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The mayoral feud that saw Edmonton compared to 'a clapboard outhouse'

It was a conflict that was ignited by the usual spark -- a difference of opinion on municipal property tax rankings.

1996 war of words prompted by property tax survey that included comparison with North York, Ont.

A feud involving Edmonton and North York, Ont.

26 years ago
2:32
In 1996, North York Mayor Mel Lastman had a lot to say about a property tax study conducted by officials with the City of Edmonton. 2:32

Both sides seemed to be conveying the same message: Them's fightin' words.

In April of 1996, the City of Edmonton's planning department released a property tax study ranking Canadian cities in descending order of how much their taxpayers shelled out.

That study had put North York, Ont., at the top of the list — a ranking that did not sit well with Mel Lastman, the outspoken longtime mayor of that Greater Toronto suburb, who quickly made his dissenting opinion known.

"Comparing North York to Edmonton is like comparing a stylish brick bungalow to a clapboard outhouse," Lastman said.

Lastman also said the Alberta capital was "a flat, dull town of empty malls, surrounded by farmland."

'North York wasn't there'

Edmonton Mayor Bill Smith said he'd recently attended a meeting of Canada's big city mayors and Mel Lastman, then the mayor of North York, Ont., was not in attendance. (The National/CBC Archives)

Out west, Edmonton Mayor Bill Smith suggested Lastman had been on the job too long.

"I was at Vancouver recently at a meeting of the big-city mayors of Canada. North York wasn't there," Smith said.

The feud even made its way into the sporting arena, with Lastman saying all he knew about Edmonton was that it was cold and that Wayne Gretzky used to play there.

Smith pointed out that North York had never had a Gretzky-calibre player and that the Maple Leafs of neighbouring Toronto hadn't won a Stanley Cup since the 1960s.

There was, however, an apparent olive branch — or was it?

"Lastman says he'd like to challenge Edmonton's mayor to prove which city is more desirable, but he says he doesn't know who Edmonton's mayor is," reporter Simon Dingley told viewers, following the fight being recapped on The National on April 21, 1996.

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