Liberals promise gift cards for non-Toronto residents affected by ice storm
A Toronto resident displays grocery gift cards after lining up at an Ontario Works office.
TORONTO -- Another $450,000 worth of grocery store cash cards will be made available starting Tuesday in communities outside Toronto that lost power during December's ice storm, but residents will have to check to see exactly how they can get the money.
Some municipalities will use a new call-in system to distribute the cash cards, but others will use the in-person pickups that caused long lineups in Toronto last week.
Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Liberal government faced severe criticism after big crowds and a lack of information hampered the distribution of $842,600 worth of cash cards in Toronto.
The government and corporate sponsors teamed up to offer $50 cards to individuals and $100 to families impacted by the power outages, but the distribution was chaotic and confusing, making it near impossible for many seniors and people with mobility problems to get money they were entitled to receive.
The cash cards are intended to be used to replace food that spoiled when power went out after the pre-Christmas storm, and are supposed to go only to those who can't afford to replace their losses.
They will be distributed in other areas starting Tuesday, including Hamilton and Wellington, the regions of Halton, Peel, Waterloo and York as well as Dufferin county. The cards will be given out in Northumberland county starting Wednesday and in Durham region on Thursday.
Provincial officials say people should contact their local municipalities for details on when and how the cash cards will be distributed.
"Municipalities determined how best to distribute the grocery cards," said Zita Astravas, Wynne's press secretary.
The opposition parties complained that other communities that also lost electricity after the ice storm had to wait until Wynne was photographed delivering food baskets to some Toronto residents and making sure people in the city were taken care of first.
"The political way that this has been handled by Premier Wynne and her cabinet has prevented people from equal access to a program that she initiated, one that we don't know the true costs of, and one that hasn't been delivered on a needs-assessment basis," said Progressive Conservative critic Lisa MacLeod. "She abused taxpayers' dollars and she abused corporate generosity all in the name of a quick photo-op."
The New Democrats said Wynne had "bungled" the cash card program.
"Thousands of people outside Toronto were similarly affected by power outages and are wondering if or when they will receive assistance, and if they'll be stuck in line for days just like Torontonians," said New Democrat Cheri DiNovo.
"Reports of massive lineups with people leaving empty-handed and questions about who received assistance left Ontarians wondering about the management of the program, and whether the help actually reached those who need it."
Tory Michael Harris represents Kitchener-Conestoga, which includes the town of Woolwich, the only community in Ontario to declare a state of emergency following the ice storm. People who went without electricity in his riding are wondering when and how they'll get financial help from the government, said Harris.
"My office has been bombarded with phone calls recently in terms of how to access this program and they've been getting the runaround," he said. "They're questioning really why this program was only available in Toronto and not in their communities when they too went without power for a significant amount of time."
Wynne was not available Monday to comment on the roll out of the cash card program, but her office put out a release admitting it "was not perfect" in Toronto.
"We had the option to do something and the option to do nothing to help those most in need," wrote Astravas in an email. "We took action and as a result over 8,500 families and individuals have now received assistance helping replace food they lost due to the ice storm."
Some of the corporations donating to the cash card program include Canadian Tire, Loblaw Companies, Shoppers Drug Mart, Metro, Sobeys and Costco Wholesale.