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Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

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

| December 26, 2013
Ice storm 2013: Is the Canadian government like the cops -- never around when you need them?

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 is 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 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 Harper in Toronto or environs.

Perhaps he agrees with 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 Harper.

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

And perhaps 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 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," 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 is also found on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.



Geez Dave, understanding your political bent and all (I'm sure you'd blame Harper for the Black Death if you thought you could get away with it), could you have not spent a moment or two educating yourself as to how Aid to Civil Power operations work? There is no process by which the Federal Gov't or DND can unilaterally intervene in a domestic relief operation. There is an effective process by which Provincial and lower-level authorities can request support, and there's lots of examples of same. But we don't just jump into a domestic situation without having been requested by the people who are responsible. And that's NOT Harper and the Federal Government, no matter how much blame you'd like to lay upon them. That's NOT the Law and it's NOT Policy.

Webgear has it right about that.

You're comparing a situation where, in your words, "at least 1,000 Torontonians made their way to "warming centres" to a situation where at one point 65% of Calgary was under an evacuation order? In case you missed it, no homes, roads, railways et al have been destroyed due to loss of power in Toronto. The CF response in Alberta was to help stem rising floodwaters or remove people who could not safely move. There is NO comparable issue in Toronto, no matter how much of a comparison you would like to make. Toronto has more firefighters and police than there are active combat arms personnel in the CAF (btw, just what is the "Canadian Armed Services" anyway? Doesn't exist in any Federal department), and probably has more civic employees than the entire CAF Regular Force. How did this become a DND problem when the GTA should be more than capable of dealing with it, as Rob Ford has repeatedly pointed out?

Your perjorative attempt to denigrate Harper for wearing a flight jacket is just beyone lame. WE gave him that jacket and there's not a single CAF person I know who thinks like you do about it. YOU have never gained the ability to wear that jacket, in our world the opinion of your ilk wrt to it has no merit. The only ones who can be offended are US, and we're not.

What is this, Webgear, the Big Society? For heaven's sake, there's no doubt neighbours are helping neighbours, families helping families and public servants working overtime for free to help Toronto sort itself out. Meantime, the prime minister has nothing more to say that a Tweet? Give me a break!

You are largely correct that the normal process for military aid to civil authorities in the evnt of a natural disaster is via a provincial request, and some federal legislation sets out the process. So we have to ask why this has not been done by the province - or, if feelers were put out by the province, what was the federal response. It is said here that if the federal government had made the offer, it would have been accepted. Surely the federal and Ontario governments still talk to one another!

There can be no question such assistance would be a PR bonanza for the armed forces, and, despite a budget squeeze so tight they can't afford winter coats for cadets, I'm sure senior CAF officers would have jumped on the opportunity to assist with alacrity.

Webgear wrote:
Shouldn't all the people of Toronto be helping each other? Why aren't neighbours helping each other, why aren't families helping other families?

Why do you assume they aren't?

Shouldn't all the people of Toronto be helping each other? Why aren't neighbours helping each other, why aren't families helping other families? What good is a few thousand soldiers, when there is a million people in the city that could be helping each other? Why don't the unions come out and help, all the political staffs at city, provincial and federal levels join hands and help their fellow neighbours and the people they are suppose to be working for?

Do you realize before the military can be called in the provincial government must make the request for aid to the federal government, this is what occurred in the Alberta floods of last spring, it is the only reason why the Army was called into southern Alberta. 

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