Since Mel Lastman called in the army to dig Toronto out of the snow, our winters have seemed relatively benign. Not this year. The solstice brought an ice storm which started Saturday night and continued until mid-day Sunday. “The Nightmare before Christmas,” as the newspaper called it, is continuing, particularly for those who still have no power.
What started as rain on Saturday quickly turned into ice: ice on the sidewalks, on the overhead electric wires, on the trees and bushes, on the streetcar tracks and cables, on the transit rails. Go Transit was out, streetcars were immobilized, branches of trees fell from the overhead canopy, electric power lines (still live) were down on local streets and sidewalks, traffic lights did not function, Sunnybrook and Toronto East General hospitals were operating on generators. Apparently a newly-constructed water filtration plant was knocked out.
It is the lack of electric power which has particularly affected hundreds of thousands in the city and beyond. The power outages seem to be random, the effects of fallen trees and downed power lines in localized areas. The western part of the downtown core where I live seemed unaffected, until my husband went to Fiesta Farms, our large local supermarket on Christie Street south of Dupont, and found the store (packed with pre-Christmas shoppers) operating on a generator, with no heat, no lights, and half their stock unavailable in the freezers.
My initial telephone calls to local friends confirmed that they were okay. Then I got calls from others, and the stories began to emerge. One friend in North Toronto had a houseful of relatives staying overnight Saturday in anticipation of a big family Christmas celebration the next day. When they awoke Sunday, their power was out and remained out all day, coming on only as they sat down for dinner of purchased dishes and barbecue around 5:00 pm. Their response? To be glad the power was back on, and to phone around to see if anyone wanted to use their house when they left on vacation the next day.
Another friend lives just a block south of the first. She was calling from out of the city. Her neighbour had phoned to tell them that there were so many trees down on the street that it was initially impassable. A city crew cut a path so people could walk in and out, but there was no vehicle access and no electricity. An acquaintance at the YMCA dropped in for a shower. He had no power in his east end home and was busy caring for aged parents living in different apartments in Etobicoke. His father had no elevator service and had to climb nine stories to his apartment. Another friend told of packing up her two cats and bunking in with her in-laws and their dog overnight. She has now learned that power has been restored to her East York home, but she doesn’t want to return too quickly lest it goes off again. Another friend shivered through Sunday night without heat or hot water, and stayed in a hotel last night. She is decamping today to the home of a friend, and is planning to change the venue of her Christmas dinner tomorrow if necessary.
One of our sons reported driving into the city on Monday morning with little traffic, and no functioning traffic lights all the way from the 401 to downtown. Several of his colleagues still had no power. Our other son flew into Pearson airport late last night and saw from the sky a patchwork of lights here and darkness there, all across Mississauga and the city.
This morning, 115,000 Toronto residents are still without power, and another 80,000 in the GTA. Now the temperature has dropped again, and the winds are picking up. Snow is falling on the layers of ice. There have been instances of carbon monoxide poisoning from heaters and barbecues operated indoors. And officials are warning it could be several days before power is fully restored.
This time, there is a genuine problem. Behind the scenes, there is tension over whether or not to “call an emergency.” “The mayor” refuses to declare “an emergency.” If he did, his powers would default to the Deputy Mayor as set out in the Council resolution passed last month. The province is providing assistance without any official designation. Police divisions have opened as warming centers. Hydro, forestry, public works and transit crews are working overtime and on their holidays. The hospitals and most city transit are back on stream. Tonight is Christmas Eve; tomorrow Christmas. People are resilient, will rally, and celebrate as best they can.
Merry Christmas everyone and all the best for a happy and healthy new year.
The title was coined by a friend commenting on the current state of Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford and of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Prime Minister’s role in and reaction to the ongoing Senate scandal has preoccupied the nation for days, rightly so. As it applies to him, I think her analogy is more than apt. My focus here, however, is on the melodrama surrounding Mayor Rob Ford.
On October 31st, Rob Ford was the subject of two very significant public revelations in a Hallowe’en nightmare come true for the mayor. The first was Chief of Police Bill Blair’s press conference announcing that the police had in their possession a digital file which showed “what had previously been reported in the press” and which made Blair “disappointed.” The second was the release, pursuant to a Superior Court judge’s order, of the redacted contents of the Information To Obtain (the ITO) used by the police to obtain a search warrant in a lengthy drug-dealing investigation involving the mayor’s “part-time driver and friend,” Alessandro Lisi, and others.
Chief Blair’s announcement proved that the notorious video first described by the Toronto Star last May did, in fact, exist, contrary to what Mayor Ford had previously said. The existence of the images does not mean that charges can, or perhaps ever will, be laid against the mayor. To prove possession of crack cocaine, there must be a witness who took the video and a certificate of analysis confirming the nature of the substance. If the police have no such evidence, they cannot lay a criminal charge.
The redacted court documents are now being studied in detail and described by the press. See The National Post, November 2, 2013, p. A10. Telephone records show a pattern of many calls between Lisi and the mayor, including calls immediately after reports of the video first broke. Police surveillance reports show Mayor Ford in the company of Lisi, and numerous rendezvous between them, in sketchy circumstances. Regardless of any potential addiction to illicit drugs, the video and the ITO corroborate long-existing reports of his impairment by alcohol. And Lisi, already charged with dealing in drugs, has now been charged with extortion.
Most important, the ITO and the initial video images show a pattern of behaviour by the mayor which has shocked the city. All four daily newspapers (including the Toronto Sun) are calling for Ford to step aside. The Toronto Board of Trade has issued a statement asking him to take a leave of absence. His Council colleagues have expressed “great concerns” and are also calling on him to step down “so that he can deal with his personal problems.”
And Mayor Ford’s reaction??? Thursday, he was adamant that he had no reason to resign. Yesterday, his lawyer was demanding public release of the video. To what end? Release of the video will add nothing to the issue. Today, who knows? Those who know him well say he may do what he has done in the past: plow forward, always on the offensive, and brazen it through. If he does that under these circumstances, there will be no more powerful proof that he is incapable of being mayor of Toronto. Modern mayors understand that they must be accountable, transparent and, most important, must not bring the city and the Office of the Mayor into disrepute. Ford strikes out on all counts. He has lost his legitimacy as Mayor of Toronto.
If no powers presently exist to remove or suspend him from his office in these circumstances, then there is a hole in our law the size of a football field. Cities, even a metropolis the size of Toronto, are creatures of the province. As we saw in the Divisional Court decision on appeal of his conflict of interest case, cities cannot act beyond their statutory authority. Rather than muddling through, it should be incumbent on the City Council to petition the province to amend the Municipal Act or the City of Toronto Act to deal with this situation as soon as possible. Is there any political party in this province which would not support such an immediate amendment?
October 27, 2014. One year from today will be the next Toronto election for mayor and councillors. Those elected will run the city until 2018. Mayor Ford has put Toronto on the map, but not necessarily as many of us may have wished. The existing show has been just that: one debacle after another. High profile pronouncements reversed, and reversed again. Important public policies bandied about by politicians of all stripes purely for political advantage, without regard to expert professional advice. A promise to weed out an alleged “gravy train” degenerating into a tawdry record of ignoring the rules, coaching football on city time, shutting out the media, etc., etc., etc.
Soon the ball will be in our court to decide the future of this city.
Earlier this month, Rahul Bhardwaj, President and CEO of the Toronto Community Foundation, spoke to the Canadian Club about the TCF’s 12th Annual Vital Signs Report on the state of the city. The local press provided comprehensive coverage of their findings. The basic conclusion is that all that has made Toronto 4th out of 140 cities around the world on the Economist liveability scale is not sustainable in the current climate.
What the press did not cover was Mr. Bhardwaj’s assessment of the local political scene. He did not mince words. He made a call for “network thinking” and for a City Hall that is not a “debating society for the deaf.” He referred to Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s vision of Calgary, and how even the Calgary Sun praised their mayor because “he gave us hope, made us proud.” Similarly the unlikely example of Bogota, Colombia, where the city is thriving. Why? Because both cities “have strong political leadership and a singular vision. Toronto has neither.”
Mr. Bhardwaj indicated that leaders who have vision achieve smart growth, do more with less, and achieve support for change. He said that there are five things Toronto needs:
- connectivity, including transit that actually meets people’s needs
- an affordable housing strategy
- more public spaces that are “people-centred”
- an integrated approach to youth unemployment (check out the German model), and
- the need to “rebuild the Toronto brand” so that “the world knows what Toronto stands for”
He asks who will kickstart this? What he termed the “cringeworthy leadership in the city” shows a “complete unwillingness to take a risk. Real leadership depends on taking real risks” and a capacity “to heal the trust deficit.” He noted that the 2014 municipal election is October 27, 2014 and we “can’t indulge in magical thinking twice.” Nor can we wait for “somebody else.” “It is time for all of us to act as “somebodies” and “get engaged again.” He called for “network thinking, big time,” suggesting that each of us “create, nurture, and deliver our own networks” for the good of the city.
Maybe Rahul Bhardwaj should be our next mayor. If not him, who has the vision, the skills, and the credibility to move Toronto forward? That is the key issue.