Rob Ford, deputy at odds over seeking army help for storm cleanup
Hundreds of thousands of residents lost power in pre-Christmas ice storm
As Toronto recovers from the pre-Christmas ice storm, the political storm over how to manage the cleanup continues.
Mayor Rob Ford and Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly have been at odds over whether to call the military for help following the crippling ice storm.
Kelly said Friday he is exploring the idea of asking the military for assistance.
"Right now, these are just phone calls, there is no call for the army, nothing as dramatic as that," Kelly said. "All I'm doing is exploring that option to see if it might be there to help us right now, and if for any reason that's not possible, to see what resources they have that might be made available to future councils fighting future crises."
The suggestion comes around 15 years after Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman's call for the army's help following a snowstorm in 1999.
Kelly said the city is looking at an eight-week task to clear debris caused by storm damage and he wants to "clear the table as quickly as possible."
Ford has dismissed his deputy's idea.
"I see no need to call in the army when we have over 600 staff dedicated to cleanup efforts.The City of Toronto is on top of the situation," Ford said on Twitter.
"Calling in the army now would undermine the efforts of city staff. A strategic plan is in place, divisions have the situation under control."
Staff estimates are that the city lost approximately 20 per cent of its tree canopy because of the ice storm.
"We have parks that have a lot of trees that were seriously damaged," Kelly said. "I want to make sure we clean those parks up and eliminate the danger of the limbs as quickly as possible."
At the start of the storm, Ford turned down appeals from city officials to declare a state of emergency, even though hundreds of thousands of residents were without power after the ice storm.
In an email leaked to the press on Friday, deputy city manager John Livey had written that he was going to ask the mayor to call a state of emergency.
"We are getting ready to ask the mayor to declare this an emergency largely because it will assist the staff at the province to make resources available to us, crews, generators, facilities for warming centres," he wrote in a letter dated Dec. 22, at 5:02 p.m. That was less than 24 hours after the storm caused a loss of electricity to a substantial number of Toronto Hydro customers.
Ford dismissed the recommendation, saying there was "no reason" to call the ice storm an emergency. Livey later seemed to change his mind, stating at a news conference that he was “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.”
City council voted in November to remove many of Ford's key powers, including his authority to lead the city if an emergency were to be called.
Kelly said his feeling at the time was that it would have been the right decision to declare a state of emergency.
"I think in doing that there's a very powerful symbolic message that you're getting across to people, that you take this situation very, very seriously," Kelly said. "You're not only communicating that to your residents but you're communicating that to your potential allies."
The mayor had some support from council on the decision not to declare an emergency.
"I don’t think declaring a state of emergency is going to make the electricity go on any quicker, or our furnaces turn on any faster," Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works committee, said on Dec. 23.
Other councillors debated the decision.
Joe Mihevc, councillor for St. Paul's West, an area hit by power outages, called the decision not to declare an emergency "regrettable."
"We could have acted more quickly calling an emergency right off the bat," he said.
According to the City of Toronto emergency plan, there are three levels of emergency. The third and most severe level is declared in a situation that:
- Poses a danger of major proportions to life and property.
- Threatens social order and ability to govern.
- When a declaration of an emergency is made by another level of government.
The plan defines an emergency as "a situation that constitutes a danger of major proportions that could result in serious harm to persons or substantial damage to property and that is caused by the forces of nature, a disease or other health risk, an accident or an act whether intentional or otherwise."