Ice Storm 2013: It’s still an emergency, and the PM is still missing in inaction

Canadian soldiers, summoned by Mayor Mel Lastman, clean up the streets of Toronto after the big dump of 1999. Below: Mr. Lastman. (Photos grabbed from the Toronto Star.)

More days of silence from the prime minister of Canada have passed while the citizens of Toronto continue to dig themselves out from under a catastrophic sheet of ice.

While putative leader of the country says nothing, 32,000 Torontonians remain without electricity today. The Globe and Mail now reports that a forecast of high winds means that number may increase again.

With Stephen Harper working the levers behind the green curtain in Ottawa, Canadians obviously need to ask themselves if the government of Canada and the government of Ontario are even talking to one another about the ice storm that hit the country’s largest city three days before Christmas.

Or maybe this question needs to be rephrased: Does the Harper Regime communicate with any province governed by a party that does not share its market-fundamentalist philosophy? Or does the Harper government talk with any provincial government at all, period? About anything?

We know that Prime Minister Harper’s Hermetic Kingdom on the Rideau doesn’t stoop to communicate with provinces or citizens about such routine agenda matters as health care funding or pipeline construction. If communicate it must, dictation from the centre is the order of the day.But most of us, this blogger included, surely assumed the Government of Canada would nevertheless play the part citizens have a right to expect in the event of a natural disaster such as the ice storm that whacked Toronto last Sunday, the effects of which continue to linger.

But perhaps this was naïve with a regime in Ottawa for which everything is ideological, and everything ideological is political, and which is known to prize giving orders and instructions more highly than its ability to communicate or negotiate.

So has there been any communication between Ontario and Ottawa, or for that matter the city of Toronto, about the ice storm aftermath? Have offers of assistance been made or discussed by the Harper Regime? What was the tone and tenor of that discussion, if any. If there was none, why?

Canadians generally, and certainly citizens of Toronto and environs, deserve answers to these questions.

Sensitive supporters of the Harper Regime have pointed out that in the normal course of events, a province must request federal military aid to the civil power in the event of a natural disaster.

While there is legislation outlining such a process (the Emergencies Act), it is far from clear constitutionally speaking that this is a requirement or that there’s simply nothing the federal government could have done without a provincial request. Indeed, it is said here that five words in our Constitution make this claim baloney: Peace, Order and Good Government.

The legal fine print doesn’t seem to have stopped a Toronto mayor from picking up the phone himself and summoning the Canadian Army to help clean up a big dump of snow. That was mayor Mel Lastman, back in 1999.

Other Harper supporters have suggested that the Armed Forces are only for war, which is an even bigger slice of baloney.

At the very least, in such circumstances, we would have expected someone in Ottawa to call someone at Queen’s Park or Toronto City Hall with an offer of manpower.

It sounds like that didn’t happen. If it did happen, and the answer was “No thanks,” we also deserve to know why.

We all need to know why because with continued global warming – even if the Harper Regime doesn’t want to believe in it – we’re likely to see more of this kind of thing in future.

Notwithstanding budgets so straightened the Armed Forces can no longer afford winter coats for cadets, surely Army brass would have jumped on the PR bonanza presented by the opportunity to send a few soldiers with shovels and power saws into the messy streets of Toronto! Any such effort, of course, would also have come with the possibility of a little handy cost recovery from the federal government.

Whatever the legal niceties of filing a request for help, it is said here that if assistance had been offered by Ottawa, Queen’s Park would have accepted it.

No, the problem here is political. And it is almost certainly tied to the alliance between the PM and Toronto’s troubled and troubling mayor, Rob Ford..

It seems clear that the Harper Regime doesn’t want to aid the people of Toronto or say anything at all about the situation in that city because helping its political ally Mr. Ford is more important.

Mayor Ford doesn’t want to call the disaster a disaster or even an emergency because … well, who knows what that man is thinking? He may be in too much of a stupor to think at all!

As for Mr. Harper, his response to the Toronto disaster is a national disgrace.

He has issued no statements since Christmas Day, when he wished us all a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah and a prosperous New Year and condemned the sectarian bombers in Iraq. Members of his cabinet and caucus have also been mum.

On the ice storm story, he or someone on his social media staff appears to have issued two anodyne Tweets. Tweets!

Since then: silence.

Where the hell is the prime minister of Canada?

This post also appears on

16 Comments on "Ice Storm 2013: It’s still an emergency, and the PM is still missing in inaction"

  1. anonymous says:

    “Where the hell is the prime minister of Canada?”

    Personally, I think Stephen Harper has entered the RCMP supervised ‘Prime Ministerial Witness Protection Program’, in order to prepare for his testimony against Mike Duffy, Pam Wallin, Nigel Wright and the rest of his PMO gang in the upcoming criminal cases.

  2. ronmac says:

    By his own admission Harper claims he’s on the phone to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at least once a week. If Canadian citizens have any concerns, issues or questions they think should be addressed by their PM, they should go through the proper diplomatic channels. This means contacting the Israeli embassy in Ottawa to pass these concerns along in the hopes Netanyahu may bring it up during one of their informal weekly chats.

    Israel has experienced heavy amounts of snowfall in recent weeks so Harper may be preoccupied.

  3. Lars says:

    I believe that his invocation of emergency powers would require Rob Ford to step down as Mayor immediately after. Perhaps any suggestion that such steps are necessary are being avoided by both Ford and Harper in order to forestall this.
    Happy Christmas, David.

  4. Brian Runge says:

    So what’s wrong with “market fundamentalism”? It’s the foundation of our success as a nation – then again extremist union people like you revile success and hard work in favour of mediocrity and a culture that opposes hard work!

    • Gee, Brian, you sure sound idiotic enough to be Joe Albertan if you ask me, and I’m betting you’re not the umpire of the same name, so… As you know, I have a pretty good idea who you are, so the day of your outing is coming closer.

      • Tom in Ontario says:

        According to news, Brian Runge lost his job as a major league umpire because of alleged substance abuse. This Brian Runge in no way resembles the other one since his arguments, like those spouted by our illustrious prime minister are truthful, logical and obviously unaided by chemical comforts.

    • docleslie says:

      Wow. It’s amazing how ill-informed conservative supporters are. Market fundamentalism has done nothing that could be considered remotely positive for ANY country (in the sense of equanimity—the only measure that counts). Furthermore it has never existed in any pure form in Canada and would take us down the road of further class inequity, environmental poverty and artificial rogue economy, as can be seen by the current attempts to institute it.

  5. Hana Razga says:

    Well for one, Toronto is no Calgary……ha ha

  6. Hana Razga says:

    …even though I don’t really think it is funny

  7. Tom says:

    I guess you’re saying that it’s Harper’s fault that the mayor of Toronto and the premier of Ontario haven’t asked for help.
    Think of the noise you would raise if Harper over-ruled provincial or city authority.

    • docleslie says:

      I guess not Tom. I guess what he’s saying is Harper made many pronouncements about, then rushed to the aid of his precious Alberta but has said nothing in this case. It seem iniquitous at best and an explanation of why this is so is in order. It’s clearly political.

  8. Filostrato says:

    To add insult to injury, the Big Melt today, preceded by yesterday’s Big Wind, are causing more havoc. The Big Wind knocked down more ice-laden branches and took out more wires. The Big Melt is causing ice to fall from branches and buildings in downtown TO. Some streets are closed until further notice as sheets and chunks of the stuff fall from the downtown highrises. I believe Calgary had similar problems not too long ago.

    Ontario Hydro has seconded some of its staff to Toronto Hydro, everyone is continuing to work around the clock (12-hour shifts, I mean, not working forever without sleep) and crews have come in from some states in the U.S. and from Manitoba. Québec and the Maritimes are still getting their grids back up and digging out. They’re going to be getting the Big Wind followed by the Big Melt today and tomorrow. After the ice storm of ’98, (we were without power for 11 days), the various jurisdictions on all sides of provincial and national borders worked out labour and resource sharing in case this happened again. Somebody learned from the experience, anyway.

    As for Harper and his Christmas Disappearing Act (anyone looked behind the curtain?), people have learned on whom they can depend in a crisis. It ain’t him.

    Something I hadn’t thought about until I read a headline this morning: there will be tons of spoiled food that will have to be disposed of once the streets are cleared and trucks can get through.

  9. xray spex says:

    Seven days and many in the GTA are still without power. How hard would it have been for Mr Ford to ask for emergency support? How hard would it have been for Mr Harper to offer emergency support? Perhaps a few Canadian Forces trucks and men with chainsaws to clear up streets of downed trees so power crews could get to work immediately? Either Ford and Harper couldn’t think of this or they did. Either they decided to do nothing or couldn’t think of anything to do. I’d say they’re damned because they both did nothing and could have done something. Meantime some people have died and some people are living in unheated housing because Ford and Harper both did nothing. Thanks Rob and Steve… aka the “fishin’ buddies”

  10. carrieBC says:

    This situation is unbelievable. The number of days it has dragged on. Xray spex hit the nail on the head. I couldn’t believe a few days ago, according to news reports, that the trees still hadn’t been cleared from the roads. Think of the advancement of the Hydro crews if some (or more) teams for clearing alone had been brought in. Simple! In the west it seems a simple thing to do. Rurally, it seems a simple thing to get done. It could have saved the lives and health of some people. There is a political blockage here and thanks to the Ontario Premier, there has been help from that quarter. Are Canadians letting Rob and Steve run the country (the Great White North), eh?


You must be logged in to post a comment.