TORONTO - She issued a Dec. 22 statement — just after the ice storm hit Toronto with a vengeance — inviting those with power to take in friends and neighbours who were stuck without power.
“There is no greater gift you could give at this time of year in these circumstances,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said in her statement.
At that point the power in her own north Toronto home had yet to go off. But, she was soon to be plunged into darkness, which lasted until 2 a.m. Christmas Day.
In another photo-op on Christmas Day at a Scarborough warming centre, Wynne yet again asked people “to reach out to neighbours” who were going into their third or fourth night without power — that she understood the discomfort after having slept in her own 13C house for three nights.
But, evidently, that helping hand didn’t apply to neighbours on her very own street.
Lois Winstock, her husband and their seven-year-old dachsie Heidi were among at least a dozen and as many as 17 households living on the same street as Wynne who were without power for nine days because their own equipment was “compromised.”
Winstock, a solicitor and PhD candidate, said they toughed it out for two nights until it became too cold and then stayed at a hotel until New Year’s Day.
“Even though she’s (Wynne’s) so encouraging of everyone helping each other, I didn’t see any extension cables coming from her house,” said Winstock.
The way the story goes, the houses that were left without power until New Year’s Eve either suffered damage to the masts connecting power to their homes or to the lines themselves.
People in that situation had to arrange to have the damage repaired at their own expense first before power would be restored to their homes.
Winstock said they found out quite by chance and had their mast fixed right away. Nevertheless, she contends that Toronto Hydro seemed to forget for days on end that the up to 17 compromised homes on the street needed to be reconnected to the power grid.
There were signs up on the street in front of people’s houses saying “no power” and replacement lines “curled up unattached against Hydro poles,” she said.
Winstock claimed Wynne could not possibly miss seeing any of this either as she went by in her chauffeur-driven car or when she ran along the street with her security detail in close pursuit.
“Everybody knew because the houses were dark,” she said.
Winstock said she e-mailed the premier’s constituency office and got a lovely computer-generated message in return, but no help. She said she called her Queen’s Park office, only to be informed everyone was on holidays.
She said she called Hydro many times but when she couldn’t get through, she made an application online to have her service reinstated.
Winstock, who admits to not being a Wynne supporter, said she found it “repugnant” to see the premier running around giving out $1 million in food vouchers for those who lost perishables during the blackout, doing photo-ops with Hydro officials dressed in orange Hydro gear and urging people to reach out to their neighbours still without power -- when her own neighbours had to abandon their homes for days.
“She didn’t worry about neighbours on her own damn street for nine days,” said Winstock. “She certainly wasn’t climbing hydro poles on this street.”
She adds her councillor Jaye Robinson didn’t respond to her many e-mails before Christmas and when they did get hold of someone in her office, she was assured they’d get on it. But, that never happened, Winstock said.
Wynne’s spokeswoman Zita Astravas confirmed the premier stayed in her midtown Toronto house throughout the entire Christmas-New Year’s period — before and after power was restored to the home — spending her time doing daily briefings, visiting warming centers, meeting with hydro officials and, of course, giving out those controversial food hampers and gift cards.
Asked about what happened on the premier’s street, Astravas responded: “If you are suggesting that premier Wynne could have, or should have, gotten certain homes connected faster than others you’re sadly mistaken.”
Robinson said every single e-mail and phone call she or her office received was forwarded to senior Toronto Hydro staff, who were asked to “prioritize repairs.” She said she worked around the clock and through both Christmas and New Year’s Day until power was completely restored in her ward.
“I also received 16 thank you e-mails from residents (on Winstock’s street) as well as a number of very gracious tweets,” she said.
Tanya Bruckmueller-Wilson, spokesman for Toronto Hydro, insisted people on Winstock’s street were not forgotten.
But, they needed to repair the primary issues in the neighbourhood first and then work on the medium-sized wires, Bruckmueller-Wilson said.
“Then we started doing the secondary or home attachments,” she said, noting the single connections “just fell into the queue.
“They weren’t forgotten,” she added. “The calls were just being triaged as part of the overall connection process.”
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