The power outage and retail politics. Who was on the front line and who wasn’t?

December 23, 2013.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  We were away for three days and missed the havoc the weather wreaked on Burlington.  Tucked away safely in Huntsville for a family pre-Christmas we watched as Toronto struggled to get a grip on their problems.  CHCH didn’t have all that much on Burlington so when we headed back Monday afternoon we weren’t at all sure what we were going to find.  Did the pipes freeze and burst.  Did a tree fall on the house?

The drive down Hwy 11 and the 400 then 407 was all but perfect.  Cruising down Guelph Line everything looked fine and as we turned into Palmer Drive we didn’t see any damage worth noting.

Damaging but beautiful to observe in the late afternoon sunshine

We did marvel at how beautiful those trees in the fields along Hwy 11 and 400 covered in ice looked as they glistened in the afternoon sunshine.  Sheer beauty.

Eventually got a sense of the Burlington situation when we went on-line and got caught up.  Our power never did go out – the clocks were right on in terms of time and other than some branch damage in the back yard we were fine – but many others were not.

We read of the Warming Centre set up by the city and the Region – who didn’t always seem to be on the same page.  There was a solid stream of media releases from the city as well where Helen Wallahura appeared to be the only person speaking for the city.

We understand the Mayor was at city hall but there was nothing from him – unless he was tweeting or putting everything up on his blog.

What was interesting and revealing was the way the ward Councillors used or didn’t use social media.  Councillor Marianne Meed Ward was all over the place and seemed to be putting out more information that city hall and Burlington Hydro combined.  Her output was retail politics at its best.

In one email the thread read like this:

There wasn’t all that much need to see who was behind you – you probably weren’t going anywhere anyway.

As of 5:30 pm tonight, power is out in 12 of the city’s 28 transformers, affecting about 4800 customers. Hardest hit are areas in North Burlington where falling trees have brought down power lines, creating serious safety issues. Those areas will be brought back up first.

 Once individual transformers are up, there will be several days of tree clearing and re-hanging power lines, radiating from the transformer out. Therefore, the further you live from a transformer, the longer you could be without power.

 Ward 2 areas affected

  Pockets of streets in Ward 2 are still without power, including parts of Martha St, Wellington, Caroline, Emerald Cresc. Ghent, Drury Lane, Bridgeman, Lorne and more. This isn’t a full list, but what I know about right now.

 Let me know if you have power, or are out of power. I’ll provide updates on social media throughout the night.

 Ward 2 may be without power for 36 or more hours.

  What to do if you are without power

 If you are without power, there are several options:

 ?? Call a friend to stay with

  ?? Can’t get out? Call my cell at 905-220-5749 and I’ll arrange for fire department pickup.

  ?? Know someone who is a shut in? Let me know and we’ll check on them.

Part of Meed Ward’s Facebook page read like this:

Councillor Meed Ward was everywhere – with very specific and detailed information.  The only thing she didn’t tell people was which pizza delivery services had power.

Councillor Meed Ward kept the pace up and was getting great response from her readers.

Councillor Blair Lancaster did have an entry on her Facebook page but there was some splash back she certainly didn’t appreciate.  There is only so much damage a franchise can take – the Miss Canada story may have run its course in Burlington.


Social media has its plus side – but being a two-way pipeline – the blow-back can be – unsettling.

There were situations like this across the province – that may keep some people out of their homes Christmas Day.

Based purely on what we were able to see on social media there was never the sense that the Mayor was in charge; that he was in regular touch with the people who were driving the response on the ground.  Did the Mayor tour the city at all with either the fire chief or some of the EMS people.  If he did there was no mention of that on social media.

Councillor Meed Ward understand retail politics better than anyone else in this city – that became abundantly evident during the power outages.  Expect to see her out checking on things Christmas Day as well.

Do people turn to the city website for information?  Or do they rely on people they have confidence in and trust?


Many people did get a generic Christmas message from Jeff Fielding, the city manager who apologized for not getting a thank you note out to individual people but explained the combination of the snow storm and the rain that turned into ice – there just wasn’t any time.

At least we knew he was there.




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11 comments to The power outage and retail politics. Who was on the front line and who wasn’t?

  • Joan Turbitt

    PS I forgot MMW mentioned that if we saw the email we could call her and she could get us out with a call to fire dept. I never knew that service was available before as Ms. Lewis says it is very comforting to know. My only concern is without hydro I would have no heat, light or phone, or computer so no input. I am happy to know that everything else is in existence. In this case modern technology certainly is great. In the early part of last century you plowed out your own roads and were completely self-sufficient or else. I remember in the 50’s we had one bus once an hour going one way. If you missed it or the weather was bad too bad for you. A lot of progress has been made but still a lot of glitches. I think time will take care of it all. Let us hope it is in time.

  • Joan Turbitt

    I too received an email alert from Marianne Meed Ward and thank her for that. However, I was unaware until then that parts of my street had power outages as I do not. If I had, had one how would I have received a message? As well as Ms. Lewis points out how would we get to a warming center if we do not drive? Why did they close the one at the Seniors Centre? Even if one does drive we are being warned not to because of conditions for those downtown the Haber center is farther away than the seniors centre. This needs rethinking. Thanks as always to Marianne Meed Ward.

  • p.s. And kudos to the Burlington Gazette for also getting out information and updates to citizens.

  • I agree with Walter Mulkewich. The City, Region, Burlington Hydro and, yes, our Mayor all responded/communicated very well under extremely difficult and unusual circumstances.

    Ward 2 Councillor Meed-Ward was also at the centre of the storm (true for other local issues), much to her credit.

    Unlike you, Pepper, I did read several Tweets and/or Facebook posts from Councillors in Ward 1 (Craven), 5 (Lancaster) and 6 (Sharman). They were also helping direct and inform people during these critical past few days.

    Regrettably, I saw nothing at all from Councillors in Ward 4 (Dennnison, my Councillor) or 3 (Taylor) – but trust they fielded calls and emails, and met residents in person.

    That may not be too surprising. Both gentleman represent a different generation of politicians from their colleagues. But the demands of leadership today are so much about demonstrating and communicating it, which the Internet allows.

    It’s vital to connect with people where they can be found, especially for a timely/urgent situation like this one.

    Finally, as to Ken Colombo’s reliance on another Ward’s Councillor for help: it may be our Ward 4 Councillor was away (although it’s likely he could still ‘connect’ to the Internet), or maybe his power was out. I urge you to communicate this to him. Jack needs to know, in order to do a job better for you.

    Having said that, Ken, I always first check in with Marianne to see what’s going on. She’s very effective at this social media stuff, and is the go-to person at City Hall for many.

    • For Mr. Brian Heagle,

      Good morning. You have been especially kind in your offer of advice as to what I should / or should not do, and whose counsel I might seek.

      After your last attempt to secure a council position, results published Monday October 25 2010, I noticed you attempted to present yourself as a potential candidate on behalf of the Ontario PC party. While Jane McKenna ultimately ‘got the nod’ from the PC Riding association, she finished dead last in the Ward 1 municipal contest. Jane has since gone on to an unremarkable legislative destiny.

      Similarly, Rocco Rossi, former top fundraiser, Ontario Heart & Stroke Foundation, presented his impeccable credentials in the hope of standing for the PC’s in the riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, to NO AVAIL.

      I do NOT require any advice from a perceived shape-shifter, Mr. Heagle. If you choose to run again in Ward 4, I will not be ‘in your corner.’ If I get my wish, another candidate, with a high level of experience in the ‘inner workings’ of Council, will place his name in contention and I will support him.

      Insofar as Marianne Meed Ward is concerned, she has my total support in ALL her endeavours … and I will continue to post her Ward 2 sign on my lawn in Ward 4.

      If you’re familiar with Marlon Brando, you will remember him screaming for Stella with the forlorn hope that he might have been a contender.

      So, onward and upward, Mr. Heagle, in the hope you will next appear, with shotgun, supervising Mr. Hudak’s much-dreamt of ‘litter picker upper chain gang.’

    • George Simmons

      Isn’t Heagle the guy who was a Liberal, then switched to Conservative on a guarantee position but backed out; how does one gain the trust of the public in this way?

      And now he seems to desperately want to run Ward 4, while going for advice to Meed Ward; and is not Heagle who was/is the local lawyer conflicted with city business, and providing advice in public?

      Conflicted people should seek advice, not offer advice. Watch Heagle in the coming election; entertainment 101.

  • Stacey

    Walter – just let go man. It’s not 1970 anymore.

  • Susan Lewis

    I did get an e-mail from the Mayor’s Office on December 22 at 9:53 p.m. He did mention three warming stations and said “If you decide to move to a warming station, you may drive yourself if you are able to, …” but there was nothing about what to do if you couldn’t drive!

    I also got an e-mail from Marianne Meed-Ward on December 22 at 7:38 and she had so much info about the storm and was concerned about all the residents of Burlington, not just those who could drive. As you mentioned, “If you need immediate assistance, call my cell here are the operations centre and we’ll get you what you need: …” and
    “▪ Can’t get out? Call my cell at 905-220-5749 and I’ll arrange for fire department pickup.
    ▪ Know someone who is a shut in? Let me know and we’ll check on them. ..”

    My hydro was only out for 10 hours but I felt safe knowing Meed-Ward had me covered if an emergency should arise.

  • Well Be-Jaypurs … the system did work for us. We sent an urgent message to Marianne Meed Ward … “Dangerous tree limb hanging over sidewalk.” [ Sunday 12/22/3:20pm ] Replied SWIFTLY through Marianne’s e-mail routings by Cathy Robertson, “thanks, by copy of this email will alert roads and parks maintenance” [ Sunday 12/22/3:39pm ] Replied to Cathy Robertson [ Sunday 12/22/5:29pm ] “Thanks, Cathy the limb is now DOWN on the sidewalk … I will move the limb immediately onto the boulevard to await pickup by city services as they see fit. We are informed by our insurance company they REFUSE to accept liability for injuries associated with trees planted by the City on the boulevard.” Replied by Cathy Robertson
    [ Sunday 12/22/5:31pm ] “Thanks for letting us know.” Marianne is NOT my ward councillor. I live in Ward 4. In the past I have ALWAYS contacted Marianne and hand instant response / re-direction to City personnel who carry the responsibility for further action. That’s an UNFAIR burden on Marianne, but she’s never complained about it. Does that sound biased? Well, I feel entitled to my bias … because I ALWAYS GET RESULTS THROUGH MARIANNE MEED WARD.

  • Walter Mulkewich

    The answer to the headline question as to who was on the front line is clear – the hard working front line workers of the City, Region, and Hydro who know what to do in bad weather and are the ones who do the work, and that includes staff from the City, Hydro & Region who did an excellent job of keeping citizens informed through websites and social media – and the Mayor was quite prolific in his comments and presence in social media, obviously very present and communicating.
    Editor’s note: We were unable to find anything in social media that came from the Mayor. The last entry we could find was dated December 10, 2013. We track every Council member and found nothing from any of them other than what we found from Councillors Lancaster and Meed Ward. Social media is not putting a message on a web site; that’s just media. Social media is taking the message out to the people you want to reach and talking to them directing. The Mayor has a video on his page on the city web site – he is thanking people for their donations during the Santa Clause parade – an event that took place more than two weeks ago.
    At the risk of being very unfair – Rob Ford, the clown of a Mayor of Toronto, went on television and spoke to the people of that city. Had a phone call been put in to CHCH asking for a minute or so of air time – do you think they would have said no? What I didn’t hear from MY Mayor was that he was there to help.

    • Walter Mulkewich

      Re Editor response to my comment: The facts: I did hear from my Mayor – I just checked the internet and found that Mayor Goldring had at one long blog re the storm, at least 6 Facebook posts re the storm and at least 78 tweets re the storm, many of which I saw as the days proceeded. Also the City of Burlington had a huge number of tweets and Facebook postings as did Burlington Hydro and the Region of Halton which I also saw. Also the websites of the City, Region, and Hydro kept a constant update with good information and that is where most citizens who have internet would go to get updates, and which I did go to. Burlington was well served by social media and websites re the storm – and by the staff that provided that information. The Hamilton media do basically no coverage of Burlington but the Spectator did have a wee bit of coverage re Burlington storm, but I am not sure about CHCH. The important thing is that the City, Region, and Hydro have a plan and staff to deal with storms and that staff is the front line.