|Elliot Lake (Ont.) mayor Rick Hamilton declared a state of local emergency after part of a rooftop parking garage collapsed at the Algo Centre Mall Saturday, June 23. (QMI Agency)
How, in a post-9/11 world in Ontario, Canada, is it possible that an all-out rescue effort to save what could be up to a dozen people trapped in a mall collapse in Elliot Lake took more than 48 hours to get underway?
That was finally happening Tuesday, but the roof collapse occurred last Saturday around 2:20 p.m.
Yet, it wasn't until late Monday, more than two days later, that Premier Dalton McGuinty finally seemed to snap to attention, following a controversial decision to shut down rescue efforts out of safety concerns.
This, despite indications at least one person might still be alive in the wreckage, as indicated by tapping sounds.
If this collapse had been at the Eaton Centre or Yorkdale in Toronto, does anyone think it would have taken two days for the premier to ask rescuers to consider doing everything possible to search for survivors, to publicly put the province's full resources behind the effort and to call on the prime minister to brief him as a possible prelude to requesting help from the military?
Why wasn't that all done on day one -- not to interfere with or second-guess rescuers, but to ensure political leadership was in place to assist them in every way possible?
Of course, no one wants rescuers sent into the mall on a suicide mission and this has nothing to do with the courage of those involved. If ordered to go in, they would undoubtedly have gone.
But what is deeply disturbing is that it apparently took public outrage by the people of Elliot Lake to restart the rescue effort and get McGuinty and his government doing what they should have been doing from the start.
That is, making it crystal clear no idea, effort, or expense, would be spared in the rescue effort.
Ever since 9/11, we've been lectured by governments about the importance of emergency preparedness. Huge amounts of tax money have been spent to ensure we have it. That's what the politicians tell us.
Well, where has the money gone?
Obviously, a small northern Ontario community like Elliot Lake wouldn't have all the resources immediately available to respond to a mall collapse as would be the case in Toronto.
But what was the preparedness plan for getting whatever rescuers needed to Elliot Lake, or any other small community, as quickly as possible, in the event of a disaster?
McGuinty was undoubtedly sincere in his public statements about how we would all want every possible effort made to rescue our loved ones in such a tragedy. He deserves credit for getting rescue efforts restarted late Monday.
But sincerity isn't enough. There are questions here about competence.
Was anyone in the premier's office briefing McGuinty on this disaster from the moment it happened? Who was the responsible cabinet minister?
If rescuers were coming to the conclusion they lacked the resources to safely search the mall, why weren't steps being taken to address that from the moment they first expressed them, rather than, apparently, only after grief-stricken Elliot Lake residents expressed outrage about the initial decision to shut down rescue efforts?
This isn't about politicians second-guessing experts. It's about politicians demonstrating leadership by seeing to it rescuers have everything they need to do their jobs, as quickly as possible.
McGuinty is right that the focus of everyone now should be on the rescue effort.
But a time will come for an independent inquiry to assess whether the official response to this emergency was lacking and to examine what was done about reports the mall had been experiencing such problems as a leaking roof, flooding, mould and falling tiles for years.