On December 21 and 22, 2013, Toronto was hit by an ice storm that left hundreds of thousands without power, and much of the city paralyzed. The storm brought freezing rain which coated trees with ice, brought down power lines and caused travel to come to a virtual halt.
Public transportation was curtailed, and is slowly being restored. Anywhere from 250,000 to 300,000 residences were hit by power outages, with power in some areas not expected to be restored before Boxing Day.
Downed trees and power lines are a common sight on the streets of the city, with branches falling on private property and along the city streets. There have been extensive reports of fallen trees destroying private property.
Where the next stage should be devoted to clean up; that stage is being shared by a power play between Mayor Rob Ford and Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly. As you know, City Council striped Mayor Ford of most of his authority.
Only the Mayor can declare a state of emergency. But it would be up to Kelly, the Deputy Mayor to manage the situation once Ford makes the declaration. However, Ford has been reluctant to declare a state of emergency quite possibly because it would mean passing all authority to Kelly.
The power play has become even more convoluted. At a press conference, the Mayor stated that a call for a “state of emergency is not needed at this time”. But the city manager, sent an email to Mr. Ford and Mr. Kelly suggesting that they prepare to declare a state of emergency. Kelly also stated that he was not aware that city staff had approached Mayor Ford, asking him to declare a state of emergency Sunday.
Further, in not declaring a state of emergency the deputy city manager stated that:
We were concerned that the province would not give us the help we need unless we declare a state of emergency … But that turned out to not be the case.
There has to be more to it than that! Do you remember the winter storm of 1999, when the mayor at the time, Mel Lastman called in the army so that they could go shopping at Yorkdale. At the time he and the City’s Finance Committee Chair, and Treasurer, missed the boat by not declaring a state of emergency or disaster through the Ontario Disaster Relief Program. By doing this, the City would have been eligible to receive $6 million in relief which would have helped cover the unforeseen clean-up costs. But we received nothing!
The same is true now! If the City declares a disaster, it could be eligible for millions in aid for the cost of clean-up, removal of limbs, staff overtime costs, assistance to non-profit organizations and churches for damages, etc. With all the trees falling on private property and private motor vehicles, I anticipate seeing hundreds of insurance claims against the City. We have to remember that the City is self insured, so the brunt of these claims will be borne by the City’s taxpayers.
There is a huge difference between getting help from the Province with the clean-up, and the City’s taxpayers paying for the costs of this unforeseen clean-up. What about the additional labour costs, and all those insurance claims that the City will be facing? Were any churches, schools, non-profit organization structures damaged by falling trees? If so, they may not be able to afford the repairs needed. For that matter, the taxpayer can’t afford it, either!
All the City of Toronto has to do is adopt a council resolution requesting a disaster area declaration within 14 days of the disaster having occurred. What do we have to lose? If you do not ask, you will never receive!