After a special council meeting on Toronto’s ice storm stretched past its first day and threatened to go into the weekend, a frustrated Mayor Rob Ford accused fellow councillors of “grandstanding” and extending the debate to play politics.
“I’ve never seen a debate go on longer than this,” Mr. Ford said Friday, after the meeting on whether to ask for financial assistance from the provincial and federal governments. “I want to ask the province and the feds for money. That’s it,” said the mayor, who had his last-minute attempt for a rare council sitting on Saturday denied. Instead, the meeting will resume Monday.
City staff have recommended Toronto ask for $114-million to help pay for damage from both December’s ice storm, as well as July’s flood waters. City Manager Joe Pennachetti said the two severe weather events last year cost the city a total of $171-million, a financial burden he wants the two upper levels of government to share. The city has until Tuesday to request assistance.
“I believe strongly that the province cannot ignore the fact that $250-million probably will be the damage to all of Southern Ontario, and they have to consider all potential programs to assist us,” Mr. Pennachetti said. “We cannot absorb that impact on the property tax base.”
A meeting of leaders from the Greater Toronto Area is planned for next Friday in Mississauga and Mr. Ford intends to be there. His brother, Councillor Doug Ford, suggested that the city’s embattled mayor would be leading the group in its request to the province.
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who was given most of Mr. Ford’s powers by council last year, and has acted as the city’s main contact with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne since, said he has not been invited to the meeting. “No one has written, texted or phoned me,” he said. “Let’s see how these things get worked out over the next few days.”
Mr. Kelly said he plans to introduce a motion that follows the staff recommendation and ask the two upper levels of government to each share one-third of the cost of both the July floods and December ice storm – $57-million each.
But Mayor Ford said he thinks the city should focus on the ice storm, which alone cost an estimated $106-million, and not include the July flood in its request. The city had its request for flood funding denied last year. Instead, he wants the city to ask for $60-million. “If they said no once, why would they come back again and say yes?”
While Toronto saw 300,000 households lose power during the worst hours of the ice storm, neighbouring cities also suffered substantial damage. Already, six municipalities in Ontario have declared themselves “disaster areas” to be eligible for assistance, according to a provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing spokesperson.
In Brampton, staff estimate the long-term cost of recovery will be more than $50-million. Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell, who met with Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion and Caledon Mayor Marolyn Morrison Thursday, said that joining forces with Toronto would prevent the biggest city in the region from claiming all the province’s disaster relief funds.
“We want to make sure by working together that we’re all at the same meetings and having access to the same information and the end result: the right amount of support to deal with the task and the challenge ahead,” she said.
NDP MP Olivia Chow, who is being touted as a possible mayoral candidate, said in an interview that the federal and provincial governments have a responsibility to help after events such as the ice storm. Being a big city, she said, doesn’t mean Toronto shouldn’t be eligible for assistance. “We pay a lot of taxes,” she said. “There’s personal income tax, GST, HST, gas tax, you name it. We should get some of it back.”
With Calgary’s flood, she said “they didn’t manage by themselves. They had help from the federal government. Toronto shouldn’t be any different.”
With reports from Dakshana Bascaramurty and Adrian Morrow