Toronto’s duelling leaders are butting heads on two fronts – whether to call in the army for help, and whether the city should have declared a state of emergency – as confusion reigns over who is running City Hall’s response to the ice storm.
Mayor Rob Ford issued a statement on Friday saying he’s “concerned” about Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly’s idea of calling in the army to help with cleanup. Meanwhile, Mr. Kelly continued to question Mr. Ford’s refusal to declare a state of emergency after the storm last month, saying the city will “never know” what resources it might have lost because of that decision.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said she spoke on Friday with Mr. Kelly at the memorial service for former mayoral candidate George Smitherman’s husband, Christopher Peloso, about asking Ottawa for military assistance on Toronto’s behalf. “If the city has a request to make, they can make that request of us and then we’ll work with them,” she said.
City Hall had been in confusion for weeks over who is in charge when the ice storm in late December left more than 300,000 customers without power.
Earlier this week, Mr. Kelly said his staff are making “exploratory calls” about the possibility of the army coming to help clear away fallen tree branches – even as he acknowledged that he is not sure he has the authority to ask. Mr. Ford – who saw many of his powers transferred to the deputy mayor late last year after months of scandal – blasted the idea.
Calling in the army would “undermine the efforts” of city staff, a statement from the mayor’s office read: “The mayor sees no need to call in the army when we have over 600 staff dedicated to clean up efforts.”
Some councillors agreed.
“There are certain circumstances where the army is necessary,” Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong said, citing Alberta’s floods as an example of a “very dangerous situation. Health and safety were involved. People’s lives were at stake.” In Toronto, “I’m not sure life and limb of the population is at risk.”
Councillor David Shiner called the idea “too little, too late.” He said it “sounds nice. But it’s nothing. It’s a clean-up event when the emergency situation’s already happened.”
Mr. Kelly said no decisions will be made until his staff reports on the proper process (the province would have to make the request to the federal government).
Mr. Kelly said he revisited the idea after learning the work could last up to eight weeks. “What if another storm hits us again while we’re in the middle of the cleanup?” he asked.
He added that, even if the army is not called in, exploring the possibility could help put in place “a very definite protocol structure” for the future.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kelly continued to question Mr. Ford’s decision not to declare a state of emergency immediately after the storm. An e-mail released on Friday confirms that, on the weekend of the ice storm, deputy city manager John Livey urged Mr. Ford to make a declaration.
Mr. Ford’s office defended his decision in a statement on Friday.
“The city manager and the president of Toronto Hydro, among others, advised Mayor Ford that everything possible was being done, and because every available resource was called for and made available by other municipalities and the province, there was no need to cause unnecessary panic by declaring a state of emergency.”
A city spokesperson confirmed that Mr. Livey later clarified to the mayor that provincial funds and assistance would be provided regardless.
But others questioned whether the decision was political. Had Mr. Ford declared a state of emergency, all emergency powers would have been transferred to Mr. Kelly.
“He wouldn’t let go,” Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby said. “If he had called a state of emergency, he would have lost his power. That’s why he wouldn’t do it. That’s why he did all the photo ops. That’s why he dragged our hydro guys, our forestry guys over for photo ops. He took them away from their jobs.”
Mr. Kelly added that declaring an emergency would have “sent a very powerful symbolic message.”
He denied that a state of emergency might have elicited “panic.” Torontonians are “orderly people,” he said. “They respond to situations and crises in a reasonable and very co-operative way. I don’t think that panic was in the air at that time.”
With a report from Adrian Morrow