10/25/2012 01:21 EDT | Updated 12/25/2012 05:12 EST

McGuinty sees signs of progress in Elliot Lake after deadly mall collapse

ELLIOT LAKE, Ont. - Construction starting on a new shopping centre and a temporary location for the grocery store are hopeful signs for the people of Elliot Lake following the deadly collapse of the local shopping mall in June, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Thursday.

Two women died and several people were injured when the rooftop parking garage collapsed into the Algo Centre Mall on June 23, sparking a frantic days-long search through the rubble for survivors.

"People need to see progress, so the fact that we’re developing that land already for the new plaza, that’s visible, that’s good," McGuinty said after meeting local residents.

"To see FoodLand up and running, I know it’s only a temporary location, but that’s a great sign of progress as well."

McGuinty said returning to Elliot Lake was high on his list of things to do before he steps down as premier in January.

"I feel a personal connection to this community," he said.

"I was here at a very difficult time and it’s an honour for me to return to see how well the community is doing."

All of Ontario will benefit from the findings of the public inquiry into the mall collapse, which is expected to start early in the new year, added McGuinty.

"I know there’s tremendous support for it here in the community, but it’s also important to all Ontarians so that we can better understand exactly what happened and draw whatever lessons might be had there," he said.

"Those lessons will be of value not just in this community but throughout the province, particularly in so far as how we respond to emergencies and disasters of this kind."

There will be a one-day hearing in Elliot Lake Friday for those seeking standing at the public inquiry.

Relatives of the two women killed when the rooftop garage collapsed into the mall allege the provincial government and the mall owner were negligent in lawsuits that claim complaints about the structure were ignored.

The parallel suits, which also name the city and engineers who said the Algo Centre Mall was safe, seek several million dollars in punitive and aggravated damages for relatives of Doloris Perizzolo and Lucie Aylwin.

The suits filed in Ontario Superior Court in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., allege mall owner Eastwood Mall Inc. and its president Robert Nazarian were negligent in their inspection and maintenance of the facility.

In addition to the public inquiry, a criminal investigation into the mall collapse is also underway, and a proposed class action has also been launched on behalf of local residents.