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ice storm

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, left, helps deliver food to the Agincourt Community Centre on Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013.Jon Blacker/The Globe and Mail

For the fourth straight day, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford did not speak to each other about the crippling ice storm that forced tens of thousands of Ontarians to spend Christmas in makeshift shelters or in homes without heat and power.

The gulf between two of Ontario's most prominent political figures in the midst of ongoing blackouts and streets strewn with fallen trees is a reflection of the political upheaval enveloping Canada's largest city. With city councillors stripping Toronto's embattled mayor of much of his powers last month after he admitted to smoking crack cocaine, the Premier has sidestepped the mayor, saying she is instead dealing directly with "decision-makers," including deputy mayor Norm Kelly.

The province is sending emergency aid to Toronto, and other affected communities in Ontario, even without a formal declaration of a state of emergency.

Although Mr. Kelly joined the mayor Tuesday at a media briefing on the ice storm's aftermath, he was absent when Mr. Ford addressed reporters at City Hall on Wednesday. Mr. Ford, who has faced criticism from some city councillors over his decision to not declare a state of emergency, said he is working with the deputy mayor on the city's response to widespread power outages and damage.

"All the lines of communication are open," Mr. Ford said. "Mr. Kelly is as up to speed as we all are. He's invited to all these meetings."

City council passed a motion last month limiting Mr. Ford's powers, including a provision that would transfer most of his remaining authority to the deputy mayor if the mayor declared a state of emergency.

Mr. Ford, who has been ensnarled in a drug scandal since May and has been a focus of a police investigation, continued to defend his decision. "This is not a state of emergency," he said. "State of emergency is basically when the whole city is paralyzed, business can't open, people can't get out of their houses. We're not in that situation. We've discussed this numerous times and we're not even close to a state of emergency."

In an e-mail Wednesday evening, Ms. Wynne's spokeswoman Kelly Baker noted that although the Premier and the mayor have not spoken directly about the ice storm, Ontario government officials have been in constant contact with officials from Toronto and other affected communities. Only one Ontario municipality has declared an emergency, the township of Woolwich, just north of Waterloo.

On Thursday morning, the number of customers without power in Toronto was down to about 55,000 from about 300,000 on Sunday. Outside Toronto, about 17,000 customers of Hydro One, including those in Guelph, Peterborough and Walkerton, were still in the dark, while nearly 5,000 customers in Markham, Richmond Hill, Vaughan, Pickering and Ajax remained without power.

Mr. Ford cautioned that clearing debris will take four to six weeks. Beyond the downed power lines, thousands of ice-coated tree limbs have broken off, crashing onto roads, roofs, yards and vehicles.

Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines did not offer an estimate of when everyone would be reconnected, saying the extent of the damage is not yet known, nor is the number of power workers coming to help Toronto from other regions. He warned work on reconnections will slow as larger repairs are tackled. "You won't see the numbers coming down by thousands as we saw in the early days … you're going to see them coming down by ones."

East of Ontario, several provinces are also grappling with blackouts.

In Quebec, Hydro-Québec deployed extra crews to restore power to homes and businesses, but as of Thursday morning, 7,000 customers remained without electricity. In New Brunswick, about 18,000 customers had no power Wednesday. Most of the outages are in the Saint John area, but people in Sussex, St. Stephen, Moncton and Fredericton are also shivering in the dark. NB Power has said it does not expect power to be restored until Saturday.

Ms. Wynne toured a warming centre in east Toronto on Wednesday. She has also visited other communities since the storm hit.

Visitors to some of Toronto's dozen makeshift shelters have swelled as the power outage drags on and temperatures hover below zero. About 1,000 people spent Christmas Eve at the warming centres. Mr. Ford said the number could climb.

At the height of Toronto's power outage, 800 intersections had no working traffic lights. That number was down to about 200 on Wednesday.

Toronto Fire Services have been swamped with six times the normal calls since the storm. Emergency officials have warned people about the deadly risk of carbon-monoxide poisoning as some residents have turned to equipment designed for outdoor use – like gas-powered generators, charcoal stoves and barbecues – to heat their homes.

Two children and two adults in east Toronto were taken to hospital to be treated for carbon-monoxide poisoning Wednesday morning after using a charcoal barbecue indoors.

And two people died of carbon-monoxide poisoning in Newcastle, Ont., east of Toronto, on Monday after trying to keep warm with a gas generator in a garage.

With a report from The Canadian Press