Ontario New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath is turning up the pressure for a public inquiry into a fatal collapse of a mall in Elliot Lake, and urging the Premier to immediately release all inspection reports on the building.
The Algo Centre Mall collapsed Saturday afternoon, leaving two women dead and the northern Ontario town’s commercial focal point buried in rubble. Ms. Horwath added her voice to local NDP MPP Mike Mantha’s, saying an independent inquiry is needed to examine everything that happened before and after the disaster.
“How did we get to a point where a mall roof collapsed and killed two people, and how did we respond to that in the aftermath,” Ms. Horwath said at a news conference on Friday.
The coroner’s office and the Labour Ministry launched separate investigations into the collapse on Thursday. But Ms. Horwath said she is concerned about a “piecemeal” approach that may not involve making information public. An independent inquiry, she said, “is the only way to get all the answers.”
Premier Dalton McGuinty has vowed that there will be a “full review” into the disaster but he has not said whether that would involve a public inquiry. He has also promised full transparency for a grieving community, but has not said whether he would order the release of inspection reports on the shopping centre complex.
Mall owner Bob Nazarian told the Globe and Mail that the mall was inspected last month, and that inspectors found no problems. The city of Elliot Lake, which is responsible for upholding the building code and ensuring that the mall was structurally sound, has refused to release inspection reports or provide any details on what their officials found.
Ms. Horwath called on Mr. McGuinty to immediately release the inspection reports, saying the public has a right to know why problems at the mall were not detected.
“Despite promises of transparency, there are already concerns being raised about documents that aren’t being made publicly available,” she said.
The NDP has played a key role in urging Mr. McGuinty to personally intervene in the disaster. Mr. Mantha, whose northern Ontario riding includes Elliot Lake, made the two-hour drive from Sudbury to the city shortly after the mall collapsed at 2 p.m. on Saturday and has been on the scene ever since. His own constituency office is in the mall.
When he learned that the rescue effort was suspended on Monday afternoon, he immediately contacted Ms. Horwath, who in turn began working the phones. She called Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office and Mr. McGuinty’s office, urging them to reverse that decision.
“We made sure we put it on the radar screen immediately,” Ms. Horwath said.
Mr. McGuinty asked rescue crews on Monday evening to try another way to reach possible survivors. Two bodies were pulled from the wreckage on Wednesday.
“I’m very concerned about the response all around,” Ms. Horwath said. “I think the people in that community deserves some answers.”