Wednesday Night #828 – The Ice Storm of ’98

Written by  //  January 14, 1998  //  Natural Disasters, Reports  //  1 Comment

Unfortunately, Harry’s illustration has ‘gone missing’
We will try to trace it and restore it

My tribute to all those wonderful people who are fighting the storm.
from Harry Mayerovitch


Not surprisingly, the subject matter of this Wednesday Night was dictated by the events of the previous nine days. Inevitably, guests swapped stories of their experiences during
THE ICE STORM OF THE MILLENNIUM , described as the worst such storm ever, as they gathered in the candle-lit rooms.

A number of politicians, including Lucien Bouchard and Jean Chrétien have enhanced their standing through their public pronouncements and presence. Mayor Bourque, despite doing the right thing by flying home from Asia, has not managed to look effective, but has reminded people by his actions of Jean Doré‘s absence during the great July flood when he was Mayor. Some hitherto unknowns have attracted highly favourable attention including the Mayors of St.-Jean and Boucherville. Federal/Provincial relationships have been cordial, supportive and correct.

The Army
Some guests queried the powers accorded to the Army personnel (powers of arrest) and wondered if this was not a suspension of civil liberties. At what point was the Charter of Rights repealed, or the War Measures Act invoked? They were reminded that the current status was enforced by decree, not Act of Parliament, and the military personnel are unarmed. Clearly the military help was needed in this crisis. Military personnel must have authority during times of crisis. Furthermore, the Army has been welcomed by the population in general, has been incredibly helpful and polite, particularly with the elderly and young children in the shelters. It is a good image for children to see soldiers helping rather than shooting. One guest, recently returned from Paris, recounted that in the Paris Métro he frequently saw clumps of soldiers, fully armed. Nobody gave them a second glance. He wondered why Canadians are so paranoid about a military presence? Québec is the worst.
In Westmount, the Royal Montreal Regiment was involved as the Mayor (Peter F. Trent) is Honorary Colonel, however not until after the Prime Minister had approved the use of the military in Québec.

A comment that Hydro has not been reinvesting capital in infrastructures and that lines are in poor condition raised the question “Do we have the best hydro system in the world?” Hydro’s History: Québec has encouraged the dependency on electrical power and in relative terms, we are heavily dependent (28%). There has been little encouragement of alternatives including co-generation. Hydro, as an instrument of the government is expected to be a huge money maker. We are spoiled by the low cost of electrical power.
Would people be prepared to absorb the higher rates necessitated by improvement? Over what period could these costs be amortized? What would be the effects on our bond ratings? Hydro’s borrowing power is weakened by Québec’s poor credit rating. The Province’s debt is guaranteed. Hydro has a plan you can download. Part of the plan calls for Hydro to divert rivers to produce more power, a big chunk of which is for export to newly deregulated markets in the United States.
Several sites offer answers that Hydro-Québec would frown upon.
The union that represents workers at Hydro’s research institute, for example, has a site featuring its position on the matter: it thinks that Hydro President [André] Caillé is moving much too quickly. It wants a public debate. The Grand Council of the Cree, which waged a successful campaign against the Great Whale hydroelectric project, is now up in arms against Hydro’s latest plan, saying it threatens their land. For more Cree info, see the site set up to promote Power, a documentary film about the Crees’ first campaign. The site includes links to many other sources, including The Nation, a Cree magazine, and environmental groups like Communications for a Sustainable Future. You can also visit the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee site, featuring information about how previous Hydro projects have affected the North. A site called Canadian Sustainable Energy (no longer exists) helps explain different power sources and why some are more efficient than others. It helped me understand how co-generation works. If you’re fed up with electricity, visit a U.S. site called the Virtual Home Energy Advisor (no more) for info about the most efficient heat sources. The site gives tips on buying furnaces and boilers, for example.

A public statement that a storm like this could only happen once in 10,000 years is utterly ridiculous. We must start thinking now about how to respond to the next crisis. The safety factor of the pylons is far too low. We need better, stronger pylons. More underground distribution systems (Note that Westmount has 50% underground and fared better in the early days of the storm than cities like NDG with largely over-head distribution). What about the costs? But what about the cost of this storm??? Some estimate underground systems to be 5 times the cost. In the U.S. underground distribution is recommended. We should be looking at distribution underground for amounts under 4KB which would not be that expensive. We are not talking about the transmission system, nobody is suggesting that should be buried.
Apartment houses, shopping malls, community centres … must have supplementary power sources. Natural gas heating systems with pilot lights couldn’t function because of electric thermostats. Simple solutions can be found. Car battery and inverter , with the inverter you can power the circulating pump.

New Business Opportunities
Wednesday Night, it is often said, should invest in a business. There are opportunities here… how to connect generators to power lines, gas and wood cooking and heating stoves, many other alternative energy options.

The incredible efforts of the Westmount councilors, particularly Cynthia Lulham and Karen Marks at the shelters, the City Workers and volunteers were applauded. Numerous people made reference to the spirit of cooperation and neighborliness that had emerged during the storm and its aftermath.

WESTWEB [The early website that preceded] is pleased to call attention to the splendid work of the Rotary Club during the Ice Storm. The Rotarians gave $50,000 for the purchase of 22 generators for the home-owners and farmers of two South Shore communities, St André d’Acton and St. Théodore d’Acton. The money had been raised during the past year through various fundraising efforts of the club. This is one more example of the tremendous community spirit of this fine organisation.

Someone wondered if a deal had been struck with Hydro in order to have our power restored early. Hydro was told that 60% would be sufficient for us to cope, however, we received 100%. However, while load shedding continues, Westmount must conserve energy. The Mayor has written to every household on this matter.

In response to a request for help from the Mayor of Montreal, Mayor Peter has agreed to help with snow removal in neighboring NDG. 30% of Montreal’s equipment is damaged.
Given the contrast between the response of the City of Montreal to the crisis and that of numerous smaller cities and communities, it is unlikely that we will hear much about amalgamation for a long time!

Editor’s Postscript: Maclean’s published an excellent piece on the Ice Storm, later included in the Canadian Encyclopedia

The Economy
The resident Technical Analyst remarked that traditional p/e multipliers do not apply in periods of disinflation or deflation.
One of our economists pointed out that the U.S. is at a peak of an economic cycle. Imports are dropping. The American dollar is performing well against most currencies. He believes the US dollar to be a safe currency.Another expert suggested that the Swiss franc is not as independent as it once was. The DM and other Euro currencies will strengthen. Stability in the currency markets is expected. The U.S. dollar will probably trade at $1.37 Canadian.

Before the evening ended, Diana Nicholson read a moving description of the Storm written by Ida Zielinska, sister of Rafael, and a new guest this evening. Ida, a former student of David Mitchell, is a talented writer and animator.


One Comment on "Wednesday Night #828 – The Ice Storm of ’98"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson January 16, 1998 at 4:27 pm ·

    One of the more delightful stories of the Ice Storm is that of the Hydro workers who came from Newfoundland to help out and bought a winning loto ticket. They arrived at Loto Québec in a hired limousine and received their winnings just before they went home. Moral: “no good deed goes unpunished” isn’t always true.

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