Happy Holidays this is not an emergency #darkTO #icestormTO

Saturday, December 21st 2013 will be a day I won’t forget. Not because it was the last weekend before Christmas and I was trying to run around and get last minute shopping done.  Not because I was going to use the next day (and my only day off from my seasonal job) grocery shopping and cleaning like a mad woman.

 

Nope.  Saturday was the day the lights went out in Guildwood (my neighborhood).  21:53 or 9:53pm is the timestamp in my mind when the lights flickered and turned off.  My first thought? Bummer, no Saturday Night Live Christmas special oh well, I’ll google that in the morning for the funny parts.

 

Except the lights didn’t come on in the morning, or the next morning, or the morning after that.  I later learned that an ice storm covering most of Ontario had left ice covered trees, snapped branches, and downed power lines.  Via Twitter I learned that officials to include the Mayor of Toronto (Rob Ford), the premier (Kathleen Wynn), and ward councilors (Paul Ainslie and Mitzie Hunter) knew the situation was becoming quite the mess….and with temperatures due to plummet over the next several days, a press conference was held (one of several) as the Mayor declared “We are not in a state of emergency. Everything that can be done is being done.”  We were asked to check on our neighbors and that getting power restored in 72 hours “won’t be possible folks.  Things have gotten better.”

 

Not sure how these officials thought residents without hydro would know this-especially in a ‘senior-ific’ area like Guildwood.  Not many residents here own a smartphone so they didn’t know that power could potentially take days to restore, or that there were warming centres available to them.  Many residents bundled up, threw on an extra blanket or 3 and probably thought “Hey we will laugh about this when it’s over tomorrow.”

 

Well. For some, it’s NOT over.  Some residents of Guildwood are now 90 hours strong with no hydro.  NONE.   Merry Christmas taxpayers who have worked their entire lives and are just trying to live.  But never fear, This is not an emergency.

 

I’ll spare you the details….but to fill in some gaps, Toronto Hydro called in additional help from other cities in Canada and the U.S.  I’ll give them that-at least they realized they were overwhelmed.  But here’s where things go sideways:

 

  1. Additional bodies were brought in-but 5 days of no hydro?
  2. Officials/Leadership did travel the neighborhoods. In suits. For photo ops.
  3. Hydro workers picked up and left an area of Guildwood, leaving several homes without power stating that another area was ‘higher priority’-WHAT?

 

Gee Mitzie Hunter you sure look warm, mind sparing a coat with that handshake?

Gee Mitzie Hunter you sure look warm, mind sparing a coat with that handshake?

Because EVERYONE who is ANYONE wears a suit to a clean up area.  AND DOES NO WORK.

Because EVERYONE WHO IS ANYONE shows up to a worksite IN A SUIT. AND DOES NOTHING.

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oh wow….do you think this merry group sang Christmas carols?  When do you think they’re dropping their next album?

recently added: And let’s not  forget Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly…..who TOOK OFF FOR FLORIDA IN THE MIDDLE OF IT ALL.  For that reason, no photos available.  Did you think we wouldn’t find out about this Norm? REALLY?

Now, I’m no ‘crisis management expert’ BUT I would think that a contingency plan in a metropolis of this size would be an essential piece of an inclement weather puzzle? Toronto’s “leadership” has failed its residents. On SO. MANY. LEVELS.   During the holidays.  Even worse.   Let me continue:

 

  1. Warming Centres aren’t appropriate for everyone-what about people with dogs? How about newborns or elderly with fragile immune systems that shouldn’t be exposed to large numbers of people?
  2. How did people who don’t speak English know about the tragedy? Oh wait, they were the ones being carted off to hospital after trying to heat their homes with a BBQ and becoming consumed with carbon monoxide.

 

In addition, there were reports of homes being burglarized, which is (again) MORE tragic during the ‘holiday season.’  No police presence….but that’s because THIS IS NOT AN EMERGENCY.

 

This incident continues to have many residents of Guildwood scratching their heads and wondering “What have I done to deserve this?”  Toronto’s ‘leadership’ do you have an answer?

 

I know (here) I am primarily speaking for Guildwood  but I’ll open this up to anyone who had to endure this. I need some answers.   I need officials and leadership to take accountability and to sincerely and humbly apologize to residents for the gross mishandling.

 

just a note-the people sitting in the dark and freezing cold voted you into your seats ward councilors Ainslie and Hunter, Premier Wynn, and Mayor Ford. So before you tweet me talking about everything you’ve done in this disaster Mitzie, stop for a moment and think about that. Also think twice before you send me a tweet from your nice warm home.

 EDIT:  Residents have told me that Paul Ainslie has been out in the neighborhood and remained very ‘present’ during this incident and have asked me to remove his name in negative connotations.  Neighbors-noted and done.

You also owe your residents a thorough and comprehensive debrief….you know one of those ones where everyone gathers in an auditorium and there are 2 microphones in the crowd space and you all sit up at the front behind a long table.  Because you can’t seem to figure this one out, I’ll do you a solid-Here’s who needs to be there:

1.  Mayor Rob Ford

2. Premier Kathleen Wynn

3. Anthony Haines, CEO Toronto Power

4. Mitzie Hunter

5. Paul Ainslie

6. Norm Kelly who ran off to Florida

7. News anchors and cameramen

8.  People of Guildwood-and they need to be given a way to get there-get a bus, you ARE able to do that.

And you have to be prepared and accept ALLLLLLL of our criticism and anger AND frustration with grace.  And THEN you have to present us with a real gift…..a PLAN.  One that you put some thought into and that you’ve had reviewed with an organization that specializes in crisis management.

 

I’m all for history not repeating itself and I know that mistakes get made.  It’s time for Leadership to give a d*mn and for residents to demand that basic and common respect.  Residents are the reason that officials are in office and it’s time to send a very clear message. I’m challenging Toronto’s officials and leaders to start caring and propose this be a new initiative (although it should’ve been all along).

 

This has been a very memorable holiday season indeed.

 

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11 Comments

  • Kelly

    Oh Meredith…..So terrible. What a mess. My mother’s flight was cancelled from Miami to come home through Toronto and she nearly missed Christmas with me. When her plane came in, the hotel told me she hadn’t checked in., I called every hour till midnight, and turns out she was there since 7…wtf? I nearly went over the edge. I don’t think I realized how bad this was until I read your post. I knew power was out for some, but I didn’t know about the bbq issue or the extent of the damage. Haven’t been online much and I don’t have tv. I do hope things are better for you now and that your New Year’s Eve is awesome.

     
  • chazz

    thank you for speaking up for guildwood during this event.

     
  • kels33s@hotmail.com

    As a former long time resident of Guildwood (I grew up on Greyabbey), I am COMPLETELY DISGUSTED with the reaction to this weather “event”. Shame on all those leaders who I saw in one of the many press conferences said “we didn’t see this coming”. Really?!?!?! Everyone else did.

    While there are many to be mad at….I would be and am at the province and hydro. To be clear, I’m not mad at the hydro front line workers but rather the various CEO’s and other execs that continue to make 6-figure salaries for whatever reason. Here’s a thought….chop your ridiculous salaries down and use that money and the insane amount of money you charge folks on their hydro bills and put it where it would count. One example….have your crews go out each quarter and if they see a tree that’s too close to a power line, chop it down.

     
    • Greg Hannah

      What we need is a one or two decade roll-out for Toronto Hydro to bury their hydro lines and transformers, like in downtown Toronto. Begin with lines from the poles to homes/apartments (the most time consuming and most expensive task) and then move onto roads. Co-ordinate this project with cable and telephone infrastructure and a cost splitting arrangement could be made. Toronto is the 4th largest city in North America now after only Mexico City, LA and NYC, this is not a backwater town anymore – do you see any hydro poles & wires slung along the streets there? No. It’s all buried. This “latte sipping, bike riding pinko” never lost power, nor did anyone else downtown because it’s all buried. Why is it buried? Because of all the important banking headquarters, the stock exchange, trading companies etc. and they CAN’T go down. Why aren’t out-of-downtown areas buried (some are actually) because the public doesn’t demand it. As storms get more fierce and frequent in the years and decades to come, we need to think ahead and invest to protect our infrastructure.

       
      • Barbara Reidt

        In response to Greg Hannah: They have in fact started the process of burying the hydro lines….this all commenced back in 2001. However, due to non communication and non cooperation from both the cable (Rogers) and telephone (Bell) and not being able to come to a mutual agreement on cost, they halted the project so only less than half of the neighbourhood got done. I am in the half that got done, yet we were without power for 4 full days – Saturday Dec 21st @ 9:30pm through to and including Tuesday December 24th @ 4:00 pm. The only reason we got hydro back that “early” was due to the fact that the Retirement Home on Livingston had to be evacuated and there was no where to put them for more than a few hours, so the hydro crews came down pronto and began restoring our power. The only power they were able to restore within hours was that of the homes that had the underground power lines/cable/phone and were “fortunately” on the same lateral lines…as there was no “clean up” involved. After that restoration, they left the area and headed off to other areas which they claim they get “more for their buck” …in their words (Hydro), they are restoring lines where many homes will get power on a single line restoration….leaving our Guildwood Area the last to be done as it is so heavily treed. It makes you wonder what they have been doing in the last 12 years and why they haven’t been able to come to a mutual agreement as yet to finish the project they started back in 2001….it somehow fell off the “table” ….end of rant!

         
  • Larry

    Mayor Mayor Rob Ford keeps on telling us that declaring a state of emergency would create a panic. Who would panic and why? The reality is if Rob Ford declared a state of emergency then Norm Kelly would be in charge. And Rob and Doug Ford would panic. So Rob Ford decided to take advantage of the situation and run an election campaign. Really pathetic.

    Also pathetic is that the media turns up for every press conference. What did we really learn from the press conferences? Imagine if Ford had held a press conference and nobody showed up.

    As for Kathleen Wynne, I don’t blame her for staying out of the picture. Anything else would be endorsing Ford. She has no real power over running the city of Toronto. She has no authority over Toronto Hydro. Ford is in control and there’s nothing she can do. Best to stay in the background and watch him hang himself.

    You notice there hasn’t been one word from the federal leaders in Ottawa either. None of them want anything to do with Ford. Like Wynne, they just want to watch him hang himself. Harper in particular wouldn’t show up in Toronto because he knows it’s not going to gain him any votes. Plus Rogers has been doing an admirable job of supporting the public with internet access and charging stations while Harper is using Telco bashing to support his reelection. Best stay out of town.

    And then there’s Anthony Haines of Toronto Hydro. The guy should be fired. Period. Keeping people in the dark literally and figuratively is not acceptable.

    Toronto Hydro could have posted on their website where every crew was and updated it every 30 minutes. Every Hydro truck has a radio in it. And I would have to guess every Hydro truck has a GPS device on it. It doesn’t mean the restoration of power would’ve been any different, but at least keeping the public informed and being highly transparent would’ve made people feel a lot more comfortable knowing what was happening.

    Who is Anthony Haines accountable to? A Board of Directors? Do we know? Will anyone question the horrific PR debacle on his behalf? Will anything change? Probably not.

    Hopefully we will get rid of Ford come November and move on from some very dark days for Toronto.

     
  • Don Mitchell

    You really need to remove Norm Kelly from your list…..he left for ONE night to visit his extremely ill sister and came right back. Possibly the last time he’ll see her.

     
  • Bill

    I am happy that power has finally been restored to our area. I appreciate the efforts of the work crews. IMO the break down was in communication. Work crews were in the neighbourhood for two days. It would have been helpful to know exactly why restoration efforts were taking so long. More information than “extwnsive tree canopy” “many downed wires”. Crews were on Linvingston neat St Ursula’s for two days – obviously th ere was some serious work there. As a resident I would have appreciAted some detailed information on what was happening. It would have been less frustrating.

     
  • sherry

    What has happened in this city with this storm is a direct result of Ford. No one wants to touch him with a 10 foot pole and yet, here we are. The guys on the front lines are doing all that they can, and even then it isn’t enough. They’re tired and overworked and it took far too long to get additional manpower here to help. Declaring this an emergency from day 1 or 2 would have had that help here much faster. Locally, Ainslie has been in the trenches and keeping Hydro informed on our behalf. Communication as you point out has been abysmal. So many have no battery operated radios to know what’s going on…there is no clear way to communicate with those in the area in TCHC housing. As you point out Guildwood has become a very senior centred area and not all are equipped with the latest technology. Even if they were, some areas have no service, some homes have had telephone & cable wires downed because of tree branches bringing them to the ground. In short, it’s been a mess, it’s been poorly handled and the only recourse we have comes in October when necessary changes can be made.

     
  • Maggie

    Nature happens.

     
  • Stacy

    I think you should run for public office and show them how it’s done! you would be fabulous..you have what it takes and most of all YOU CARE!

    xoxo Stacy