Toronto deputy mayor Norm Kelly chairs the city’s emergency committee – the nerve centre – of the ice storm response, while Mayor Rob Ford is not a member of that team despite appearing to be its public face.
At a news conference Friday morning, Mr. Ford was front and centre answering questions about the city’s response to one of the largest ice storms in Toronto’s history as he has been every day since last weekend’s storm. Yet, at key moments, like Friday’s meeting of the Toronto Emergency Management Program Committee (TEMPC), Mr. Ford has not been involved.
Mr. Kelly became chair of TEMPC as a result of last month’s council vote that stripped Mr. Ford of some of his power, after the mayor admitted to using crack cocaine and drinking and driving in the past.
“He’s tended to do the outside job and I’m doing the inside job,” Mr. Kelly said of the mayor. “One person said to me, ‘well, we don’t see much of you out there,’ and my answer is ‘because I’ve got the internal job.’”
Mr. Kelly faced criticism earlier this week, after it emerged that he’d taken an overnight trip to Florida during the height of the ice storm to visit with family. He later apologized, and said that he stayed in constant contact with city staff and Premier Kathleen Wynne while he was away.
As chair of TEMPC, Mr. Kelly talks with city departments to ensure they have the resources and support they need, and to co-ordinate communication between the departments. “This is the co-ordinating body, this is the one where everyone gathers at the table,” he said.
Mr. Kelly said that, though even he is somewhat unclear of what the mayor’s role has been, Mr. Ford has been helpful “in a very general way. He took the opportunity, knowing that his office itself is high-profile, to use it to focus public attention on the issues and the way in which we were addressing them.”
Mr. Kelly and Mr. Ford have not been in direct contact since the ice storm that has left thousands of Torontonians without electricity, Mr. Kelly said, though he said city staff “are talking to both of us” to ensure they’re receiving the same key information.
Mr. Ford and the Premier have not been in touch either – a fact that Mr. Ford dismissed Friday. “It’s been a team effort,” he said. “We’ve been in communication with all the departments.”
Ms. Wynne declined to comment on her lack of communication with Mr. Ford on Friday, too. “Let’s deal with the presenting issues today and the presenting issues today are that there are still people without power in the city and outside of the city. And so let’s get those folks reconnected. Let’s make sure they have the services in place and then we can have a conversation about government.”
Anthony Haines, CEO of Toronto Hydro, said that, despite the unusual power split at City Hall, he’s been left to make all decisions regarding hydro and electricity outages according to the utility’s own emergency protocols and without political interference. He acknowledged that he’s been briefing Mr. Ford, Mr. Kelly and Ms. Wynne separately, but said “I don’t see it as being inefficient or wasted effort.”
Mr. Kelly also dismissed the idea that the political situation has been hampering the recovery process. “Frankly, I think that what most people want is the job done quickly. The complexity that may lie behind it is – it may be interesting, but it’s not crucial … The complexity you can teach in Government 101.”
With reports from Kaitlyn McGrath