I cannot help but wonder what the reaction from the right would have been had an NDP MLA been exposed for using a publicly subsidized living arrangement to pad his or her own pocketbook.
Just imagine the outrage — an elected official, who adding insult to injury largely built a career on crying foul over blatant misuse of public funds as a former director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, using public dollars to generate personal income.
Yet that is precisely what Brooks-Strathmore MLA Derek Fildebrandt did. The United Conservative Party politician, who boasts a lengthy track record of controversy — including last year’s statement about Ontario’s premier that at the time almost got him booted out of the now-defunct Wildrose Party — seems to have no problem with earning a few additional dollars on the side courtesy of us taxpayers.
When the revelations came to light, critics were quick to claim Fildebrandt broke rules when he posted his Edmonton apartment, paid for by Albertans, on the rental website Airbnb.
The politician even openly admitted and apparently proudly boasted about his actions as a financially savvy attempt to reduce waste. But despite Fildebrandt’s attempt to defend himself, the MLA has nevertheless taken a leave of absence from his position as co-finance critic and even stepped down from the UCP caucus.
Although Fildebrandt made relatively minor earnings to the tune of only a little more than $2,500, which he’s since laughably pledged to put towards paying off the debt — likely only as a result of the fallout — the underlying principle remains at the heart of the issue.
“When MLAs are given these funds, they’re not meant to be used in turn to profit from it. When they are given these funds, they are meant to cover off the cost of living,” said Colin Craig, interim Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Perhaps Lori Williams, a political scientist with Mount Royal University, summed up the situation best in an interview with the CBC.
“The problem is his entire public life he has been advocating for responsible expenditure of taxpayer money: spending less and spending it ethically and wisely. This isn’t ethical. It may not be illegal, but to essentially double-dip, to make a profit off of taxpayer dollars, goes against his entire history.”
There is unquestionably a glaring double standard in the case of a politician who has embarked on a lifelong crusade to supposedly watch taxpayers’ backs while unabashedly profiting from them at the same time.
“It’s not an excuse he would have ever accepted as CTF chief or as finance critic. I think hypocrisy is a real problem for him,” said Williams.
Here’s the thing.
As a taxpayer, I am not even remotely opposed to a portion of our collective money being used to accommodate our politicians’ living arrangements.
However, I certainly take exception with any politician who would use our tax dollars to further pad his or her own bank account.