What the ice storm revealed

By Pat Watson Wednesday January 08 2014 in Opinion
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Way back in November 2013, when winter began to intrude on the boundaries of autumn and then to fully take over the remaining fall period, we should have known Mother Nature was planning to give us an “assin’’ we would not soon forget. Whether or not we have conjured this terrible fate for ourselves is a debate that will best be had by climatologists, among whom there is still disagreement on the reason weather extremes are now upon us.


Even before the early below seasonal temperatures that landed on us in November, followed by the worst ice storm in memory, there was the July deluge which poured one month’s worth of rain on the region in a matter of hours.


Now, it is one thing to lose air-conditioning in the middle of summer, but when the result of a downpour of rain turns to ice and then turns a city, in fact an entire region – both inland and coastal – into a human crisis that could lead to freezing to death, then the weather has turned from spectacle to monster.


A walk around just about any neighbourhood in the aftermath is telling. There is still danger among the trees that are ready to topple given just one more aggressive weather push, and that means many structures remain in imminent danger. There are still heavy branches, some weighing thousands of kilos, resting on cable and phone lines.


City reports are that it could take well over a year before all that damage is addressed. But from the look of it, many cannot, nor should not sit as they now do for such a lengthy period.


Perhaps yours was among the estimated 400,000 households cut off from electrical power just in Toronto alone at the height of the 2013 ice disaster, a number that would translate to something like half-a-million people. Seeing your breath turn frosty inside your once safe haven as indoor temperatures edged toward zero degrees Celsius is a very trying experience. No doubt it stirred previously unknown levels of desperation among many; more so for those who went not just 24 or 48 hours without heat, but much, much longer. In the same way that a pleasant walk in the summer can become a demanding one in the winter, so the extending time without heat in homes became a living nightmare for far too many.


The time is past due for measures to transfer the almost exclusive dependency on electrical power to a diversity of energy sources. The reality that in today’s world loss of electricity can equal loss of life and loss of livelihood is patently nonsensical. It has to be clear to all concerned that we must begin to address this overweening dependency on electrical power.


One of the most telling aspects to emerge from Mother Nature’s Christmas season attack came days later, along with the compassionate act of public and private donations of food vouchers to help those who lost food spoiled by loss of electricity and therefore loss of refrigeration. Not everyone has yard space or a balcony with their high-rise apartment unit where they could put food out in the cold to preserve it, so the vouchers were a very good gesture with good intentions.


What was telling was the composition of the people lined up to receive those vouchers. News cameras recording the public response immediately told who are the most in need in this city. What it looked like to this observer was a mass of hyphenated cultures. Toronto being the multicultural, multi-ethnic city that it is, that is to be expected. However, the point is that the needy appeared to be of ethnicities largely originating from places outside Canada.


Indeed, in its wake, the Christmas ice storm of 2013 laid bare much more than trees.


A note on letting the games begin…


With one horrendous storm behind us, we are in for a season of political engagement that might just be reminiscent. With a provincial election widely expected for the spring in Ontario and a mayoral election at the end of October, the people of this province and the people of this city have the opportunity once again to get priorities on the public agenda. Either that, or leave it to those who are campaigning to do so.

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