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Leg­is­la­ture com­mit­tee closes airbnb loop­hole with ‘Filde­brandt rule’

Edmonton Sun - - NEWS - Emma GraNEy egraney@post­media.com @Em­maLGraney

An Al­berta leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee has unan­i­mously ap­proved a mo­tion bar­ring MLAs from rent­ing out tax­payer-sub­si­dized apart­ments on Airbnb.

Al­berta Party Leader Greg Clark is call­ing it the “Filde­brandt rule.”

The change was passed at a Thurs­day morn­ing mem­bers ser­vices com­mit­tee meet­ing — the first since Derek Filde­brandt, MLA for Strath­moreBrooks, landed in hot wa­ter for rent­ing out his tax­payer­funded apart­ment on Airbnb.

Filde­brandt re­signed from the United Con­ser­va­tive Party cau­cus and sits as an in­de­pen­dent.

“It’s not per­fect, but we got there,” Clark said af­ter the meet­ing.

“The bot­tom line is, af­ter to­day, no MLA can do what Filde­brandt did.”

In­terim UCP leader Nathan Cooper com­mit­ted to zip­ping shut the Airbnb loop­hole when the Jour­nal re­vealed the is­sue last month. He was the one to in­tro­duce the mo­tion Thurs­day.

Cooper ac­knowl­edged there’s a chance the on­line rental site won’t even ex­ist in two years, but told the com­mit­tee Al­ber­tans ex­pect ac­tion and clarity. His mo­tion pro­hibits rent­ing a tax­payer-sub­si­dized apart­ment through any third party, as well as Airbnb.

Af­ter the meet­ing, he said tax­pay­ers are en­ti­tled to writ­ten as­sur­ances about how their dol­lars are be­ing spent.

“I think it was im­por­tant for ev­ery­one that we got this passed and ... that mem­bers’ ser­vices guide­lines are mod­ern and re­flect the re­al­i­ties of to­day,” Cooper said.

As com­mit­tee busi­ness drew to a close, meet­ing chair­man Robert Wan­ner, the NDP mem­ber for Medicine Hat, said the is­sue of­fered a re­minder to all MLAs.

“Hon­ourable mem­bers are ex­pected to be just that: hon­ourable,” he said.

“They are also ex­pected to be ac­count­able to their con­stituents. I think our pub­lic have sent a fairly clear mes­sage to this leg­is­la­ture.”

It’s one thing to rent out a tax­payer-funded apart­ment, but there’s also the is­sue of MLAs us­ing their hous­ing al­lowance to buy a res­i­dence in Edmonton and re-sell it when they leave the as­sem­bly.

There are no rules against do­ing so.

Subcom­mit­tee mem­ber Este­fa­nia Cortes-Var­gas, NDP MLA for Strath­cona-Sher­wood Park, said that’s an­other mat­ter the group has to dis­cuss.

As yet, she said, there’s no spe­cific di­rec­tion around buy­ing a sec­ond home on the tax­payer dime.

The is­sue caused out­rage in 1992 af­ter tax­pay­ers ponied up more than $1.3 mil­lion to fi­nance liv­ing al­lowances for MLAs, in­clud­ing some who lived less than a 30-minute drive from the leg­is­la­ture build­ing.

A hand­ful of cab­i­net min­is­ters in the then-Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment used the money to make mort­gage pay­ments on houses and con­dos in Edmonton, which they sold for large prof­its when they re­tired.

“We need to be able to make sure that elected of­fi­cials are able to be here ... when they need to be, but are not, in essence, dou­ble-dip­ping or mak­ing a profit on the tax­pay­ers’ money,” Cortes-Var­gas said Thurs­day.

As the subcom­mit­tee pushes on, Clark said he will be keep­ing a close eye on its work and will con­tinue push­ing for a bill to al­low fi­nan­cial penal­ties for MLAs who break the rules.

He would like to see a $500 fine — an amount he told the Jour­nal was “enough to get your at­ten­tion.”

ShauGhN ButtS

Nathan Cooper, the United Con­ser­va­tive Party in­terim leader, in­tro­duced the mo­tion at com­mit­tee on Thurs­day.

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