The Ontario government is riding to the rescue of cities and towns battered by last year’s ice storm, promising an estimated $190-million to cover the costs of dealing with the damage.
“What set this event apart from others is the duration and the size of the storm,” Municipal Affairs Minister Linda Jeffrey said at the legislature Wednesday. “The effects of the storm were substantial, and our response will also be substantial.”
Municipal leaders, who met with Ms. Jeffrey last month to ask for provincial dollars, cheered the decision. They had initially asked the province to pay just one-third of the cost; Ms. Jeffrey’s announcement signalled Ontario will pay significantly more than that.
“What the province came through with today, in my opinion, is even better [than what we wanted],” said Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, who led the push for compensation.
Ontario officials are assessing the damage and will recommend how much money to give to each municipality. Ms. Jeffrey said the total payout is a fluid number and could go up or down.
The funds will cover things such as the cost of setting up warming centres, overtime for hydro crews and cleaning up debris. The province will not pick up the tab for planting new trees or productivity lost because of the storm.
The icy blast, which saw freezing rain sweep through Ontario last December, took down tree branches and power lines, turned roads into skating rinks and shut down parts of Toronto’s transit system. Hundreds of thousands of households lost power, some for more than a week.
In the wake of the storm, 32 municipalities appealed to the province for help.
Toronto city manager Joe Pennechetti estimated Toronto’s share of the funding would be about $86.5-million – exactly what the city had asked the province for. According to the city’s estimates, the lion’s share of the ice storm’s cost involved cleaning up debris. Restoring electricity, clearing ice off streets and fixing broken pipes were also drains on the city budget.
“[It’s] not just good news, this is great news. I’m delighted to hear it,” Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who helped direct the city’s response to the storm, said at city hall after the announcement. He said that the funding “reflects the nature of the relationship between the city and the province, which is one of partnership.”
At the height of the ice storm, Premier Kathleen Wynne worked directly with Mr. Kelly, and not Mayor Rob Ford – the result of a council vote in November after the mayor’s crack cocaine scandal that stripped him of many of his powers. When asked whether he thought Mr. Ford could have secured the same deal from the province, the deputy mayor replied: “I’ll leave that for you to decide.”
Mr. Ford, in Ottawa for a big city mayors’ meeting, said in a statement: “This program will help ensure that the significant costs we are facing as a result of this storm do not trickle down to Toronto taxpayers.”
Ms. Jeffrey said she wrote to federal Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Steven Blaney on Wednesday to ask that the federal government help the province cover municipalities’ costs. A spokeswoman for the Public Safety Ministry could not say Wednesday whether Ontario would receive any assistance from Ottawa.
The provincial compensation will only apply to municipalities. Other government agencies that had to deal with the storm – such as Hydro One, which handles electricity transmission and also distributes to more than a million households, mostly in small towns and rural areas – will have to pay their own costs from their existing budgets.
The money promised Wednesday only pays for costs related to the ice storm. Damage from other extreme weather, such as the flooding in Toronto last spring, will not be covered.
With a report from Josh Wingrove in Ottawa.
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