Rob Ford may be creeping out on to an icy political high wire by not declaring a state of emergency in Toronto.
There is no doubt people are suffering in the city.
Crews are restoring power, but as of Monday night 200,000 people are still in the cold and the dark with their prospects for heat and light days away. Temperatures are dropping down to -15 tonight. The high on Tuesday won’t climb much above -10.
Premier Kathleen Wynne is keeping a ten foot barge pole firmly in place between her and Canada’s newsmaker of the year, preferring instead to deal with Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly.
Even in the midst of what could become a life and death situation for people in Toronto, is it possible this bizarre political drama is actually interfering with the most basic of needs, the security of citizens?
The anomaly here is once a state of emergency is declared, authority for dealing with the storm falls to the office of the Deputy Mayor, a result of actions taken by council last month to strip Ford of many of his powers.
It’s hard to say whether a state of emergency is actually warranted. Some reports say it’s the advice that’s been given to the mayor and he’s resisting, other reports say the call is actually made by the head of Toronto Hydro and is only enacted by the mayor afterward. Ford says so far, he won’t declare it.
If political advantage is rattling around in the back of Ford’s brain, he should let go of it…pronto. If maintaining power during this crisis and succeeding is gamble Ford is making to reclaim the favour of the folks who find themselves huddling beside unlit Christmas trees, it better be a sure thing.
Bolstering his hand are experts saying that declaring a state of emergency would not bring any meaningful resources to bear on the problem at hand. Hydro says they are restoring power as quickly as possible. This damn well better be the undisputed truth.
Power utilities have a unique balancing act of their own during situations like this. Nova Scotians will recall the debacle around Hurricane Juan when Nova Scotia Power made predictions to have the power back on within a couple of days and then left people taking cold showers and barbecuing on their back decks for nearly two weeks.
Nova Scotia Power subsequently put in place much more realistic protocols for providing information to customers after they received the brunt of a hurricane of complaints.
The point being, how these emergencies are handled by the hard-working hydro crews is only partly responsible for how the public views the results. How well information gets out and what’s said obviously defines the public perception. Even in natural disaster people want to know who’s responsible for the response.
The Toronto Star predictably is first out of the gate to say Ford is somehow asleep at the switch. The real finger pointing will begin in earnest as this miserable thing drags into the week. In the toxic climate of Toronto politics, it will be cold.
If there is even a hint that politics could cause the heat, lights and transit to be out an hour longer than they should, Mayor Rob Ford, Deputy Mayor Kelly and Premier Wynne will all be getting more than just a cold shoulder from the public.
Because of the public safety stakes involved, for these leaders this could be a very icy tightrope indeed.