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In wake of Quebec fire, Ontario to speed up sprinkler requirements for retirement homes

An investigator walks with an evidence number on the scene of senior's residence home where a fire left 5 confirmed dead and 30 missing in L'Isle Verte, Quebec January 24, 2014.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Ontario will consider speeding up the phase-in of sprinkler systems in nursing and retirement homes following a deadly blaze that destroyed a nursing home in eastern Quebec, Health Minister Deb Matthews said Friday.

Ontario introduced new regulations last year to require all nursing homes built before 1998, which were previously exempt from the regulation, to install sprinkler systems, but said they could take five to 10 years to complete the retrofits.

"The tragedy in Quebec has everyone asking is there something more we should be doing," said Matthews. "There is a phase-in period (for sprinklers) so I think we do have to take another look to see if there's anything we can do to accelerate that."

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New Democrat Paul Miller accused Ontario's Liberal government of caving to the interests of private operators of nursing and long-term care homes who complained about the costs of having to retrofit older facilities with sprinklers.

"The cost was minimal compared with what people pay to be in a retirement home," he said. "I certainly wouldn't want to put my parents into a place that doesn't have sprinkler systems."

Ontario has the worst record in North America when it comes to fatal fires in nursing and long-term care homes, with 52 deaths in recent years, including homes in Orillia, Niagara Falls and Mississauga, added Miller.

"It's absolutely ridiculous," he said.

Miller wants the government to mandate sprinklers in all nursing, long-term care and retirement homes within five years.

"How many people could pass away in the next 10 years in similar situations if it's not mandatory," he asked.

Thursday's fire that killed at least five and left 30 others missing in L'Iles-Verte, Quebec has everyone concerned about preventing similar tragedies, said Matthews.

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Sprinklers are being installed in older homes operated by the Ministry of Health as it rebuilds its facilities, but the schedule may have to be speeded up, she added.

"We are rebuilding the older long-term care homes in a pretty aggressive manner — what the system can bear — but do I want to go back and take a look and see if there's more we can do? Yes I do," Matthews told reporters.

"I cannot imagine having to deal with that situation here in Ontario, and it is an opportunity to take another look."

Investigators in Quebec say the cause of Thursday's blaze is unclear and police say nothing is being ruled out.

Miller also questioned the Liberals' motivation in promising to speed up installation of sprinkler systems in nursing homes.

"Well gee, there's an election coming," said Miller. "What do you think?"

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