When Mayor Rob Ford called a meeting of city council on the ice storm, the intention was to pass a quick, clean motion asking the federal and provincial governments to come through with disaster aid for the city.
In the end, the meeting took two days, spilling over from Friday into Monday, and ended in a confusing welter of resolutions on everything from burying power lines to using fallen branches for "artisanal" purposes. Along the way, the mayor and the councillors indulged in another round of the bitter jousting that has become the hallmark of the Ford era.
It was just a glimpse of what Toronto can expect in the long election season. With a vote coming on Oct. 27 and campaigning already under way, poses are being struck and points scored. Even a matter as serious as an ice storm is a chance to make hay.
Monday started with a speech from Mr. Ford about how wonderfully the city had done, under his leadership of course, at responding to the storm. "We did a phenomenal job in one of the worst weather storms this city has ever seen," he said, marvelling that the city had managed to get back on its feet in a mere 10 days. "I put the city of Toronto up against any city in the world when it comes to dealing with a major, major storm."
When Scarborough Councillor Raymond Cho demanded to know why the mayor hadn't declared an emergency after "one million people in the city of Toronto lost power," an annoyed Mr. Ford told him that he had been out inspecting storm damage while "you were nowhere to be found." Mr. Ford accused Mr. Cho and other councillors of using the council meeting for nothing more than "grandstanding." Outside the council chamber he complained: "They're attacking me for doing a good job."
Next on her feet was Karen Stintz, the North Toronto councillor and TTC chair, who says she plans to run against Mr. Ford for mayor. She wanted to know why Mr. Ford had left the city with divided leadership during the storm's aftermath instead of declaring an emergency, a measure that would have put Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly more firmly in charge.
Mr. Ford shot back that "with all due respect, Councillor Stintz, you were nowhere to be found also during the 10 days of the storm." A visibly angry Ms. Stintz said that "just because he didn't see me doesn't mean I wasn't there." Mr. Ford rejoined that she was taking credit for getting the TTC up and running so "you must have a magic wand."
You get the picture. At one point, Mr. Kelly despaired that the meeting was degenerating into an "embarrassing melee."
The debate, if you can call it that, was scattered and often plain weird. One councillor said that it was "insensitive" that some Toronto Hydro customers received electricity bills during the storm aftermath. Another said that – who cares if the rest of the country laughed at us – the city should have called in the army reserves to help.
In the end, council voted unanimously to ask Ottawa and Queen's Park for ice storm help, but it also passed close to 30 other resolutions. There was the one that called on downed branches to be recycled for firewood, mulch and unspecified artisanal uses. Another called for a better tree-pruning strategy. Yet another called for the city to look into creating an emergency social-media co-ordinator. Still another called for more "embedded energy solutions," including co-generation and renewable power, to improve energy security.
Council called for measures to improve "residents' resiliency in coping with future emergencies, including improved personal emergency preparedness." Councillors even took it on themselves to direct Toronto Hydro to develop a 20- to 30-year plan to bury power lines, an exercise that Hydro says would cost many billions.
The occasion called for some measured debate on how the ice storm was handled and how things might have been done better. Instead, we had a round of finger-pointing and credit-hogging that once again made council look sadly divided and dysfunctional.