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Raiding the larder


Derek Fildebrandt is a United Conservative Party member of the Alberta Legislative Assembly. Oh, sorry, no. Derek Fildebrandt used to be a United Conservative Party member — now, he’s left the newly formed party and is sitting as an independent.

Fildebrandt also used to work for the Canadian Taxpayers Foundation, where he happily excoriated Alberta cabinet ministers over their expense accounts and was even involved in setting new regulations for the disclosure of politicians’ expenses in that province.

So there might be a gentle feeling of karmic justice in learning that Fildebrandt left the party over a trio of issues, at least two of which he would have happily attacked others for.

It turns out he was renting out an apartment on Airbnb while at the same time receiving a provincial politician’s subsidy for the same space, and that he was double-dipping on meal expenses by claiming meals and claiming a per diem at the same time. The final straw? Being charged over an alleged hit-and-run accident. (There are also questions about whether it was proper for Fildebrandt to claim $1,640 per month in living expenses for an apartment he was sharing with another MLA, who happened to be claiming $1,688 per month in taxpayer-funded expenses for the space.)

So what do Fildebrandt’s foibles — done by someone who can hardly claim ignorance of either the expense rules or public perception of political self-service — have to do with Newfoundland and Labrador?

Simple — it’s a message, once again, that politicians are human, and that if they are allowed to operate without full oversight, some of them will find ways to take advantage of the system.

You’d think it would be a lesson that we’d already know full well in this province, after the constituency allowance scandal demonstrated how willing politicians of all stripes were to avail themselves of cash that, ethically, they should have known better than to take.

For years, politicians at the provincial and federal level have described themselves as “honourable” — but the truth is that, left to their own devices without rigorous accountability, they are no more honourable than any other random collection of individuals.

It’s said that good fences make good neighbours — that properly agreed-upon boundaries are clearly understood by all help to eliminate disputes.

Properly set and enforced financial guidelines keep people honest, and help to keep temptation at bay.

Fildebrandt could easily be described as having been a political watchdog in his role with the Canadian Taxpayers Foundation — until he found himself with his own set of keys to the snack cupboard. Then, it seems he was as hungry to take advantage of financial treats as the politicians he used to attack.

Clear rules and strict oversight — it benefits everyone.

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