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Ice storm e-mails reveal confusion over state-of-emergency powers

Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly tours the damage left by the ice storm at Thompson Memorial Park in Scarborough, Ontario January 09 2014.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

As debate brewed over whether Toronto should issue a state of emergency to deal with December's ice storm, Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly's office expressed confusion over his role and responsibilities in a crisis, newly released e-mails show.

Mr. Kelly was one of several councillors who called on Mayor Rob Ford to declare an emergency after a pre-Christmas storm shredded trees, disabled traffic lights and severed power to 300,000 customers – or about one million people – in Toronto.

Vested with additional powers in November after Mr. Ford admitted to smoking crack cocaine, Mr. Kelly would have taken over emergency duties from the mayor. Those duties, however, were not entirely clear to Mr. Kelly's chief of staff, Earl Provost, according to correspondence released Monday under freedom-of-information legislation.

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In e-mails sent Dec. 24 to city manager Joe Pennachetti and deputy city manager John Livey, Mr. Provost noted confusion existed over the deputy mayor's responsibilities under a state of emergency. Mr. Provost asked for a meeting to sort out protocols.

"We should figure this out once the current crisis is resolved," Mr. Provost wrote.

It's unclear whether the meeting took place. Some correspondence has been redacted.

The mayor has said he did not feel a state of emergency was warranted because the city, province and Toronto Hydro were doing everything possible to deal with the ice storm's aftermath. Yet e-mail exchanges between several of the city's top bureaucrats suggest an official declaration was imminent on Dec. 22.

Just before 6 p.m., Mr. Pennachetti wrote: "We will be announcing an emergency with the key reason to ensure the vulnerable/seniors have accommodation as the next 24 hrs becomes very cold!"

Hours later, the message from the city manager changed. In a Dec. 23 memo, Mr. Pennachetti said the city did not believe a state of emergency and the additional powers that come with it, such as the authority to curb travel and evacuate homes, was necessary.

Several municipal politicians disagreed. In an e-mail, Councillor Michelle Berardinetti said the decision was unacceptable. Councillor Mike Del Grande wrote: "I do not know and I do not care if there is politics being played. The bottom line is we need extra assistance to get our city moving and protecting and securing the welfare of our citizens."

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The ice storm, which left some residents without power for more than a week, cost Toronto an estimated $106-million. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday that Toronto and other municipalities will be advised this week on financial aid.

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About the Author
National news reporter

Renata joined The Globe and Mail's Toronto newsroom in March of 2011. Raised in the Greater Toronto Area, Renata spent nine years reporting in Alberta for the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal, covering crime, environment and political affairs. More


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