Derek Fildebrandt -working against the grain
How the Wildrose MLA grew into the unapologetic conservative that he is today.
Making of a conservative
Not many fifth graders have the courage to stand up to their teachers when they go on strike, but Derek Fildebrandt, remembers the time when he led his fellow classmates into a counter protest, years before becoming the controversial MLA that he is today.
The Wildrose MLA for Strathmore-Brooks recalls his first political action as the first moment he publically rebelled against authority. While living in Ontario, Fildebrandt remembers when the teachers went on strike they told the children to tell their parents that the Mike Harris, Conservative government was terrible. This did not settle well with the young Fildebrandt and he decided to rally his classmates into a counter protest against his picketing teachers.
“I was repulsed by the idea that I had to go to school but my teachers didn’t,” Fildebrandt said in an interview with the Calgary Journal, “So we picketed for an end to the strike.”
Fildebrandt has worked against the grain since then. He says he tries to be an open and accessible MLA rather than worry about coming across as flawless with nothing to say. This is a trend that began in elementary and continued through university, where he became heavily involved with the Conservative Club at Carleton University in Ottawa.
On campus, Fildebrandt, once again rallied a few friends and started up a separate club called the Reagan-Goldwater Society.
“I got to a point where I just thought that partisan politics were probably not for me. Too much of it was just cheering for a team rather than cheering for a cause, or a set of beliefs,” Fildebrandt said, “Our idea for it was to advocate for ideas, beliefs, principles, and my idea was that we were going to make more progress advancing the conservative libertarian movement on campus, promoting conservative ideas rather than conservative parties.”
After working with the British Columbia public service for several years, Fildebrandt felt as though he was not represented in the federal government and left his job in 2008, to pursue a career for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Rise to the Wildrose
After constantly moving to military towns across the country throughout his life, he finally began to identify with Alberta in 2008. As a passionate conservative, Fildebrandt saw a need for change in the political climate of the province at the time. He watched as the majority of Wildrose support left Alberta, while his love for the province grew.
“I felt deeply betrayed by what had happened and I felt completely voiceless. I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t run, I wouldn’t know who to vote for anymore because everyone who I supported was now supporting a set of ideas that I completely abhorred,” Fildebrandt said about his decision to join the Wildrose party.
In the 2015 provincial election, Fildebrandt was elected, at the age of 29, as the MLA for the Strathmore-Brooks constituency, while the Wildrose party found themselves as the official opposition.
“It felt like a victory parade after a war,” he said about the Wildrose’s rise to official opposition, “We had finally broken the habit of reflexively voting for the PC’s no matter what.”
Tool of choice: social media
As a rookie MLA, Fildebrandt looked for the best way to connect with Albertans and his constituency and found social media to be the best tool. With over 19,000 followers, Fildebrandt now has the largest Facebook page for elected provincial officials, after Wildrose Leader Brian Jean and Premier Rachel Notley. But without the staffing that the party leaders have, Fildebrandt ran into issues when the volume of correspondents became too high for him to manage alone.
At the end of May this year, Fildebrandt was called out on a comment he made in response to one of his supporters on his Facebook profile. The supporter made a distasteful comment against Ontario’s premier, Kathleen Wynne, while sharing his support for Fildebrandt. The MLA responded to his supporter by saying “Proud to have constituents like you.”
Fildebrandt was later unofficially suspended from the Wildrose caucus for three days, as a punishment for his comment. He apologized for the post, and said that he had misread the supporter’s comment because of the high volume of comments that he had responded to that day. The suspension was lifted and he has continued to work within the Wildrose caucus.
He said the experience was humbling, as he received support from Albertans across the province who opposed the suspension, “I owe my job to the people who care about this province and cared enough to make their voices heard.”
Despite the opposition he has received about the ideas and principles he posts on social media, he remains steadfast about his belief in being an open and responsive politician.
“We’ve entered such a hypersensitive, politically correct era in our industry,” Fildebrandt said, “I was not elected by my constituents to be a shrinking violet and not say anything controversial.”
In reaction to Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential election, Fildebrandt tweeted, “Hyper-sensitive, politically-correct, victim-as-virtue culture is creating a leadership class of wimps. People are sick of it.”
He then tweeted his takeaway, “The biggest lesson that we should learn from the election Trump: smug, condescending political correctness will spark a backlash.”
In order for the Wildrose party to move forward, gaining conservative support across the province, Fildebrandt believes that they must show people the value in conservative principles and beliefs.
“You can’t out promise the left,” Fildebrandt said, “But what we can do is make our arguments, unapologetically, that I would much rather have a job when I graduated from university than a little less student debt. I’d rather have no government debt when I graduate and have a bit of student debt.”
Fildebrandt has recently been travelling across Alberta to promote conservative ideas and listen to local concerns, on his “Open for Business Tour”, which has led him to towns like Grande Prairie, Whitecourt, and Fairview.