Emergency radio outages put Manitobans at risk: Pallister
Stuartburn reeve says NDP knew of problems
Manitoba is the last province in Canada to replace its emergency communications system, a delay Premier Brian Pallister says put Manitobans at risk during recent forest fires.
Pallister blamed the previous NDP government on Friday for neglecting to spend $400 million to replace its FleetNet system, hours after the government announced $500 million in infrastructure spending.
In their ongoing war of words with the new Tory government, the NDP pointed to the fact that spending on road work is down $126 million compared to their last budget.
Interim NDP Leader Flor Marcelino called the announcement "an attempt to manufacture a crisis so [Pallister] could defend cutting services," in a statement.
She added that the NDP "began planning and took concrete steps to replace Fleetnet years ago."
FleetNet, which connects dispatchers and emergency personnel via mobile radio, was down for nearly 2,000 hours in the past two years, Pallister said.
He claimed the NDP knew as early as 2008 it would need replacing.
"It's tremendously important to have this system in place," Pallister said.
Staff have been sourcing parts from eBay and other jurisdictions to fix the equipment.
Pallister told reporters replacing the system could cost up to $400 million.
During a wildfire situation in southeast Manitoba, the FleetNet system went down and it placed firefighters in jeopardy when dispatchers weren't able to contact them, Pallister said.
Reeve says the province knew about FleetNet problems
The reeve of the RM of Stuartburn says during the 2012 wildfire in his community the FleetNet system was overwhelmed, forcing emergency teams to improvise. Jim Swidersky says when the fire roared into town, there was only one way to communicate.
"So in the community of Vita we had to stand on the street corners with the RCMP and responders and basically yell across the streets to make sure that we had each street and each house evacuated," Swidersky said.
Swidersky says as early as 2011 fire services and communities were complaining to the province about the FleetNet system. He says the Office of the Fire Commissioner was fully aware of problems with the system.
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"This is at the foundation of what governments should be doing," Pallister told reporters.
Manitoba is the last province in the country to replace this system.
Earlier Friday, Infrastructure Minister Blaine Pedersen announced $502 million in roadwork for next year.
NDP house leader Jim Maloway, meanwhile, called that a cut.
"We invested $628 million in 2015-16 in roads and bridges," Maloway said. "Today, the province admitted it is cutting that by 20 per cent next year. Rather than admitting it is cutting investments, the government today portrayed this cut as a 'strong commitment to infrastructure'. It is nothing of the sort."