'He’s using taxpayer dollars to line his own pockets,' says Alberta Party leader
A taxpayer advocate-turned Alberta MLA who sublet his Edmonton condo while claiming thousands of dollars in housing allowances should be subject to a formal investigation, says the leader of the Alberta Party.
Derek Fildebrandt should produce all records pertaining to his Edmonton apartment and be investigated for "double dipping," said Greg Clark.
Clark has written to the Speaker asking for an audit of all MLA living expenses, and asking that rule-breakers be financially penalized.
"Albertans don't like hypocrisy," Clark said in an interview with CBC News.
"Derek Fildebrandt broke the rules. He's using taxpayer dollars to line his own pockets. There is no way he can get out of this."
In an emailed statement on Thursday, Fildebrandt confirmed he has been renting his subsidized Edmonton apartment through Airbnb when he isn't using it.
"I confirmed that letting out my Edmonton home while it is not being used is compliant with the rules," Fildebrandt said. "Letting out an unused residence is reasonable and a part of the modern sharing economy."
Fildebrandt, MLA for Strathmore-Brooks and finance critic for the now-defunct Wildrose party, rented out his Jasper Avenue apartment several times between January and March, while claiming $7,720 in taxpayer-funded accommodation allowance.
MLAs from ridings outside the Edmonton region are allotted a maximum housing budget of $23,160 each fiscal year to buy or lease a property in the city.
However, government rules strictly state that the allowance can be only be used to cover the actual costs incurred by members.
Clark said the former director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, who was elected as a Wildrose MLA in the 2015 provincial election, should be subject to a provincial investigation - there is no loophole in the regulations.
"The rules are clear," Clark said. "MLAs can only claim an allowance for accommodation reflecting their actual costs, but there are no penalties if the rules are broken.
"I believe very much that he has broken the rules. And more than just paying back the money he has gained from breaking the rules, there should also be a penalty.
Fildebrandt's Jasper Avenue unit appears to have been rented out several times between January and March, with eight guest reviews being posted for the apartment.
The MLA has said he's done nothing wrong and suggested it was completely reasonable to rent out his often-vacant apartment.
He has not responded to CBC News requests for comment but tweeted Thursday morning that he will "donate" $2,555 to help pay off Alberta's debt.
When asked to comment on the controversy, an official with the Speaker's office said a Member Services subcommittee is already reviewing MLA expense claims.
The revelations about the taxpayer funded apartment are especially damning given Fildebrandt's history as finance critic and taxpayer advocate, said Clark.
"His excuses ring hollow," Clark said. "Even if there is some loophole that allows him to do this, it's still wrong."
"I don't think most MLAs behave this way ... this errodes public confidence in the process."
United Conservative Party caucus deputy leader Mike Ellis told CBC News that Fildebrandt's expense claims are under review.
A spokesperson for Jason Kenney's leadership campaign said Fildebrandt has done "the right thing" by agreeing to pay taxpayers back the money he collected from the apartment.