A United Conservative Party MLA says there’s nothing wrong with him subletting his downtown Edmonton apartment while claiming thousands of dollars in rent from the public purse.
Derek Fildebrandt, MLA for Strathmore-Brooks, advertises his downtown bachelor suite for rent online as “newly renovated, modernly furnished and very well-kept.”
“It has a sweeping view of the city and is in the thick of the action on Jasper Ave.,” the Airbnb listing says.
Between January and March, eight Airbnb renters reviewed the apartment. Over the same three months, Fildebrandt claimed $7,720 for accommodation in Edmonton.
Fildebrandt denies he’s double-dipping by renting out the same apartment for which he claims an allowance on the taxpayers’ dime.
“Find someone under 35 with a downtown apartment that doesn’t let their apartment if they’re gone half the year,” he told Postmedia.
“It would be a waste ... to have an apartment that sits empty half of the year and not let it out when I’m gone out of session,” he said.
Fildebrandt, one of the UCP’s two finance critics, said he puts the extra cash toward rent, cleaning and maintenance.
“Some MLAs rent, some MLAs let a hotel room, some MLAs buy a place and put (their allowance) toward the mortgage,” he said, and there’s no difference between those arrangements.
Members of the Legislative Assembly from outside the capital region are entitled to a maximum of $23,160 in a fiscal year to own or lease a property in Edmonton, or $193 per night for a hotel while in the city on official business.
That cash can go toward accommodation expenses like rent, utilities and parking, but the rules explicitly state that MLAs are only entitled to the actual costs incurred.
Expenses are paid through the Legislative Assembly Office, overseen by the Speaker.
Alex McCuaig, Speaker Robert Wanner’s chief of staff, told Postmedia there is no precedent around an Airbnb sublet, but said the system is set up with the intention that members claim actual expenses, not the maximum by default.
“The bottom line is, the member needs to be answerable for their practices and justify their expenses,” McCuaig said.
Fildebrandt said the rental is completely above-board and complies with the rules.
Interim UCP caucus deputy leader Mike Ellis said in a brief statement his caucus is carefully reviewing the matter.
“While it has been explained to be an approved LAO activity, we take fiscal responsibility seriously,” Ellis said.
Although he said he’s done nothing wrong, Fildebrandt accused former Wildrose leader Brian Jean’s “backroom operators” of “personal smears” over the apartment on the day after he was critical of his former boss.