Damage control in Elliot Lake’s disaster zone – Martin Regg Cohn (Toronto Star – June 28, 2012)

The Toronto Star, has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Disaster brings out the best in us — our bravery, our resolve, our heart. Tragedy also brings us together. Except in Elliot Lake, where the dark events of the last few days have shone an uncomfortable light on the gap between our government and ourselves.
When the authorities announced they were giving up rescue efforts Monday night, police reinforcements were called in to restrain crowds of vigilantes who volunteered to go in themselves. Their spontaneous protests evoked Elliot Lake’s heyday as a mining town where rescue crews famously pledged to leave no man behind.
But when government takes charge, an engineer from the labour ministry can declare the disaster zone an unsafe worksite — and obediently, seemingly, rescuers down tools. Will they one day restrict firefighters from fighting fires deemed inherently risky?
Amid the recriminations, officials are trying to rescue themselves from a public relations disaster of their own making. In this damage control exercise, which almost dwarfs the original rescue mission in scale, they insist no one ever truly gave up.
Premier Dalton McGuinty gassed up his government plane Wednesday to join a couple of cabinet ministers who made their way to Elliot Lake, belatedly, on Tuesday — three days after disaster struck. McGuinty and his cabinet were in Sudbury over the weekend, a mere two-hour drive away, but not a single minister thought to look in on them in their hour of need, when they felt abandoned by their own government.
Elliot Lake endured double jeopardy this week: A roof collapse too painful to watch, and a collapsed rescue effort on the ground that proved even harder to bear.
The mishandling — and miscommunication — of the rescue effort has driven a wedge between the government and the public. If people believe their elected officials and public servants cannot be entrusted with disaster management, disastrous consequences loom.
A perceived lack of competence risks a public loss of confidence. The next time disaster strikes, they may take matters into their own hands.
But the tension between outside rescuers and local residents, amplified across Ontario, is not the full story. It is too easy to blame the authorities alone.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1218334–cohn-damage-control-in-elliot-lake-s-disaster-zone