April 20th, 2020
Ashton Raises Concerns at Keeyask and Calls for Action including Shutdown
In a letter to Manitoba Chief Provincial Public Health Officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, NDP MP Niki Ashton calls for action on the Keeyask construction site.
Dear Dr. Roussin,
I would like to raise a serious concern arising at the Keeyask construction site.
First Nations have expressed real concerns about the Keeyask construction site and this pandemic for some time. They have community members working there. They are partners in the development. In response, on March 20, Manitoba Hydro agreed to take drastic measures to prohibit travel into the camp as a way of keeping people safe. They committed to ensuring people would remain in the camp for six to eight weeks.
On April 19, almost a month later, Manitoba Hydro informed workers and partner First Nations that ten new cooks would be coming into the Keeyask camp. This is not in line with Manitoba Hydro's clear commitment to ensure safety at their site by prohibiting new staff to enter. This recent announcement has created major concerns among workers in the camp and First Nations who were willing to recognize Hydro's previous efforts.
Furthermore, Manitoba Hydro has indicated that this practice was approved through public health. Would you be able to clarify who gave that approval? A number of serious concerns remain about the protocol communicated to workers and First Nations. There is reference to the workers entering being "screened" by a Nurse Practitioner prior to travel. Is this over the phone? How suitable is this? There is reference to screening when the workers arrive into camp. What if the workers contracted the virus on the way there? There is reference to daily protocols being followed. Do these include testing for COVID-19? These are individuals who are expected to handle and prepare food - tasks that involve working with others and touching. While many know that COVID-19 is not a food borne virus, the work being done by these workers in an enclosed work camp is of significant concern.
Mental health is already an issue in the camp. This entry of new staff based is creating instability on the inside.
In addition to this latest development, Manitoba Hydro has not yet proposed a plan for their workers to leave and possibly return to Keeyask. First Nations in our region have been at the forefront of keeping not just their communities but our entire region safe. The lack of consultation with the partner First Nations and the lack of a proposed plan is a source of intense concern.
Communities across our region are aware of the heightened risk of a COVID-19 spread through work camps and back into communities. We are hearing news of infections in camps and mines in northern regions of the country. Many of us have friends and even family in communities impacted. Our region cannot afford one infection and that is why calls for temporary shutdowns must be respected.
The travel restriction will do nothing to prevent the virus spreading in work camps and mines across our region that require contractors to continue operations. I therefore would ask your teams to reassess the current exemptions especially in light of this current situation and respect the calls for temporary shutdowns, including at Keeyask.
MP Niki Ashton
Churchill - Keewatinook Aski