Now isn't time to lay blame in Elliot Lake, McGuinty says

Questions are being raised about the way officials in Ontario have responded to the emergency in Elliot Lake, but Premier Dalton McGuinty says now is not the time to lay blame.
Premier Dalton McGuinty says it's not the time to engage in a blame game, over how the response to the emergency in Elliot Lake was handled. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Questions are being raised about the way officials in Ontario have responded to the emergency in Elliot Lake, but Premier Dalton McGuinty says now is not the time to lay blame.

On Tuesday morning, McGuinty spoke briefly with reporters in Toronto, outlining the latest developments in the collapse of a portion of the roof at Elliot Lake’s Algo Centre Mall on Saturday afternoon.

The disaster is believed to have killed at least one person, but it is unclear how many people are trapped inside.

McGuinty said that a search effort will resume today, using a new strategy of dismantling the outside of the building, which is otherwise too unstable for rescuers to enter.

The new approach brings risks, which the premier said the emergency crews must weigh.

"This particular approach involves using heavy equipment to begin to dismantle the building from the outside," he said. "There’s always a risk associated with it.

"The people who work as part of our emergency teams are aware of that. They take on those risks. They want to help, that’s why they are there on the ground."

McGuinty said that the revised approach is supported by Michael Mantha, the MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin, as well as Elliot Lake Mayor Rick Hamilton.

The premier said he had spoken to Prime Minister Stephen Harper who is willing "to ensure that we have access to any military personnel, expertise or equipment" that are needed.

Not the time for ‘blame game’

The mayor of Elliot Lake told the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge on Monday that the provincial emergency co-ordinator did not arrive in the city until late Monday, two days after the disaster.

Asked about the timing of the provincial official’s arrival in Elliot Lake, the premier said that the focus needs to remain on what can be done for the people trapped under the rubble.

"I think that we need to be focused now on doing everything we can to help those people," he said.

"Some may want to engage in some kind of a blame game, I just don’t really think that’s appropriate."

For now, the premier said officials must "work as hard as we can to provide the necessary help."

But McGuinty acknowledged: "There will be a time for questions that need to be asked about what and when and how and why not and those kinds of things."

Opposition leader Tim Hudak echoed the premier’s view that now is not the time to criticize.

"Right now, I think the most important thing to do is to focus on getting folks out," Hudak told reporters in Toronto on Tuesday.

"Leave the questions for later."

When the CBC’s Mike Crawley emailed the premier’s office to confirm that the provincial emergency co-ordinator arrived in Elliot Lake on Monday night, a spokesperson said only that the official is on scene now and will "provide whatever support is needed."

Liberals gathered in Sudbury at time of collapse

During the news conference, McGuinty was also asked why he has not yet travelled to Elliot Lake in the wake of the tragedy, which occurred as the provincial Liberals were holding a convention in Sudbury, only 150 kilometres away.

"If I thought that being on the ground in Elliot Lake would expedite the search and rescue, I would be there," he said. "I don’t believe that is in fact the case."  

Rick Bartolucci, the minister of northern development and mines, arrived in Elliot Lake on Tuesday morning.