EDMONTON — A former United Conservative legislature member says party leader Jason Kenney gave him an ultimatum that if he wanted to return to caucus he could not run in his own redrawn constituency.
Derek Fildebrandt said in an interview that Kenney stressed in a November meeting that deputy leader Leela Aheer would share the redrawn riding of Chestermere-Strathmore and that the party needed to grow its female membership.
Fildebrandt hoped for some kind of mutually agreeable solution, but said Kenney made it clear that wasn’t going to happen and “if I wanted to return … I couldn’t run in my own constituency.
“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 noted that Kenney has also promised a party directed by its rank and file.
“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 on Friday that Fildebrandt was not allowed to return to caucus and would not run under the party’s banner in the spring 2019 election.
Kenney, in a statement issued Wednesday, took issue with Fildebrandt’s version of the November meeting.
“I and other members of our caucus made it clear to Mr. Fildebrandt that he would need the support of caucus to be readmitted as a member, and that such support was highly unlikely if it was his intention to challenge an incumbent caucus member (in a nomination),” said Kenney.
“I also pointed out that it would be peculiar for someone living in the west side of Calgary to challenge our deputy leader, who has lived in the new Chestermere-Strathmore riding for 25 years.”
Kenney said there was no ultimatum.
“We made it clear that if Derek wanted to seek readmission without making an undertaking not to challenge a colleague, that he could do so as long as there were no outstanding ethical or legal issues that could bring embarrassment to him or the party.”
He said Fildebrandt did not disclose an outstanding poaching charge at the meeting.
“This dishonesty, on top of his pattern of bad judgment, is ultimately why Mr. Fildebrandt will not be readmitted to our caucus,” said Kenney.
Fildebrandt is a first-term MLA who was elected under the Wildrose party banner in the 2015 election with a reputation as an acerbic critic of high taxes and big-spending governments.
He was a vocal Kenney supporter when the former federal cabinet minister spearheaded a merger of the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose last July to create the new United Conservative Party.
Fildebrandt’s political fortunes hit the ditch after the merger.
He quit caucus to sit as an Independent after he was found to have been subletting on Airbnb his taxpayer-subsidized accommodation and double-expensing some meals. He was also charged — and eventually found guilty — with hitting a neighbour’s vehicle and leaving the scene.
Kenney became UCP leader in October. Fildebrandt’s desire to be reinstated to caucus led to the meeting Nov. 29.
Kenney said much of the meeting was devoted to checking for further skeletons in Fildebrandt’s closet. Fildebrandt said most of the time was devoted to the ultimatum and that he was only asked at the end if he had anything else to disclose.