Alberta health minister apologizes for ‘sewer rats’ remark about Opposition

Health minister apologizes for 'sewer rats' remark

EDMONTON — Alberta’s deputy premier is apologizing for a comment in which she accused the Opposition Wildrose party of hanging out with “sewer rats.”

Sarah Hoffman said she was sorry on the record in the legislature on Tuesday and repeated her apology later outside the house. 

“I apologize to members of the assembly and also to anyone else who was offended by those remarks,” said Hoffman, who also serves as health minister.

“I spent many years in public education (and) I encouraged students to use their words with caution and choose them wisely, and I failed to do so.”

Hoffman said it was an off-the-cuff remark. 

“There’s no excuse,” she said. “Any time you start trying to justify using words that are hurtful and full of vitriol, it only perpetuates the issue further.

“I have certainly been on the receiving end of many of those. I wish I would have gotten a clean apology, and I’m doing that as well.”

Hoffman made the comment during an exchange in question period Monday with Wildrose whip Jason Nixon.

Nixon accused Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP of ignoring the hardship their economic policies are having on Alberta families by urging those paying the carbon tax to make better choices to reduce their carbon footprint.

“For a government that has shown such gross incompetence, when is the premier going to ask herself to make better choices?” asked Nixon.

Hoffman stood up and told the house the NDP is working to help families.

“We’re creating jobs. We’re cutting school fees. We’re freezing tuition. The members opposite just want to keep jacking those things up,” she said.

“We’re focused on hard hats. They’re spending a lot of time with sewer rats.”

The Wildrose accused Hoffman of calling all the party’s supporters sewer rats. The issue gained traction on social media as Wildrosers labelled themselves vermin in tongue-in-cheek pictures.

On Tuesday, Nixon said he accepted Hoffman’s apology, but the remarks still reflect a level of disdain in the NDP caucus.

“There’s a habit … of the government automatically going to what I perceive as name-calling that is often inferred towards the people that support my party,” Nixon said outside the house.

The exchange reflected heightened acrimony and hyperbole in the legislature question period as Notley’s NDP approaches the mid-term of its four-year mandate.

Opposition members routinely accuse the government of making a bad economic situation worse with new fees, such as the carbon tax, and steep increases to minimum wage.

The NDP, to counter, often equates opposition demands to reduce spending as a clarion call to slash front-line budgets in areas such as education and health care.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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