Ontario’s politicians playing politics in the midst of extreme weather conditions

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Politicians everywhere always talk about not wanting to 'politicize' crises or emergency events.

Maybe it's the nature of the beast — as they say — but its seems to me that politicians in Ontario are using the current extreme weather conditions to score some political points.

In Toronto, we've got Mayor Rob Ford who didn't call a State of Emergency during last month's massive ice storm. Doing so would have meant that all all emergency powers would have been transferred to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly.

The two — Ford and Kelly — are now publicly feuding about whether or not that was the right decision. Other councillors have also weighed-in with at least one questioning whether Ford's decision not to call a State of Emergency was purely political.

"He wouldn’t let go," Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby said, according to the Globe and Mail.

"If he had called a state of emergency, he would have lost his power. That’s why he wouldn’t do it. That’s why he did all the photo ops. That’s why he dragged our hydro guys, our forestry guys over for photo ops. He took them away from their jobs."

If Ford was playing politics — it worked. He got a lot of radio and television time and actually looked and sounded mayoral for the first time in months.

[ Related: Polar vortex’ hitting Canada, U.S. with brutal, bone-chilling cold ]

The public bickering is happening at the provincial level, as well.

While the deep freeze continues, the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats have lashed-out against the governing Liberals about a "bungled" cash card program meant for families who were financially impacted by the massive power outages. The Tories suggest that the program was too Toronto-centric.

"Families need confidence in our energy system, not a Liberal government that is more interested in playing postal code politics, PC MPP Lisa MacLeod said in a statement.

On Monday, the Liberals announced that they would hand out an additional $450,000 of gift cards outside of Toronto.

[ Related: Icy blast sets new record lows in southwestern Ontario ]

The Tories also blasted the Liberals for allegedly shunning Mayor Ford during the crisis (Premier Kathleen Wynne would only deal with the deputy mayor during the crisis).

“There’s a democratically elected mayor in Toronto and I think that the people of Ontario — not just Toronto — expect leadership from their premier and not more politics during a crisis and that is what she displayed," MacLeod told reporters, according to the Toronto Star.

“[Wynne] decided she was effectively going to be the mayor of Toronto during the last crisis two weeks ago . . . the mayor of the city the last time I checked was still Rob Ford.”

[ Related: Freezing weather shuts down Toronto's Pearson International Airport ]

And federally, NDP MP Olivia Chow took to Twitter on Tuesday complaining about the chaos at Pearson International after cold weather forced the airport authority to divert all incoming North American flights. Strangely, she engaged Transport Minister Lisa Raitt on the issue.

In many ways, an emergency or crisis helps define a politician's time in office.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, for example, was praised for his handling of the 2013 floods; in fact it helped catapult him to a massive reelection victory in October.

Conversely, we all remember the criticism that George W. Bush took in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

As explained by journalist Kenneth Walsh, he appeared "slow off the mark as millions of people suffered." Many, including Walsh, felt that his mishandling of Katrina left a big black mark on his presidency.

Certainly extreme weather isn't the same as a hurricane.

But, in both cases, the public seeks and deserves solid and competent leadership.

Instead, in Ontario, our leaders have been playing weather politics.

Fortunately, for them, the opposition parties are just as guilty of that.

(Photo courtesy The Canadian Press)

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