Suspended Wildrose MLA returns to Alberta legislature

Derek Fildebrandt says he retains his high-profile job as finance critic

EDMONTON – Wildrose member Derek Fildebrandt returned to the Alberta legislature for the first time Thursday following his suspension over a social media gaffe, joking that it might be time for a Don Cherry-type 30-second delay.

“Glad to back in the saddle,” Fildebrandt told reporters just before entering the chamber for question period.

“There’s a lot of hurt feelings on all sides. When a family has a dispute, there’s always going to be people upset. I’m not interested in dwelling on the past. I want to move forward,” he said.

“I’m itching to get in there and hold the NDP accountable.”

Fildebrandt said he retains his high-profile job as finance critic and declined to address the specifics of media reports that he rejected certain conditions for return, which included anger management counselling.

He said he stands behind a caucus announcement that media reports of those other conditions were false.

“We had some back and forth,” he said.

“At the end of the day I think we came to a very good agreement.

“I think everybody could agree I could use some help on social media. I’ve had some flubs in the past.”

He said he is hiring someone to handle the volume of correspondence he gets on social media, “and perhaps like (bombastic, controversial TV hockey commentator) Don Cherry, a 30-second delay before hitting send.”

Fildebrandt, 30, is known for a take-no-prisoners approach online and in the legislature, needling, accusing and occasionally getting under the skin of the governing NDP caucus.

He was suspended last Friday night after he endorsed a homophobic social media posting about Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Fildebrandt had apologized online that night after the endorsement, saying he had not read the original comment correctly.

He was turfed anyway, but the controversy then morphed into an intra-party war over the weekend. The caucus received a surge of messages from Wildrose riding executives and grassroots members supporting Fildebrandt and criticizing party leader Brian Jean.

On Monday, Jean announced the suspension would be over in days. By Tuesday it was done.

The Wynne comment came a day after Fildebrandt had insulted Wynne to her face in the legislature as she sat in the gallery listening to question period as a guest.

As she looked on, Fildebrandt castigated Ontario as a peerless high-debt, high-spending train wreck and shouted at Premier Rachel Notley that if she was going to invite Wynne, she should also have invited Alberta’s next-door neighbour, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

Fildebrandt, echoing comments made Monday by Jean, said the substance of the comments were fair, but the tone was poor given Wynne was a guest in the legislature.

“I do not regret the content of any of the questions,” said Fildebrandt.

“If I would have known the premier would be there (in advance), to be able to (better) adapt to the situation surely (I) would have used a different tone.

“I actually do appreciate that the premier of Ontario was visiting here. It’s important for our relationships.”

Alberta is working with Ontario and other provinces to gain support for the Energy East pipeline to take crude from the province to refineries and ports in New Brunswick.