City's ice storm relief could be months away

Toronto's Rob Ford and a handful of other GTA mayors will likely have to wait weeks, and possibly months, to know how much money senior governments will contribute to cleanup costs stemming from December's ice storm.

Municipal Affairs Minister calls Friday meeting a 'listening exercise'

A meeting of the mayors produced a minor back-and-forth between Hazel McCallion, foreground, and Rob Ford, left back. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Toronto-area mayors presented a united front on Friday when they unanimously asked the province for money to help recover after the December ice storm. They gave a deadline of March 1 to hear back.

But Linda Jeffrey, the provincial minister responsible for municipal affairs, said GTA mayors will likely have to wait weeks, and possibly months, to know how much money senior governments will contribute to cleanup costs.

Toronto faces an estimated $106 million costs from the ice storm, and the GTA as a whole is estimated at around $250 million.

Jeffrey emerged from the meeting and told reporters that while the discussion was "productive" it will take time before cities learn how much aid they will get.

"This was a listening exercise and a chance to explain the provincial program," said Jeffrey, who added that a decision is coming "in the coming months."

Once Jeffrey left the room, the mayors passed a resolution calling on the province to provide an answer about storm relief by March 1.

The meeting was held in Mississauga and hosted by that city's longtime mayor, Hazel McCallion.

With all the mayors on stage together, McCallion was asked if Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne should have attended Friday's meeting. She said she was happy meeting with the minister responsible, Jeffrey, then going to the premier if necessary.

Ford, when asked about Wynne's no-show, disagreed, saying the premiere should have been at the ice storm meeting instead of meeting with federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in Niagara Falls, where a provincial byelection will be held in February.

Ford said he preferred to "go to the top" when he wanted something done.

That caused McCallion to quip that, by that logic, Prime Minister Stephen Harper should have attended. Her comment drew laughs from reporters and other mayors.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford arrives at a meeting in Mississauga where he, along with a handful of other GTA mayors, will press the province for money to help cover ice storm cleanup costs. (David Donnelly/CBC)

"The province didn't give us an answer today," said Ford who had hoped to come out of Friday's meeting with a hard number. "The taxpayers can't wait many months."

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who has assumed many of the mayor's powers in a November council vote, also attended Friday's meeting.

Kelly said the mayors are hoping ice storm costs will be shared equally between the city, the province and the federal government, with each level of government covering one third of the costs.

Jeffrey said the province has assessment teams working to survey the damage, but cautioned that not all municipalities who've applied for relief will qualify. Jeffrey also said she wants the federal government to play a role.

Striking two days before Christmas, the ice storm at its height knocked out power for 300,000 Toronto Hydro customers. Many were left without power for days in freezing temperatures over the Christmas holidays.

Streets littered with fallen trees and limbs have left affected municipalities facing cleanup costs that many GTA mayors, including Ford, say cannot be entirely covered by taxpayers.

In an interview Friday on CBC Radio's Metro Morning, Mississauga mayor McCallion said the meeting is a chance for GTA municipalities to present a united front to senior governments, something she believes will pay benefits long after the ice storm compensation issue is settled.

"We have to work together," she told host Matt Galloway. "Every municipality sending in different requests … just allows the federal and provincial government to delay making any decisions."

After Jeffrey spoke, the mayors appeared together at the microphone in one large group in an attempt to present such a united front.

McCallion also said setting a deadline with the province was key.

"We believe that if we didn't set a date, we may never known if [application for storm relief money] is accepted."

With files from The Canadian Press