caucus, he could not run in his own redrawn constituency.
Fildebrandt, in an interview, said Kenney stressed that UCP legislature member Leela Aheer would share the redrawn riding of Chestermere-Strathmore, and said the party needs to grow its female membership.
Fildebrandt hoped for some kind of mutually beneficial solution, but said, "It was made clear to me [by Kenney] that that would simply not be the case and that if I wanted to return, it was very clear I couldn't run in my own constituency.
'Completely shocked and floored'
"I was completely shocked and floored that this is the way our party would be functioning."
He said he supports Kenney's drive to recruit more female members, but said Kenney has also promised a party directed by empowered rank-and-file members.
"Ultimately the decision [on the nominee] should always be left up to the grassroots members in that constituency and not from political backroom machinations," he said.
Kenney announced last Friday that Fildebrandt, the member for Strathmore-Brooks, would not be allowed back into caucus and would not be allowed to run under the UCP banner in the spring 2019 election.
Fildebrandt was elected under the Wildrose party banner in the 2015 election and became a vocal supporter of Kenney as the former Conservative MP spearheaded a merging of the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties last July to create the new United Conservatives.
After the parties merged, however, Fildebrandt's political fortunes hit the ditch.
He quit the caucus to sit as an Independent after he was found to have been subletting on Airbnb his taxpayer-subsidized accommodation in Edmonton, double-expensing some meals, and being embroiled in a traffic court dispute over a charge he smashed into a neighbour's vehicle and sped away.
Kenney won the leadership of the UCP in late October, and Fildebrandt's hope he would be reinstated to caucus led to a face-to-face meeting on November 29 at which time he said Kenney gave him the ultimatum on his riding.
Fildebrandt said most of the meeting was devoted to the ultimatum and that he was only asked at the end if he had anything else to disclose. He did not mention that he had also been charged weeks earlier with shooting a deer on private property.
I wasn't in a particularly good mood after being told that I won't even have the right to put my name before my own members.- Derek Fildebrandt
He said he was still numb from the ultimatum and was reluctant to disclose the deer charge given that he had spoken to colleagues about the hit-and-run affair only to see it leaked to the media.
"I wasn't in a particularly good mood after being told that I won't even have the right to put my name before my own members in my own constituency," he said.
About two weeks later, he was found guilty and fined in the hit and run. Media reported the wildlife charge around the same time.
'Throw someone under the bus'
Nevertheless, Fildebrandt said he left the impression with Kenney's team that he would not contest his newly-redrawn riding and expected to be reinstated after pleading guilty in the deer case.
He did plead guilty and was fined last Friday, but Kenney issued a statement saying that Fildebrandt was out for good and suggested he couldn't be trusted.
"If a prospective nominee deliberately misleads the party about outstanding legal or ethical issues in the same way that Mr. Fildebrandt misled us they will be disqualified automatically from seeking a nomination," wrote Kenney at the time.
A spokeswoman for Kenney issued a statement Wednesday saying the leader stands by his earlier explanation for why Fildebrandt was not let back into the UCP fold.
"Mr. Fildebrandt's failure to disclose a very relevant piece of information was the issue then, and remains the issue today," Annie Dormuth said.
Fildebrandt said he will continue to serve out his term and would only say "all options are on the table" when asked whether he'll run again or join another party in 2019.
As for his expulsion from the UCP, he said, "Rather than being strung out and led on further, I'm just grateful to finally have an answer.
"If you're going to throw someone under the bus, I suppose it makes political sense you might as well back it up, too."