Ice storm 2013: Is the Canadian government like the cops – never around when you need them?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper over flooded Calgary last June. Apparently there’s no sign of him anywhere near Toronto now. Below: Then U.S. President George W. Bush over New Orleans in August 2005; Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne; the PM’s unhelpful Tweet from Calgary Sunday night. 

The Toronto Star reported yesterday that an estimated 72,000 households remain without power four days after a catastrophic ice storm hit Canada’s largest city.

By the time you read this, that 140,000 or so Metropolitan Toronto residents will be in their fifth day without power or heat – many of them seniors and other vulnerable people trapped in high-rise apartments without food or adequate ways to keep themselves warm.

At one point, 300,000 Toronto-area homes were without electricity.

Of those who could move, at least 1,000 Torontonians made their way to “warming centres” on Christmas Eve and more who could make the move were expected to follow them last night. Outside temperatures, thankfully, were relatively mild – just a little below freezing as this was written.

Nevertheless, it is very likely, it is said here, that at least a few people are going to be found dead in their homes when this disaster is sorted out.

So where the hell’s the government of Canada while this goes on? Where are the Canadian Armed Services? Where’s the prime minister, the putative leader of Canada? What are we paying those people to do anyway?

Yes, the mayor of Toronto insists there’s no emergency. But Rob Ford is pretty well irrelevant now, and no one should waste a lot of time trying to penetrate the addled reasoning of a man who admits he spends a significant part of his time in self-induced alcohol- and drug-induced stupors. He’s been pretty well bypassed by Toronto City Council and the provincial government anyway, with good reason.

The provincial government of Premier Kathleen Wynne has the bit in its teeth and is sending disaster relief to Toronto anyway, despite Mayor Ford’s bizarre declaration that calling a disaster a disaster might cause people to panic.

Alert readers will recall that when massive floods hit Calgary and other parts of Southern Alberta last June, driving more than 100,000 Albertans from their homes, the Canadian army was soon on the scene, filling sandbags, shoring up levees and lending a hand.

Soldiers should be in Toronto now, clearing trees for Ontario Hydro crews and checking homes for vulnerable trapped citizens.

Calgarian Stephen Harper, allegedly the prime minister of Canada, showed up in Calgary last June a snappy green RCAF-FARC flight jacket, complete with unearned wings, and was much photographed solemnly gazing at the swollen Bow River.

He was also photographed flying over the flooded regions south of Calgary peering out the window of a helicopter in a scene hauntingly similar to U.S. President George W. Bush’s August 2005 fly-by of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

But Mr. Harper was on the scene last spring, and it’s important for national leaders to be there during disasters like the one that hit Calgary and the storm still afflicting Toronto today.

So where is he now? As far as I can see from the reams of ice-storm news coverage, there’s been no sign of the elusive Mr. Harper in Toronto or environs.

Perhaps he agrees with Mr. Ford that there’s no emergency.

Perhaps he has concluded that the Toronto residents most severely hit by the after-effects of the storm – who according to the Star live mostly in a band running through east Toronto and Scarborough east of Yonge Street – aren’t the Ontario voters most likely to stick with his Conservative government in the election expected in 2015.

The lights are mostly on, presumably, in the Tory-leaning 905 Belt around Toronto, and maybe that’s good enough for Mr. Harper.

Perhaps Mr. Harper doesn’t want to further embarrass Mr. Ford, who despite the mortification he has caused Mr. Harper and his party remains an important political ally of the PM.

And perhaps Mr. Ford is worried about the budget implications for his next campaign to “stop the gravy train” if he turns for help to a federal government that has floated the idea municipalities should have to pay the Canadian Armed Forces back for emergency relief during natural disasters.

Maybe His Honour was in a self-induced stupor when then Defence Minister Peter MacKay rescinded that terrible idea, which had been run up the policy flagpole by Mr. MacKay’s Parliamentary Secretary, Chris Alexander, the MP for suburban Ajax-Pickering east of Toronto, where presumably the lights were burning brightly last night.

“We have to make tough choices, and we want those services and those core functions to remain strong and in order to do that we’re going to do some cost recovery under this heading of support to the civilian authority in case of natural disaster,” Mr. Alexander nevertheless said during a Jan. 10, 2013, CBC broadcast, making it sound very much as if this were an actual plan, not merely a balloon being floated to see who might take a potshot at it.

Yesterday, the prime minister made a very short statement on the Christmas season. He wished us all a “safe and happy holiday, a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah and a prosperous New Year.” He also issued a statement on the terrible bombings in Iraq.

No mention of Toronto’s plight, however.

On Sunday, when the ice hit, the prime minister was visiting an old folks home in Calgary with Calgary-Centre MP Joan Crockatt, whose seat is most certainly very vulnerable in the next federal general election.

Sunday afternoon the PM issued a Tweet – a Tweet! – advising Torontonians he was thinking about them! “…Please stay safe.”

I’m sure Toronto thanks you for that, Mr. Harper.

This may be the most graphic illustration yet of the hands-off model for most aspects of federal governing favoured by the prime minister and his so-called Conservative Party – like the cops, you can never find a federal Tory when you need one!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

6 Comments on "Ice storm 2013: Is the Canadian government like the cops – never around when you need them?"

  1. Cam says:

    Indeed, the lights were on in Ajax/Pickering. I have family there who confirmed this. I’d like to see a map of the power outages overlaid with the political party affiliation representing that area, sounds like a project for Mr. Cournoyer.

  2. Filostrato says:

    Yesterday, the prime minister made a very short statement on the Christmas season. He wished us all a “safe and happy holiday, a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah and a prosperous New Year.”

    Somebody ought to tell Harper that Chanukah was a month ago, this year coinciding with the U.S. Thanksgiving. Where are the “boys in short pants” fact checkers when you need them?

    Toronto power seems to be back for about 82% of the city. They’ve got the main feeds back up and are now going after individual streets and houses than are still out. My son made it back here from Toronto on the 23rd by train. There were no rail delays but the seats were sold out. The hydro guys worked through the holiday on twelve-hour shifts. The mess of broken trees and ice-covered branches will take weeks to clear up and they had more snow today. Hard to plough streets when they’re still full of debris.

    One of Rob Ford’s few remaining powers was to declare a state of emergency – which he didn’t. The rest of the city government and Kathleen Wynne just got on with it without him, like responsible people do. They managed to do without Harper, too. The “my thoughts are with you.” treacle from Harper produced an “ewwww” facial expression from my daughter when I mentioned it to her. All I could think of when I heard about it was, “Haven’t they suffered enough?”.

    Maybe Harper didn’t want to risk an accidental meeting with Ford. Okay when Ford was raising money for Harper and helping rid Ontario of the “NDP and socialist mess”, or words to that effect, as Harper so nicely put it back in 2011. Now – under the bus with you, Ford. And you socialist, elite, latte-sipping liberals in Toronto – no help for you from Glorious Leader, either.

  3. Penny says:

    Harper lack of presence in the ice storm is very odd. He’s leaving it up to Premier Wynne to do “the Nenshi” and she’s doing a great job, as far as she can without Declarations of Emergency.

    Perhaps Harper is leaving the local MP’s to do the ground work. Funny thing though, he didnt do that in Calgary flood, hmmm.
    We have some family in Pickering, ON still without power Dec. 25.
    Several other ice storm Ridings of CPC MP’s, including Cabinet still out as of 3:27 am Dec 27: Thornhill, (Peter Kent), Richmond Hill (Costas Menegakis), Markham (Calandra), Vaughan (Fantino), Brampton (Parm Gill, Kyle Seeback) Toronto -various MP’s
    Scarborough, which Rob Ford & Canadians are wooing with a subway was one of the worst areas hit.

  4. jerrymacgp says:

    Another issue is, Eastern Canadian electric utilities have had 16 years to upgrade their infrastructure to be more resilient to such events after the Jan 1998 Great Ice Storm; why haven’t they?

    • The Globe and Mail reports: “Toronto Hydro is rejecting the idea of burying power lines to avoid a repeat of widespread electricity outages triggered by an ice storm this week, saying the approach is too expensive and would leave the grid vulnerable to other problems.” http://bit.ly/1fN8xwU While there is some truth to the second part of this statement, the real problem is related to the first, our acceptance of the superstition that the corporate model is the better way to deliver essential public services that has infected every level of our society in the past 30 years. With the “bottom line” always in mind, and preparations for privatization perpetually under way, essential upgrading is always put off until a crisis is reached.

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