GTA mayors gather to appeal for ice storm aid

January 17, 2014

Toronto-area leaders are speaking with one voice, asking for aid from the federal and provincial governments to help pay for the estimated $275-million in damages they suffered in December's ice storm.

But the show of unity did not stop the leaders of the region's two largest governments – Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion – from trading barbs over whether the province is doing enough to respond.

Mr. Ford, cut off from the Premier's office since he was stripped of most of his authority by city council in November, expressed his disappointment with the province after a meeting Friday of more than 20 civic leaders organized by Ms. McCallion and attended by Minister of Municipal Affairs Linda Jeffrey.

Mr. Ford said Premier Kathleen Wynne should have been at the meeting and ready to give municipalities a firm response. "If I was the Premier and all the mayors of the GTA were here, I would have been here," he told reporters. "I wouldn't have sent a minister. It's like sending your chief of staff or the head of a committee to a very important meeting."

Ms. McCallion challenged that view at an earlier news conference, telling Mr. Ford civic leaders needed to do their homework before involving the Premier. The mayor trumpeted her decades of service and said, "You use the protocol that has already been established." Mr. Ford said he "respectfully" disagreed, adding, "My approach might be different from the other mayors, but I'm representing the largest city right here, and that's what I believe in."

To that, Ms. McCallion responded: "If the Premier was to be here, then I guess we should've invited the Prime Minister."

The civic leaders are asking Ottawa and Queen's Park to each cover one-third of the cost from the ice storm that left hundreds of thousands of residents without power, some through the holidays. The municipalities are asking for a response by March 1.

"We all agree the property tax cannot bear that burden," said Ms. McCallion, who spoke on the phone with the Premier before the meeting.

Ms. Jeffrey said she has written to the federal government asking for help covering ice-storm damage and is working to "fast track" requests from 27 municipalities. She said provincial teams are still assessing damages and it could take months to have an answer.

Ms. Wynne spent the morning campaigning for the by-election in Niagara Falls with federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and said she did not want to "pre-empt the discussion" taking place among municipalities. It will "take time," she said, "to determine exactly what the costs are."

Mr. Ford and deputy mayor Norm Kelly both attended the meeting, a compromise that takes into account the city's makeshift leadership model.

The Premier has been working directly with Mr. Kelly, who assumed many of the mayor's powers after Mr. Ford admitted last year to smoking crack cocaine.

Mr. Ford made a formal request this week to meet with Ms. Wynne – a request that was declined.

Mr. Kelly, who said he has spoken to the Premier this week, described Mr. Ford's request for an immediate response as unreasonable given that the damage is still being tallied.

Toronto council this week asked for $114-million in funds from the provincial and federal governments to cover two-thirds of the estimated $171-million damage to the city caused by the December storm and July flooding.

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti said given the extent of the storm's impact on the GTA, the federal and provincial governments have to respond. "The important thing here is we spoke with one voice," he said.

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