History has a strange way of repeating itself. What happened? Shockingly, an ice storm did — and wow — it was during a Canadian winter! The severity of this storm caught government officials at the municipal and provincial levels flatfooted.
Who knows what the federal government thought or did given that they were absent throughout. All they said was their thoughts were with us as we froze in the dark. This contrasted to their response to the Calgary flood, but was on par with their initial response to the train derailment and deaths in Lac Megantic.
In the real world, Hydro crews worked around the clock to restore power to desperate Ontarians. The scope of the event was serious, in part due to the aging infrastructure, depleted by years of neglect. In addition, municipal cuts to forestry programs that would have cut back branches over power wires meant a lot of limbs were ready to fall when the ice hit. All of this is a symbolic poster for "Your tax cuts at work."
To add to the situation, Toronto, a city with either two mayors or no mayor (depending on one"s point of view), refused to declare a state of emergency. The results speak for themselves.
Over the festive season, thousands of Ontarians shivered in the dark in communities across the province, ignored by government and media. Headlines about Toronto politics trumped stories about public safety.
Then Loblaws offered up $25,000 in gift cards "to help the public." This gesture, described by some as generous, would provide less than a penny for every person impacted by the storm. What a great media buy for Loblaws!
The ensuing confusion and rush to collect the cards was another example of a good idea gone bad. There was no "needs" test; no proof that the cards would actually be used by the intended recipients; no quality control and a focus that was overly Toronto centric.
The fact is, this storm should come as no surprise to anyone. Events like this are a predictable result of global climate change. Equally, we should not be surprised when the infrastructure degrades and collapses under intense environmental pressure. We know the power grids, roads and sewers are in disrepair. We also know that people and services that support these structures have been cut and stretched beyond limits.
These facts point to our collective loss. We are now paying for the tax cuts that have transferred so much wealth into pockets of corporations and the richest 1%.
Ottawa looked away. Ontario Tories moaned about postal code politics. All the while, public service workers put the system back together again. Unionized power workers, first responders, paramedics, forestry staff and city and provincial workers worked day and night in ghastly conditions.
Better services are the solution, not the weird and unsupported claims of right wingers, including Tim Hudak.
During emergencies, public sector workers aren"t motivated by Hudak"s "right to work" proposals. Paying union dues is not the issue, getting the power on in winter is. They work because it is the right thing to do for their community at that time. They know lives are in peril. They know that by working together a community can move forward.
The fact is that today, Ontarians pay less for public services (per capita) than the people in other provinces. We pay less than Conservative provinces like Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan. We pay less than NDP Manitoba or PQ Quebec. In addition, Ontario has the least number of public sector workers (per 1000 population) than any other province!
There are tough lessons to be learned from Ice Storm 2013.
- Our infrastructure is perilously close to becoming obsolete.
- Emergency service plans lack in coordination and execution.
- More storms are coming because of climate change, making freezing rain the new winter normal.
- If Ontario is waiting on the Harper government to assist in the face of disaster, forget it. We are not their base, Alberta is.
- A constant we can rely on during these troubled times is the public sector. When bad things happen, these people and services make the difference between order and anarchy.
- Those in power keep attacking Ontario public services,
- As we head into a provincial election, we"ll hear the right wing continue to crow about a bloated public service, gold plated pensions and greedy unions even though Ontarians pay less for these people and services than any other province.
When assessing the situation, I ask everyone to remember who turned on the lights and who kept us in the dark during those brutal ice storm days. Working people, proud to be in a union, rose to the occasion then and will again. It"s what we believe in and do efficiently and effectively, 365 days of the year.
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
1st Vice President / Treasurer