Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Let’s judge elected officials on emergency preparation, not emergency response

By: Metro Published on Wed Jan 08 2014

Let’s get a few things straight. After a severe weather event — like the ice storm we just had in the GTA — I don’t care which politician got to speak first at the press conferences.

I also don’t really care whether elected officials were live-tweeting the emergency response, as long as they effectively communicated to constituents in need of assistance. And I really, really don’t care about tracking which politicians were most often photographed looking concerned while standing next to downed hydro wires, city workers or holding chainsaws.

There is a role for politicians to play in the aftermath of a major emergency, but it’s not a starring role. The real work comes from mostly anonymous workers on the ground — the ones repairing hydro lines, clearing away tree branches and steering TTC buses down icy streets. They’re the ones getting the power back on and getting people where they need to be safely. Given the scale of the job they did over the past couple few weeks, they absolutely deserve our praise.

The politicians, on the other hand, I’m not so sure about. Most of them certainly showed up after the storm and helped where they could, but that isn’t necessarily praiseworthy. Elected officials should be judged primarily on emergency preparation, not emergency response.

I wrote about this same subject last summer, in the wake of another bout of weird weather that flooded areas across the city with epic rainfall. Basements became swimming pools. There was a water snake on a GO Train. It was a little nuts. But it wasn’t totally surprising. We know Toronto’s climate is going to get weirder and more extreme. We know that climate change is a real thing that will impact us. We have lots of reports on the subject.

What we don’t seem to have yet is a real plan to address an increasing frequency of extreme weather events. And that’s where politicians are supposed to come in.

Adequately preparing for major weather events like last summer’s flooding and this winter’s ice storm is no easy to task. It requires a real hard look at the state of our infrastructure. We probably won’t be able to do it quickly. We definitely won’t be able to do it cheaply.

It means looking at things like burying hydro wires where it makes sense to do so. It means investing in our power grid with new substations. It means not cutting spending on tree pruning so that we can continue to expand our tree canopy while also ensuring those trees don't become storm hazards. It means exploring dozens of proactive actions and contingencies that can help during extreme weather.

It means doing more than just picking up the tree branches and waiting around for the next storm.

Perhaps that preemptive strategy doesn’t play as well with voters as nicely-composed photographs of politicians handing out gift cards and looking real concerned as they talk to storm-ravaged residents. But doing nothing really shouldn’t be an option.

That will just leave us cold.

This post was originally published at on 2014-01-08T00:00:00.000Z

About the author

Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
Website / Twitter / Email Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott


Follow Me on Twitter

Recent Posts

Recent Comments