March 20th, 2020
Letter to Manitoba Hydro CEO - Keeyask Construction Site
Dear Ms. Grewal,
I appreciate the measures that Manitoba Hydro has taken with respect to the Keeyask Construction Site. I am writing to you to express remaining significant concerns.
First Nations and Northern leaders, people across our region are reaching out to me expressing their deep concerns about the continued operations of the Keeyask construction site at a time when we are dealing with the worldwide COVID-19 virus pandemic.
The Winnipeg Free Press story of March 17 confirms that Manitoba Hydro flew five workers out of Keeyask who displayed symptoms that could have been related to COVID-19. This would be cause for concern in any workplace. The Keeyask site poses a special risk given that it is a work site for hundreds of people from Northern Manitoba, across Canada and even the US - in an enclosed living camp in one of the regions most vulnerable to the virus in the country. These multiple factors and the serious risks they pose must continue to be taken seriously.
Let's be clear. The COVID-19 virus has spread across affected countries because people who show no symptoms can be contagious and those that are contagious can spread the virus to many other victims. The evidence from across the world is that the only effective way to deal with the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus is to test and isolate people.
In light of this I have a number of important questions.
Has Manitoba Hydro screened and tested employees at Keeyask currently and those that have left Keeyask over the last few weeks? If so when are these screenings taking place? Do they apply to people traveling to and from home by road and air?
There is reference to workers volunteering to stay put for six to eight weeks at a time. What does volunteering mean in this case? Were people being assured that they could leave if they needed to and that their jobs would be available to them upon return? What happens if workers have to leave within the following six to eight week period?
In your reference to closing off transportation to and from Keeyask, how will needed food and other materials come in? Are both the North and South access roads closed?
What is the nature of the wing being used to isolate workers to which Hydro spokespeople refer? Are there medical personnel? Access to equipment including ventilators?
Has Manitoba Hydro looked at the numerous reports and growing evidence internationally of the degree to which even a single infected person can spread the virus to many other people especially in environments similar to the camp at Keeyask, particularly before the recent measures were taken to restrict access to common areas?
I applaud you for taking proactive measures but our region is particularly vulnerable and we must do everything we can to limit the spread of COVID-19. Workers who have been in Keeyask and the surrounding First Nations, Northern Affairs and urban communities in our region are concerned that the situation at Keeyask continues to put people at risk.
At a time when governments and the medical community are calling for strict measures in terms of social distancing and slowing the spread including containment measures and travel bans to stop the spread of COVID-19, I am urging Manitoba Hydro to take further steps including halting construction at Keeyask.
I am also urging Hydro to ensure that affected workers are not only protected against the virus but supported financially if they are unable to work as a result of this unfolding pandemic.
MP Niki Ashton (Churchill-Keewatinook Aski)