Should the mayor have declared a state of emergency?
It's the question that's burning up a certain hash tag (#darkTO) on Twitter. The short answer: when folks are dragging BBQs into their homes to keep warm and Toronto Hydro and fire departments are handling calls 300 times normal volumes for days on end...
Some 300,000 customers were affected by the power outage, that's three times more than the number of people displaced by the floods in Calgary earlier this year, where an emergency was declared.
Five days in, some 50,000 households in the city were still without power or heat. That number was updated to 33,000 Friday morning.
There's some indication that emergency measures were being taken beginning on Christmas Day when police announced the canvass of neighbourhods in the northeast end, going door-to-door in six apartment buildings in the Don Mills and Sheppard area still without power to evacuate some 50 seniors and other vulnerable adults to take them to warming centres.
Police continued their evacuation efforts Thursday, saying those efforts were being coordinated with the city's Emergency Operations Centre, Toronto Community Housing, Toronto Hydro and the TTC to identify other apartment buildings still without power.
The cops have been treating the situation like an emergency from early on, opening up 13 police stations as warming centres earlier this week when it became obvious that the dozen or so opened by the city wouldn't be enough to handle the growing number of folks shivering in the cold with no place to go.
Why didn't the mayor declare an emergency?
Ford has been doing a political high wire act ever since the storm hit, going MIA in the early hours Sunday morning when city officials were trying to formulate a response. And then catching senior city bureaucrats off guard by calling a press conference to provide an update on the city's efforts.
The mayor was reportedly urged to declare an emergency by senior city bureaucrats but refused, even though he has described the storm as one of the worst in the city's history.
Ford didn't want to be politically sidelined, of course. He wants to be seen as running the show and declaring an emergency would hand over authority to his deputy Norm Kelly. That owing to the fact Ford has recently been stripped of his powers by council over that other highly-charged business of gangs and drugs he has become embroiled in.
The mayor's stated reason for not declaring an emergency seemed to shift as the blackout dragged on. First he argued a state of emergency wasn't needed. Then when it became clear that tens of thousands of people would still be without power during an extreme cold alert Christmas Eve, he said declaring an emergency would cause "panic."
On the latter point the experience has been the opposite, according to the Emergency Management Act. To quote: "Experience demonstrates that the media and public often view the declaration of an emergency as a decisive action toward addressing a crisis."
Would declaring an emergency have made any difference on the ground?
Hard to say. Emergency situations take days to assess. The city's top bureaucrats didn't seem to think the situation warranted that level of urgency.
But hindsight being 20/20 declaring an emergency from the get-go might have helped better coordinate efforts, since a declaration would trigger the help of the federal government, including the resources of the ministry of public safety.
The question has to be asked: why didn't Ford lean on his fishing buddy Harper in Ottawa? The affects of flooding in Manitoba and Alberta, as well as in the Northwest Territories have all seen federal assistance in the last year. So far the only word from the PM on the ice storm has been a tweet: "Thoughts are with those without power due to the ice storm - please stay safe." That even though the ravages of the storm have been felt as far east as New Brunswick.
Declaring an emergency would also have given council extraordinary powers to contract goods and services to respond to the situation.
The tough slogging is about to begin. The final 50,000 customers most of them comprised of individual homes, may take another week to get back online, if not more. If an emergency had been declared, Toronto hydro crews could have been augmented with private contractors to help hook up those still in the dark.
But at this point, curtailing the costs of the clean up efforts seems to be entering into the mayor's thinking, who at a press conference yesterday refused to get into dollars and cents.
Has the city's handling of the storm taught us any lessons?
The mayor says no. Crisis? What Crisis? It seems to be the mayor's mantra in times like these. Easy when you can afford a hotel room.
The sad truth is we seem not to have learned anything about emergency preparedness and the importance of prevention since the ice storm of 1998. Or the July deluge for that matter.
Could hydro crews have been moved into position earlier? We knew days in advance that the storm was coming. Many had been affected in Michigan. Could help from outside the city have been requested sooner than the 48 hours it took? More importantly, is there a long term plan to bury hydro lines, for example, to protect us from the ravages of future storms?
It seems governments have done the cost/benefit analysis and they're more willing to chance the once-in-100 years weather events, and whatever damage they might bring, rather than spend the money needed now to guard against disasters caused by climate change. That thinking is shortsighted with those 100-year events occurring every few years instead.
When officials are getting antsy about moderate 20 to 30 kilometre winds messing with the recovery effort, as they were Wednesday night, that's not a good sign.
Will the fallout from the storm hurt Ford politically?
The mayor has been mostly present, at least at press conferences and the odd photo op, but not always accounted for throughout the power outage. It hasn't exactly been a Giuliani moment for Ford.
The frustration level among affected residents, especially his supposed base in Toronto Community Housing, has been growing and seemed to reach a boiling point Wednesday when one of his aides handed out fridge magnets to a group confronted him and upset about being without power.
At press conferences every day since Sunday the mayor has essentially been saying the same thing: that everything that can be done is being done to rectify the situation. That's cold comfort to the thousands who're still without power.
The mayor is in a tough spot. Had he turned over authority to Kelly, he could have been criticized for abandoning the ship of state, even though it's not his to steer anymore.
But now that he's taken the political route, he hasn't exactly looked the man in charge, calling for donations of non-perishables for warming centres when a more urgent need was getting folks to those warming centres.
His heart may bleed for those still without power, but he seems to have miscalculated, going through the motions, perhaps thinking the situation would be rectified more quickly and now finding himself wearing the growing fallout.
Blame for the harsh weather that knocked out the grid can't be laid at Ford's feet, of course. But the prolonged darkness seems to be a tragically fitting end to what's been a stormy year for the city under Ford.