Toronto Disasters: first the mayor, then the ice storm- updated

Toronto Skyline

Toronto Skyline

In the days before Christmas, a huge ice storm affected the northern states in New England and the southern provinces of Canada.  Usually, a power outage of several days duration that affected at least 300,000 households in a metropolitan area would warrant a local emergency declaration. But not so in Toronto.

See this article for the outcome there, given the fact that the mayor did not want to share power with his deputy, or anyone else. Toronto Ice Storm Leaves Hundreds of Thousands with Power.

In the U.S., our process for requesting assistance from a higher level of government entails a local emergency declaration, then the locality requests assistance from state government, and the state asks for a declaration from the federal government. ( Under very special circumstances, the feds may initiate assistance.) From the comments below, it appears that the Canadian system is quite different.

Update on Dec. 27: From a Canadian newspaper article more info on pros and cons of a local emergency declaration. Thanks to Pierre Picard from pointing out this source.

5 thoughts on “Toronto Disasters: first the mayor, then the ice storm- updated

  1. I acknowledge that the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program (ODRAP) may be difficult to qualify for and most likely Toronto will not qualify for the public component of the program. Additionally, it is clearly stated that ODRAP is not a substitute for adequate insurance coverage and does not provide full costs recovery. However, there is still the private component of the program, where the Province of Ontario “tops up private funds raised by the Disaster Relief Committee (DRC) to the amount that is needed to pay eligible claims at 90 per cent, up to a maximum of a 2:1 ratio.”

    My understanding and as stated on the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing which is responsible for the ODRAP port-folio, in order for a municipality to be eligible for ODRAP, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing must make a declaration of a disaster area.

    A declaration of a disaster area under ODRAP differs from a declaration found in the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. Specifically section 7.0.1 (1), (2) and (3) and is subject to emergency powers and orders. For example, section 7.0.1 (4). 11 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act: “fixing prices for necessary goods, services and resources and prohibiting charging unconscionable prices in respect of necessary goods, services and resources” which would be a beneficial order as the latest update from the City of Toronto stipulates that qualified licenced electricians would be necessary for residential repairs and proof of inspection prior to Toronto Hydro restoring power to that residence.

    In addition to the Province, the head of council of a municipality has authority to declare an emergency under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, but also, under municipal level By-laws. For example this is the City of Toronto By-law: Emergency Management By-law.

    As for ODRAP, municipal council must adopt a resolution and forward the request for assistance to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. This municipal council request must be done within 14 working days of the onset of a disaster. For the purpose of the program (ODRAP) disaster means “a sudden, unexpected natural disaster.”

    Related links:

    Ontario’s Energy today: http://www.powerauthority.on.ca/about-us/ontarios-energy-sector

    Electrical Safety Authority: http://www.esasafe.com/

    ODRAP: http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/Asset10527.aspx?method=1

  2. In Canada the local municipality is in charge of disaster response and recovery planning an execution. Actually the individual is supposed to be the first line of response and recovery. The municipal EOC is responsible for managing the emergency – a good choice because they have access to resources and local knowledge. If the resources overwhelm the capacity of the community they can ask for mutual aid or declare an emergency. Municipalities and regions (our version of counties) have bylaws that identify specifically what happens with a declaration for that community. When a community declares the province (if they aren’t providing mutual aid already) will step into help. If the provincial resources are overwhelmed then the Feds will step in (usually with $$). I’ve never seen a disaster requiring this level (money is often thrown around by the federal government as a political move rather than an EM requirement).

    In Ontario, a provincial declaration provides an opportunity to apply for Ontario Disaster Assistance Program (odrap) which has a public and private component. The public component covers things like road repairs, bridges, critical infrastructure, etc. Private is for individual household. Money is based on a combination of need, overall disaster impact (compared to the the tax base of the community) and the municipal ability to respond with adequate resources. ODRAP only covers up to 50% of uninsured losses. It doesn’t cover debris removal, public cost of response (shelters, reception, food, clothing, etc), or many other costs of disaster. The program requires the community to raise donations to cover some of the cost (often because of the generosity of people covers most of the cost). ODRAP is being reevaluated but with the fiscal climate there are very few options.

    In my mind (with the exception of odrap which I think is broken) our system works really well. Communities are generally very well prepared (not quite resilient but prepared none the less) and there is really no need for immediate declarations.

  3. I am sure it is no joking matter in Toronto that the response to the ice storm could have been faster and more robust with provincial and other assistance. Do you have any more details about how the recovery will go with only the local government in charge?

  4. We have some funny rules when it comes to declarations in Ontario and I think (as hard as it is for me to say) Ford was right in this case. Mutual aid doesn’t require a declaration. Provincial assistance does not require a declaration. In fact even if Toronto did declare, the rules for Ontario Disaster Relief Program (ODRAP) – the provincial funding model are such that Toronto isn’t likely to qualify. Like most events this was blown out of proportion somewhat. Terrible that 400,000 households would be out of power and worse that it is at Christmas but the city resources were more than able to accommodate. No increase in resources or $$ could have made response or recovery faster. It’s not as worth it to declare in Canada.

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