Toronto city councillors are divided over whether Mayor Rob Ford should have called a state of emergency in the wake of downed power lines, freezing temperatures and hundreds of thousands of people without hydro in their homes as a result of Sunday’s ice storm.
While councillors such as Josh Colle and Mike Del Grande publicly questioned the decision not to call a state of emergency, public works chair Denzil Minnan-Wong stood behind Mr. Ford at two news conferences Monday.
Mr. Minnan-Wong, who has been among the critics of Mr. Ford’s ability to lead after the mayor’s admission of past drug and alcohol use, said that public servants at the city’s Emergency Operations Centre advised against declaring an emergency.
“My understanding is that the electrical problem is a region-wide challenge and so any surplus resources, whether you declare an emergency or not, are already engaged,” said Mr. Minnan-Wong, who is seen as a possible contender for mayor in the next election.
“The advice I’ve received is declaring an emergency will not make the lights go on any faster,” he said.
In an emergency, Mr. Ford would have to relinquish his mayoral duties to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly as per a council decision that recently stripped Mr. Ford of some of his powers. However, the decision on whether to call a state of emergency remains Mr. Ford’s under the law.
Mr. Kelly told the Globe he had not heard from the mayor on Monday and was not included in Mr. Ford’s deliberations on whether such a declaration was necessary. When asked if he thought politics was involved in Mr. Ford’s decision, Mr. Kelly said: “I hope not.”
Councillor Mike Del Grande, the city’s former budget chief, was not convinced.
“Between Kelly, the province and Ford – get beyond this business. I just kind of sense it’s politics being played. I’ve got no time for politics at this point. Get on with helping people, bottom line, that’s it,” Mr. Del Grande said.
“You know – who’s running the ship? That’s the issue.”
Mr. Ford confirmed at a news conference that he had not spoken to Mr. Kelly or provincial officials on Monday. When asked whether Premier Kathleen Wynne’s discussions with Mr. Kelly on Sunday made it difficult for him to deal with the province, Mr. Ford said, “We’re fine. We talked to the deputy mayor yesterday and I haven’t talked to him today. I haven’t seen him today. We have a great team behind us. Again, we’re getting things done. You can see the numbers for yourself.”
Mr. Kelly was out checking on people in his Scarborough ward Monday, and issued a winter storm update in which he asked Torontonians to check on their neighbours (Mr. Ford made the same request at his news conference).
“Residents are also concerned about disposing of fallen branches and debris that are on their property.” Mr. Kelly’s written statement said. “I am working with City or Toronto officials to develop solutions to deal with this concern. I will continue to provide updates as they become available.”
TTC Chair Karen Stintz, who has declared she will run for mayor in 2014, said she did not think a state of emergency needed to be called Monday given that the situation had improved.
“I think we are on the road to recovery and we have the resources we need, so at this point, I don’t think we need to call a state of emergency. There was a point last night which, if the winds had picked up and more power outages occurred, then I think we would be in a different situation,” she said.
In a written statement, Councillor John Parker also said a state of emergency should not be called now as the worst had passed. “I do not see declaring an emergency to be a necessary act or a helpful one,” the statement said.
However, Councillor Josh Colle, a board member of Toronto Hydro, was still in favour of declaring an emergency Monday afternoon.
“I’m at City Hall right now in part because I’ve got my kids and dog here because we’ve had no power for two days. In the pockets where there is no power, when you don’t have heat or food, things can look pretty dire,” he said.
“Why would you not take any measure possible? If it helps one person get out of their situation a little quicker, then why would we not do that? I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t use every tool in the tool box,” he said adding that his ward includes people who may be more vulnerable than others.
“I’ve got Lawrence Heights, a massive TCHC community, without power. We’ve got seniors and lots of families in there. There’s no warming centre near them,” he said.
“I think we’re at the point now where if someone has no heat in this weather for potentially three days, I think it’s a no-brainer.”
With files from Kaitlyn McGrath and Elizabeth Church