Liberals, Tories trade barbs over search inquiry calls

Kathy Dunderdale accuses Liberals of putting politics ahead of public safety, while rejecting calls for an inquiry into the death of Burton Winters.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale has accused Newfoundland and Labrador's Liberals of putting politics ahead of public safety, while rejecting Opposition calls for an inquiry into the death of a Labrador teenager this winter.

Burton Winters, 14, froze to death on ice outside his home community of Makkovik in northern Labrador. (CBC )

Dunderdale said Liberal MHA Yvonne Jones — who has repeatedly called on the province to launch an inquiry into the death of Burton Winters, 14, who froze to death on ice outside Makkovik in January — did not even raise the issue of an inquiry during a meeting with Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

"Nowhere in the meeting — of all the cry we have had in this House for an inquiry into how the federal government deployed their search and rescue infrastructure, Mr. Speaker, not once did she ask Minister MacKay for a joint inquiry into what happened on Jan. 29 in Labrador," Dunderdale told the house of assembly Wednesday,

Both the federal and provincial governments have denied there are grounds for an inquiry, and Dunderdale has maintained the province cannot make a unilateral decision on its own.

"It was 21 hours after the call left Makkovik before the provincial Emergency Measures Organization contacted joint search and rescue for support," Jones told the house, adding that 23 hours had lapsed before EMO requested air support for a search.

There have been numerous protests across Newfoundland and Labrador about the Winters case, with participants arguing that search and rescue services failed to act quickly enough.

Yvonne Jones is questioning whether provincial officials acted quickly enough in the search for Burton Winters. (CBC )

Jones lashed back at Dunderdale for criticizing the Liberals, rather than seeking answers.

"The premier has spent more time looking at my Twitter and Facebook and finding out what I am doing in my meetings than she did into the full Burton Winters tragedy in this province," Jones said. "How said is that?"

But the Tories argued that the Liberals have tried to make political gains over the story.

"You're playing politics with a tragedy in Makkovik," said Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O'Brien, who said Jones has been "appalling" in her questioning over the issue.

Dunderdale said she had a lengthy conversation with MacKay on Wednesday, adding that McKay has taken issue with some parts of a documentary on CBC's Fifth Estate — particularly over claims about weather conditions at the time that calls for a search were made.

Dunderdale said she will release the information that she receives from MacKay.

Earlier this week, MacKay said the search for Winters was primarily a Newfoundland and Labrador responsibility.