September 23, 2020

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Liberals slam province for failing to deal with lead levels in school field

Progressive Conservatives say re-testing has been done, slam NDP for initially withholding report

Provincial Liberal leader Dougald Lamont and MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette called on the province to unveil a clean-up plan for Weston School (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Provincial Liberal leader Dougald Lamont and MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette called on the province to unveil a clean-up plan for Weston School (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/10/2018 (696 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The provincial government is showing "ignorance" and doing nothing about high levels of lead detected a decade ago in the Weston and other areas of the city, members of the provincial and federal Liberal party said Saturday.

MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette (Winnipeg Centre) and and provincial Liberal leader Dougald Lamont (St. Boniface) came out firing as they stood together outside Weston School calling out the provincial Progressive Conservative government for withholding the results of a report on high levels of lead in soil until after this past summer's byelection and calling for a plan of action to clean things up.

"We do have enough resources and we should have enough accountability within the system to protect our citizens and keep them informed," said Ouellette. "It is really concerning that we haven't informed the citizens about what it is they should be doing. Can their dogs play on the grass? Can their children be outside? If they've closed off this school, what happens if I have a playground in the back of my yard or a sand pit for my children? Are there things they can and can't do? We don't know. We need to inform citizens and they've known about it for an awfully long period of time."

They were referring to a report revealed to the public by media on Sept. 13. The report, completed 10 years ago by the NDP, which did not release the results, showed high levels of lead in the soil in several areas of the city, including Point Douglas, St. Boniface and Weston, and that those levels could be harmful to children.

As they spoke, four of Ouellette's children looked at the playground through a chain-link fence but were unable to play there because the area was closed last month after the information about lead levels was revealed.

Radean Carter of the Winnipeg School Division said the school's playground won't be reopened until the school division receives results from the province’s sustainable development department, which is re-testing the field to determine current lead levels.

"We know lead has a huge impact on children's ability to learn and cognitive ability in the long term, on their health. Parents should be really concerned about this. It's extremely unusual to see a playground closed," Ouellette said. "It's unacceptable that previous governments at the provincial level would play with the health of our citizens in such a way as keeping results hidden from the public."

Lamont said the report was quietly tabled a year ago by the PCs, who are accusing the NDP of a coverup.

The field at Weston School has been closed since a report on high lead levels in the soil was released last month. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)</p></p>

The field at Weston School has been closed since a report on high lead levels in the soil was released last month. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

"The only thing they've (PCs) done with it (the report) is used it to bash the NDP," Lamont said. "The Pallister government should be going out of its way to educate residents on how to keep themselves safe. They must act now to clean up this mess, but it looks like they are doubling down on the failures of the NDP."

In a statement responding to the Liberal allegations, provincial health minister Cameron Friesen said the Liberals are spreading misinformation about the government’s efforts to address soil-testing results.

"It was our government that proactively ordered re-testing at various locations, the results of which will be announced in December after analysis from the lab. It was our government that sent provincial staff to meet with concerned residents, including officials at Weston School, and it was our government that asked the chief provincial public-health officer to review and make recommendations on how to improve the handling and communication of public-health issues. That review is ongoing," Friesen said in the statement.

"Manitobans have the right to expect their provincial government to take action and relay information about public-health issues that affect them. Unlike the NDP, which covered up troubling soil test results for a decade, we’re meeting that expectation."

Lamont said the Liberals are calling for two points of action.

"We want the provincial government to stand up and inform people of what they should be doing to keep their families safe because that hasn't happened. The other thing is we need a plan and a commitment behind it with dollars to say what are we actually going to do to reduce lead levels and make peoples' neighbourhoods safe," he said.

Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew issued a statement saying he has called for a health-risk assessment to test families living in the affected areas to learn about any health issues they may have due to the soil contamination.

"I have also asked the Ombudsman to investigate the Pallister government’s failure to publicly report dangerous lead levels in our communities. That investigation is now underway. The premier and his minister owe it to Manitobans to do everything possible to make our communities safe."

Ouellette said he plans to address the issue in the House of Commons with national health minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

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