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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Ontario will give municipalities $190 million for ice storm cleanup

TORONTO - Ontario will provide up to $190 million to help hard-hit municipalities pay for the cleanup and recovery costs from the December ice storm, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Linda Jeffrey said Wednesday.

The money will be divided up among the 32 towns and cities across southern Ontario that requested financial help from the province, including Toronto, she said.

The costs include warming centres, additional police costs to manage the emergency and cleaning the debris left by the storm to ensure public safety, she said. But it won't cover the cost of replacing downed trees.

However, the municipalities had said the recovery efforts could cost more than $250 million, including $106 just for Toronto.

Those were preliminary figures and the province is still working with the municipalities to assess the damage and the full cost, Jeffrey said.

"I think we'll actually get them more than they've actually asked for," she said.

The money will likely flow within the next few months, Jeffrey said, but it's difficult to know since some municipalities are still cleaning up.

The storm downed trees and hydro lines, left hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses without power for days and stalled road and air travel.

Councils in many municipalities, including Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon, had voted to ask the province that they be declared disaster areas after the ice storm.

Mayors had asked the federal and Ontario governments to each cover a third of the cleanup costs from the storm, which left people shivering in the cold and dark for days until power was restored.

The municipal leaders said property taxes alone could not fund the recovery and gave the province until March 1 to respond.

Jeffrey said the province is seeking financial help from Ottawa, since the costs associated with the ice storm qualify under a federal program.

At least two big city leaders said they were pleased with the province's response.

"They listened and they responded," Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion said Wednesday in Ottawa. "What more can you ask for?"

Toronto is getting all the assistance it sought from the province, said deputy Toronto mayor Norm Kelly.

"This is not just good news, this is great news," he said. "I'm delighted to hear it."

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