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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.



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