City staff urge Toronto council to request city be declared 'disaster area'

TORONTO – Toronto city council is being advised to ask the provincial and federal governments for help to recover from damage caused by two major storms in 2013.

In order to be eligible for assistance from Ontario, a staff report says Toronto must ask the province to declare Canada’s largest city a “disaster area.”

The report, which is being discussed today, says Toronto faces in excess of $171 million in storm-related costs, including at least $106 million in damage from the severe ice storm that walloped the city in December.

The report also notes that a severe rainstorm on July 8 that flooded parts of Toronto brought an estimated $65.2 million in costs.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly says it’s a “big bill” for the city and “if you don’t ask, you may not get.”

He says he would like to see the province, the federal government and the city each bear one third of the cost of recovering from the storms.

Toronto did not declare a state of emergency during the recent ice storm which brought down tree limbs, downing hydro lines and cutting power to hundreds of thousands of customers, and stalled road and air travel.

But Toronto’s city manager says the city must be declared a “disaster area” under the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program in order to get provincial help — a situation Kelly calls “awkward.”

“But it shouldn’t be a hurdle that we can’t get over,” he said.

Late last year, Toronto city council stripped controversial Mayor Rob Ford of much of his powers and transferred responsibilities he would have had in an emergency to Kelly.

It was, however, up to Ford to decide whether to declare an emergency during the ice storm and the mayor repeatedly said he had seen no need to do so.

Ford has said he now plans to move a motion asking Ontario for an initial $60 million in disaster relief aid to cope with the damage from the ice storm.

While the mayor didn’t stop to answer reporters’ questions Friday, Coun. Doug Ford defended his brother’s handling of the ice storm response.

“Everyone knows we didn’t need a state of emergency,” he said. “The premier’s going to make a decision, she’s either going to support the people of Toronto or she’s not.”

City staff are also urging Toronto council to request that Queen’s Park and Ottawa establish or expand disaster mitigation programs involving urban forestry, erosion control, winter storms and other severe weather events.