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Canada Bungles Response to Blackout / Chretien nowhere in sight WANNA RANT

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  • RspctFrmCalgary
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    Toronto mayor wants city spared from rolling blackouts at expense of others

    STEPHANIE LEVITZ

    TORONTO (CP) - Saying Toronto is the economic engine of Canada, Mayor Mel Lastman insisted Saturday the city and its nearly five million residents should be exempt from the rolling blackouts hitting the rest of the province.

    Lastman said Toronto should be spared, even though he understood others in the province would have to do without power longer as a result. Lastman sought a guarantee from Ontario Premier Ernie Eves that Toronto would be fully powered through the weekend and into Monday, as the city prepared to resume the work week in an effort to keep the already battered economy going.

    "I am determined, we are determined, to make sure that the subways are operating Monday morning," Lastman told a news conference on Saturday, two days after a massive blackout wiped out power in Ontario and the eastern seaboard.

    "Our transit system carries one million people a day, we have got to have it working."

    But Eves said Saturday that there are some things he just can't do.

    "We supply the appropriate amount of power to Toronto Hydro and they decide what to do with it," he said.

    About 95 per cent of Toronto had power Saturday as did most other towns and cities in Ontario, although Eves said things were "certainly not back to normal," and urged conservation.

    A system of power-sharing - through rolling blackouts - was to be in place throughout the weekend to ensure customers had access to at least some power. The blackouts came no more than two hours at a time over 12-hour periods. They came without warning to pockets of residents all over the province.

    But Lastman said Toronto should be spared and that businesses in other parts of the province should understand.

    "They are going to suffer if Toronto isn't working," he argued.

    "They are going to suffer because Toronto is the engine that drives the whole province, the whole country in fact."

    Peter Duva, a spokesman for Toronto Hydro, said providing full power to Toronto would come at the expense of other communities since there is only so much power to go around.

    "If there is a shortage between capacity and demand, there is only so much (electricity) and it will depend on where it is directed," said Duva.

    Lastman's plan to save Toronto did not sit well with officials outside the city.

    Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said he could not believe Lastman would make such a demand.

    "That's one of the most self-centred comments I've ever heard but he's probably the only person in Toronto that believes that could be possible."

    Bradley pointed out that the plants in Sarnia used to refine gasoline have been down since Thursday afternoon, despite the high demand for their product.

    "We aren't asking for special treatment even though it is costing millions of dollars a day," said Bradley. "We are letting the power system come up as needed."

    Saying that Toronto should extend to the rest of the province the same generosity of spirit that was extended towards the city during the SARS outbreak, Bradley said cities in the province should work together and not compete.

    "We are in this together, we share the pain and we share the experience. People who are powering up the system should do it where it is needed."

    George Mychailenko, CEO of Brantford Power, expressed surprise that Toronto wanted to take over the province's power supply.

    "I am sure that would be a bit of problem with many communities," he said. "Toronto being the central hub of Ontario it tends to share along with all the other communities and all the communities are participating in the troubles of the province."

    The Canadian Press, 2003

    08/16/2003 16:06 EST

    Ontario residents urged to conserve as U.S. admits blackout started in Ohio

    MIKE OLIVEIRA

    TORONTO (CP) - Ontario residents were urged Saturday not to consume power the way they normally would for weekend activities, while officials worked to fully restore electricity before Monday and the resumption of the work week.

    While most places in the province of 10 million had power Saturday, residents were told to turn off their air conditioners and television sets and wait a while longer before cutting the lawn or watering their plants. For those with power, ignoring the call to conserve would mean depriving others who might need electricity more.

    "We don't have an abundance of power," Ontario Premier Ernie Eves told a Saturday morning news conference. "The usage went up (more than 10 per cent) in the last hour and a half alone. We're still within (our) capacity but (there is) not a lot more to go."

    Millions of people were left without power when the worst blackout in North American history struck most of Ontario and the eastern seaboard Thursday afternoon, including New York, Cleveland and Detroit.

    In all, about 50 million people in the two countries were affected, and more than 100 power plants were shut down.

    On Saturday afternoon, the leading U.S. investigator into the disaster said the failure of three transmission lines in northern Ohio was the likely trigger of the power blackout.

    Experts are working to understand why the disruption spread throughout the Northeast and Midwest and into Canada, and was not contained.

    "We are fairly certain" that the problem started in Ohio, said Michehl Gent, head of the North American Electric Reliability Council. "We are now trying to determine why the situation was not brought under control."

    Earlier Saturday, Prime Minister Jean Chretien made his first public comments on the blackout, emerging in his Shawinigan riding almost 48 hours after Ontario went dark to say that no one was to blame.

    "You can't blame anyone. It happened," the prime minister said.

    Saying he had engaged in "a long conversation" with U.S. President George W. Bush about handling the problem, Chretien added that he was encouraged by how people banded together in a bad situation.

    "Fifty million people have been involved in this problem, and what is great is the people have kept their calm and accepted the fate very graciously," he said.

    Temporary blackouts rolled across Ontario on Saturday, leaving sections of the province's towns and cities without power again for periods of up to two hours.

    And the rolling blackouts would continue into next week, the province's energy minister warned, unless people agreed to switch off their electrical appliances now.

    "We're encouraging people to use as little electricity as possible," said John Baird. "What we are trying to avoid is any further power disruptions on Saturday. We can do that if we can conserve, but we are very close to meeting the electricity power demand for today and tomorrow."

    Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman said Toronto should be spared from the rolling blackouts, because it is the "engine that drives the whole province, the whole country in fact." Lastman wants the city, already battered economically by a deadly outbreak of SARS, to be operating at full capacity by Monday and says power will be needed to deliver workers to their jobs.

    Eves said preventing any more blackouts in Toronto was not an option. Each town and city is allotted a specific amount of power and it is up to them how to use it, he said.

    "There are some things you just can't do," said Eves.

    "We supply the appropriate amount of power to Toronto Hydro and they decide what to do with it."

    Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli said he was considering asking people to stay home from work on Monday as well and would issue a statement Sunday.

    Earlier in the day, Eves said he's been frustrated by the irresponsible use of energy by some businesses during the power crisis and urged everyone to think twice about what they keep on.

    "It is very aggravating - and if it's aggravating to me, I'm sure it's aggravating to everybody out there - to go by a lit up billboard when there are some people that still don't have the necessary power to do the very basic and essential things that we all enjoy as human beings and need," Eves said.

    "So I encourage industry and commercial and office facilities not to use power you don't need to use. This is going to benefit everyone," he said.

    Although Toronto's underground subway system was not expected to be running again until Monday, air travel at Pearson International Airport began to return to normal Saturday afternoon and commuter trains were operating as normal in and out of the city.

    "I'm at Pearson right now we have very, very long lineups and we're trying to process people as fast as we can to keep the flight schedule on time," said Laura Cooke, spokesman for Air Canada, which had been forced to cancel many flights since the blackout began.

    Eves said Monday morning is a critical challenge that looms ahead, as presumably most businesses will try to open and citizens are expecting to get back to work after an unexpected day off on Friday.

    Some amusement parks remained closed over the weekend, citing the danger to the public presented by the possibility of rotating blackouts.

    Ontario Place, the Canadian National Exhibition and Black Creek Pioneer Village were all closed Saturday and were expected to remain that way Sunday, as parents looked for ways to beat temperatures that pushed above 30C.

    Most tourist attractions and businesses, still suffering from enormous financial losses following Toronto's deadly outbreak of SARS, hoped to open their doors again Monday.

    Baird said the energy system will be stretched to its limits as the work week begins.

    "On Monday, when the auto plants and large business and industry begin to operate it does cause a huge problem," he said.

    "We are going to look at the situation today and tomorrow morning and talk and consult with industry leaders in the province and be able to be able to make some decisions in short order about what Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday are going to look like."

    The Canadian Press, 2003

    08/16/2003 17:30 EST

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  • Canada Bungles Response to Blackout / Chretien nowhere in sight WANNA RANT

    Federal response to blackout included phone system crash, faulty information

    LOUISE ELLIOTT

    OTTAWA (CP) - The telephone system at the heart of the federal response centre designed to protect Canadians from terrorism and other emergencies crashed during Thursday's massive power failure, officials acknowledged Friday.

    Experts widely condemned the communication problem as just one flaw in a generally weak federal response to the crisis, with potentially disastrous implications for national security.

    Some also took aim at political leaders, starting with Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who remained out of the public eye Friday, although his office issued a statement on his behalf.

    Phones went down in the Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness shortly after the blackout began Thursday afternoon because of an overburdened Ottawa city phone system, officials said.

    "Many individuals (in Ottawa) were trying to make contact with personal friends and neighbours," said Jo-Ann Schwartz, director of public affairs for the office.

    She also blamed "flickering hydro" for the problem.

    Brian Hay, executive vice-president of Crisis Management Specialists, said a telephone breakdown at the country's central communications centre is a sign the system failed.

    "On a confidence-inspiring index of one to 10, that certainly doesn't rate a 10," he said, noting that the Department of National Defence has its own proprietary lines, which do not depend on electricity.

    Hay also noted the office, located in office buildings away from Defence headquarters, does not have an internal pressure system to keep air out in the event of a bioterrorism attack, and he called its security "questionable."

    Another security expert asked why the prime minister wasn't visible at a time when American leaders were making frequent appearances.

    "Here we've got over a third of the population, the country's economic heartland, paralysed," said John Thompson, president of the Mackenzie Institute, a security and terrorism research body.

    "This is the kind of thing you'd think our prime minister would be taking at the very least a leading position on right now."

    Chretien spoke with U.S. President George W. Bush for 10 minutes late Friday, and the two agreed to form a joint U.S.-Canadian task force that will start work immediately to find the cause of the problem and prevent its recurrence.

    Bush expressed a need to "modernize the system," said PMO spokesman Jim Munson. Chretien agreed and praised the "community spirit" evident in both countries in coping with the crisis.

    "It was a very positive tone between two leaders who want to get things done," Munson said.

    He added that Chretien has also been in close contact with his cabinet ministers, Ontario and U.S. officials from his home in Lac-des-Piles, Que. Ontario Premier Ernie Eves and New York Gov. George Pataki were among those he consulted.

    Defence Minister John McCallum said the problems at the emergency response centre will be reviewed.

    "These things will be studied exhaustively, but not today," he said. "Right now, the focus has to be on getting electricity running."

    Thompson said the massive outage, which left some 50 million people in Ontario and the northeastern U.S. in the dark Thursday and Friday, revealed the vulnerability of Canada's grid to attack.

    "Power grids are very easy to sabotage if you stage a mass attack and hit a number of targets - it's very easy to do. Power lines are very hard to guard."

    McCallum acknowledged that tampering by individuals had not necessarily been ruled out.

    He also played down concerns about incorrect information he had provided Thursday night. He said he was unsure who had told his office that the problem originated in a fire at a Pennsylvania nuclear plant - a statement that briefly sparked concern about another disaster on the scale of Three Mile Island or Chernobyl.

    He said he passed on the faulty information in his haste to assure Canadians that the outage was not thought to be terrorist-related.

    On Thursday, the Prime Minister's Office first said the outage had been caused by a lightning strike in Niagara, N.Y., which later proved false.

    McCallum said providing information in times of confusion is "always a balance" between waiting until information is confirmed and informing the public of developments.

    But Brian MacDonald, a military and strategic analyst in Toronto, said relaying inaccurate information in an emergency situation can be dangerous.

    "If you have to reverse yourself, it doesn't do your own credibility very much good," he said. "It then raises the question as to the credibility of any other statements."

    Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper said the incident was fraught with problems.

    "By the time this passes, we'll look back and think the response was inadequate," he said. "Not just in terms of media visibility - but it was substantively inadequate and that there are serious problems."

    NDP Leader Jack Layton berated McCallum for "sounding like he didn't know what was going on" and called for his resignation from the emergency preparedness file.

    McCallum said he'd spoken with Ontario officials and with the deputy chief of defence staff, Vice-Admiral Greg Maddison.

    He said the military has been asked to supply drinking water and some 21 electrical generators to Ontario.

    McCallum also said Deputy Prime Minister John Manley spoke Thursday with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, and the two agreed to conduct a joint review of the incident.

    Hay called for more thorough planning, including establishing shutoff points in the hydro grid to prevent the rapid triggering of a blackout.

    "The problem is the system is designed to be too fast - there is no way of limiting things quickly," he said. "We need to redesign the system to stop the flow before the cascade (reaches us)."

    He also called for disaster simulations - which would have helped the emergency centre determine problems with its phone line - and better planning and funding at the provincial and federal levels.

    "Surely to goodness we could spend on a planned basis, $100 million over five years to put in an integrated emergency response system for Canada which is strung out over 6,000 kilometres."

    The Canadian Press, 2003

    08/15/2003 19:19 EST

    Canada Struggles With Blackout Aftermath

    By BREE FOWLER
    .c The Associated Press

    TORONTO (AP) - Canadians lined up at gas stations, grocery stores and train stations and a national fair was put on hold as people struggled with the aftermath of the biggest power outage in North American history.

    Utility officials in southern Ontario said they were back to more than two-thirds of normal capacity by Friday night, with 75 percent of Toronto's power restored.

    The cause of the blackout, which darkened parts of eight states and much of southern Ontario in Canada, was still unknown. Canada and the United States formed a joint task force Friday to figure out what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again.

    Air Canada, the nation's dominant carrier, had canceled all flights out of Toronto's international airport - its hub - until Friday afternoon because of a lack of emergency power in its operations center.

    ``The situation is still somewhat fragile,'' airline spokeswoman Laura Cooke said of the problem at Canada's biggest airport. ``The operation system is here in Toronto but it affects flights across the system.''

    At Toronto's main train station, long lines of people waited to buy tickets after the blackout delayed service Thursday night.

    Sarah O'Reilly's train from Toronto to Montreal was more than 90 minutes behind schedule, forcing her to wait with her friends in the hot and muggy Union Station terminal.

    ``We're really very unhappy right now,'' said the Irish-born woman. ``It's hot and it's sticky and we haven't been told why our train has been delayed. But we expected some kind of delays today and that's why I'm not too upset.''

    Ontario Premier Ernie Eves had declared a state of emergency in Ontario, Canada's most populous province. The blackout hit the southern part of Ontario, where most of its 10 million residents live.

    Police made 38 arrests overnight and reported 114 cases of looting, theft and other crime linked to the blackout, Constable Mike Hayles said in Toronto. The city fire department received more than 1,400 calls, with five substantial fires reported.

    Ottawa police reported two deaths possibly attributed to the outage - a pedestrian hit by a car and a fire victim.

    Still, Canadian cities appeared to handle the sudden disruption with relative calm, much like New York and other affected U.S. cities.

    Ontario Hydro official Al Manchee said the utility would use rolling blackouts to prevent surges as power is restored, while Eves said factories and businesses that use lots of electricity were asked to remain closed Friday to ease the demand.

    Provincial officials also urged people to use as little electricity as possible, citing air conditioners and dishwashers as notorious energy burners.

    08/16/03 11:53 EDT

    Canada Bungles Response to Blackout

    BY WILSON RING
    .c The Associated Press

    OTTAWA (AP) - No power in crucial government offices. Conflicting, erroneous statements by top officials. Telephone information lines crashing.

    It wasn't a promising performance for a national emergency system weathering its first major test since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

    How bad was it? Aides to Prime Minister Jean Chretien wrote an initial statement by hand, using candlelight to see what they were doing, because his Ottawa office didn't have an emergency generator.

    It didn't matter to Chretien because he was vacationing in Quebec, which didn't lose power. Unlike President Bush, who went on television to reassure the public, Chretien communicated through statements distributed by his office until making brief comments to reporters Saturday morning.

    Chretien and Bush spoke by phone for 10 minutes Friday and announced a joint task force to examine what caused the blackout that affected 50 million people in both countries. It will also look at how to prevent another.

    The emergency preparedness system was created in February 2001 to help Canada prepare for disasters, whether a terrorist attack, natural disaster or blackout like the one Thursday. That raised questions about how much Canada has learned, and how it could have responded better.

    ``By the time this passes, we'll look back and think the response was inadequate,'' said Stephen Harper, leader of the opposition Canadian Alliance. ``Not just in terms of media visibility - but it was substantively inadequate and that there are serious problems.''

    Among the problems, telephones for the emergency preparedness system, a focus of government attention after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks south of the border, didn't work.

    Jo-Ann Schwartz, a spokeswoman for Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness, said phone lines for the news media to call for information went out. She said communications remained intact for vital officials in the operation, though Defense Minister John McCallum and others were unable to provide details or even accurate information through Thursday night.

    ``The question of the origin of the problem in the first place, and whether or not all of the governments and their agencies responded as well as they might have - those things will be studied exhaustively, but not today,'' McCallum said Friday.

    McCallum, the minister responsible for Canadian civil defense and disaster response, provided ultimately incorrect explanations Thursday night about the cause of the blackout, contributing to finger-pointing between U.S. and Canadian officials.

    Responding to claims by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki that the problem started in Canada, a Chretien spokesman and the military at first said a lightning strike at a New York power plant was responsible.

    They later changed their story, with McCallum dropping jaws by blaming a fire at a Pennsylvania nuclear plant. He backed off that within minutes, changing it to an outage instead of a fire, and tried to avoid the matter entirely at Friday's news conference.

    ``The cause of the problem is not a question for today. Once the power is back on, then we'll have a detailed analysis,'' McCallum said.

    He blamed the erroneous statements on the overall confusion, but said the information came from unspecified U.S. sources.

    Chretien, in his first public comments on Saturday, praised Canadians for handling the crisis calmly and took an overall tolerant posture.

    ``You can't blame anyone,'' he said. ``It happened.''

    By Saturday, the power was back on in most of Ontario, though officials warned it could take days for life to return to normal.

    ``It is not going to be an abundance of power on Monday morning,'' Ontario Premier Ernie Eves told a news conference.

    The province was supplying 17,000 megawatts on Saturday, short of the 23,000 megawatts required for a normal business day in the summer. Eves has asked major industrial users to remain closed since Thursday's blackout to ease the demand.

    In Toronto, it was unclear if subway service would be restored in time for the new work week starting Monday.

    Flights resumed on regular schedules at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, diminishing the long lines that began with the blackout Thursday, said Peter Gregg, spokesman for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority.

    Police in Toronto and Ottawa, the capital, reported no unusual crime on Friday night due to the blackout.

    Water advisories have been issued for 51 communities in southwestern Ontario due to water treatment and pumping facilities affected by the blackout, said Dr. Colin D'Cunha, the province's commissioner of public health. People were urged to use bottled water or boil their tap water.

    08/16/03 15:51 EDT

    Warning Rant On:

    ISN'T IT NICE THAT CHRETIEN SITS IN HIS PRECIOUS QUEBEC VACATION HOME FOR THREE DAYS WITHOUT ADDRESSING OUR COUNTRY!!!! HE IS SUCH A BLANKETY BLANK BLANK BLANK sigh If I didn't care about getting the boot I'd tell you all what I really think of this SORRY PIECE OF CRAP we are stuck with as our Prime Minister. BAD ENOUGH he didn't respond appropriately after September 11th, then NOT back the war in Iraq, then NOT deal with the MAD COW crisis, then NOT deal with the horrific forest fires in Western Canada etc etc etc. Just another black mark against him in a WHOLE FREAKING tome of black marks

    Rant Off

    Very sorry for the long post.

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