03/06/2013 05:56 EST | Updated 05/06/2013 05:12 EDT

Doug Griffiths Mocks Lazy Urbanites Who 'Sit In High Rise Condos'

Seema Dhawan
EDMONTON - The minister in charge of Alberta's cities found himself in hot water Wednesday for telling the legislature that the hard work of rural folk is subsidizing the lives of indolent, condo-dwelling urbanites.

Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths made the comments when Liberal critic Laurie Blakeman asked him about certain tax rules that favour rural citizens over urban ones.

"There is no us versus them; there's only us," Griffiths told the house.

"And it could be asked by rural Albertans why 17 per cent of the population that lives in rural Alberta, that has all the oil and gas revenue, does all the work, all the farms, all the agriculture and everything associated with it, goes to support urban Albertans who sit in high-rise condos and don't necessarily contribute to the grassroots of this economy," said Griffiths.

The answer provoked an uproar in the house, forcing Griffiths to shout to finish his answer.

"I will not do us-versus-them. I will support every single municipality to work together to build strong communities for the future of this province!"

Griffiths, a rural legislature member from Battle River-Wainwright, later told reporters that the comments did not reflect his views but rather those of some rural people he has spoken with.

"I'm pointing out what rural Albertans feel," said Griffiths.

"Ms. Blakeman made it very clear how urbanites feel: there's too much money in rural Alberta, they're sitting on all this wealth, we need to use it in the city.

"I guarantee you that rural Albertans would say, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, we're using that (tax money) to build our infrastructure and our economy, and we help drive the economy, too.'

"Let's get past it and continue to work together to build a strong Alberta is all I was pointing out."

Blakeman said Griffiths' comments betray a bias against cities, noting his department has also not followed through on a promise for so-called big city charters to recognize the unique needs of Edmonton and Calgary.

"I have seen that attitude leach into the way he's dealing with some of the major issues in the Department of Municipal Affairs," said Blakeman.

"I'm pretty shocked that the minister of municipal affairs would talk about 83 per cent of the population with such disrespect."

NDP critic Rachel Notley said Griffiths "owes an unfettered and immediate apology to the Albertans who live in urban Alberta.

"He was highly hypocritical. One minute he is saying we shouldn't do an us-and-them, and then he turned around and did a highly insulting us-and-them against urban Albertans," said Notley.

She said being a minister of the Crown does not mean being an entertainer.

"It's not a stand-up gig. You've got to think these things through a bit before you open your mouth."

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