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Contractors working on behalf of the City of Toronto clean up branches left by the ice storm in North York on Friday. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Contractors working on behalf of the City of Toronto clean up branches left by the ice storm in North York on Friday. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Wynne says gift card circulation flawed but necessary Add to ...

Handing out grocery store gift cards to people whose food spoiled when their homes lost power in the ice storm was flawed, but it was better than doing nothing, Premier Kathleen Wynne said.

The provincial government's program, which by the end of day on Friday distributed $835,000 in gift cards to more than 8,500 people, was criticized because the supply ran out several times and had no method of making sure those who got the cards actually did not have enough money to replace the lost groceries.

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Ms. Wynne said on Friday her government had expected only $200,000 worth of gift cards would be needed, but the amount more than quadrupled.

"From my perspective, we've helped. Was it perfect? No, it wasn't. But we knew that the demand was going to outstrip supply," she told The Globe and Mail in an interview at her Queen's Park office. "Critics who are looking at the situation, if you follow their line of thought in many cases, [they think] it would have been better to do nothing. I just don't believe that. I do not believe it would have been better not to try to help."

The cards were meant for only the neediest - those who were without power for an extended period and could not afford to replace rotting food. But the province had no way to ensure all those who got them qualified.

Ms. Wynne said applying a test to determine income would have slowed the distribution.

"There was an honour component to this ... and to put in place a needs assessment, that would have been a really burdensome administrative process. That was not going to work, because this had to happen quickly," she said.

The central problem, Ms. Wynne said, was that there were not enough cards in Ontario, and more had to be shipped in from the Maritimes and Manitoba.

"There were some issues around logistics that we hadn't necessarily anticipated. There weren't enough cards physically in Ontario," she said. "Whether we could fix them in another situation, I don't know, but we at least would know about that. I had no idea. It hadn't crossed my mind that there wouldn't be enough cards in Ontario."

Many of the hundreds of people who came to the Golden Mile Employment and Social Services Centre in Scarborough on Friday left empty-handed when the cards ran out again at about 4 p.m., with dozens still in line.

People began arriving as early as 5 a.m. for the 8:30 opening. Many waited upwards of two hours to receive the cards for products including Shoppers Drug Mart and President's Choice.

Wayne Schaper, who was without power for three days, was one of the last people to receive a card. He had waited for about two hours and said he felt "very lucky" to go home with one. But he was sympathetic to those still in line.

"It's unfortunate that not everybody here who showed up gets one," he said.

Many people left looking frustrated. Norma Barrientos had come to line up over three days and was "really mad" that the cards were gone by the time she arrived after work.

Nicole Bower, who lives in the Scarborough area, waited for two hours to collect a $100 gift card for her family.

She described the experience as "disorganized and so inconvenient."

"It's a nice idea and I'm glad they're doing it, but it takes a huge commitment from us," Ms. Bower said.

But after a long wait, she received a voucher and said she felt "relieved" as she walked out of the busy mall, leaving hundreds still waiting.

Follow on Twitter: @adrianmorrow

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