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Sometimes it’s better to cry wolf

A huge tree narrowly missed a house and deck when it fell in the front yard of a Northport, P.E.I., residence Saturday night.
A huge tree narrowly missed a house and deck when it fell in the front yard of a Northport, P.E.I., residence during Dorian. - Eric McCarthy

Islanders who sat in the dark or in shelters during and after post-tropical storm Dorian finally got a chance on Tuesday to hear from Premier Dennis King about the province’s response to that event.

And, those Islanders shouldn’t be happy with what they heard more than two months after Dorian made landfall on P.E.I.

During question period, Green Party Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker called out King for Dorian by not seizing the opportunity to be a leader and declare a state of emergency. King explained that he didn’t declare a state of emergency because neither Maritime Electric nor the province’s Emergency Measures Organization requested it. King’s job, he said, was to stay out of their way, but be ready to intervene if needed.

It looks like King’s own devotion to collaboration has come back to bite him. Of course, we want him to listen to other opinions and make informed decisions. But if you’re going to turn away help from the Prime Minister or decline to declare a state of emergency and access resources that will help the situation, then you’d better be right. Or rather, those other opinions better be right.

At one point, 65,000 Islanders were without power. And King’s own comments on Tuesday that too many Islanders were without power for too long tells us that turning away help wasn’t the right decision. And, Dorian didn’t come out of nowhere. Before it arrived on P.E.I. on Sept. 7, it had already ravaged the Bahamas and wreaked havoc along the coast, including Nova Scotia. Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina declared states of emergency before Dorian made landfall. We now know that Dorian caused millions of dollars in damage to P.E.I. homes and, in many ways, the impact was worse than Hurricane Juan in 2003.

This isn’t the same situation as the City of Toronto in January 1999 when then-mayor Mel Lastman called in the military to help with snow clearing efforts after a series of storms hit the city. Lastman was mocked by other parts of Canada, including the Maritimes, for overreacting to normal snow events by calling in the military. But he showed leadership and had more resources than needed, not fewer.

The province is reviewing how it handled Dorian. But we already have a clear idea about what needs to change next time. And let’s not kid ourselves. Given our changing climate, there is going to be a next time. King’s government needs to address with issue with communications services and make sure all fire departments have updated pager systems. And, when help is offered or available, take it. It’s better to have more resources than fewer during a crisis.

The Islanders who can get back to a normal life and have their power and dignity restored sooner than later expect it. King needs to realize that the buck stops with him, not with Maritime Electric or the Emergency Measures Organization. Those organizations weren’t standing in the legislature having their leadership questioned on Tuesday, but King was. King was elected to be a leader. Next time, he needs to show it.

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