03/17/2015 12:22 EDT | Updated 05/17/2015 05:12 EDT

Manitoba to install sprinklers in care homes but falls short of $125M price tag

WINNIPEG - Manitoba is promising to install sprinklers in all its hospitals, group and seniors homes over the next decade but isn't committing to the $125 million price tag yet.

The upgrades were recommended by a fire safety task force appointed after a fatal fire at a Quebec seniors home in January 2014. The fire in L'Isle-Verte, Que., killed 32 people and has prompted sweeping changes in the province.

Upgrading all provincially run facilities in Manitoba will cost $125 million, the report said. The governing NDP has only budgeted $70 million so far.

Although Manitoba said it accepts all the task force's recommendations, neither Labour Minister Erna Braun or Health Minister Sharon Blady would commit to the extra $55 million. The request will have to go through the normal budget process and be weighed against other priorities, Blady said.

"Requests are made from within the department through the regular Treasury Board process," she said Tuesday. "We will always work towards ensuring that investments can be made for the safety and well-being of Manitobans."

The task force found one-third of 200 health care facilities and seniors homes in Manitoba don't have sprinklers. Just over 80 per cent of the 1,221 residential and child-care facilities in the province don't have sprinklers either.

Fire Commissioner Dave Schafer said they are a key part of minimizing damage from fires and saving the lives of vulnerable people.

"They provide time for the proper evacuation," he said. "They buy time for facility staff to move people from one side of the facility to the other or out of the facility as required."

The task force worked very closely with Ontario, which became the first province over a year ago to require sprinklers in all its facilities including group homes and seniors homes. Most facilities were given five years to install sprinklers while long-term care homes were given until 2025.

Schafer said the task force looked at installing sprinklers faster but ultimately suggested the work be done over 10 years.

"Anything shorter may not have been reached," he said. "This provides proper time for planning ... and it points everybody in the right direction."

But Conservative critic Dennis Smook said a decade is too long, especially when it comes to ensuring the safety of vulnerable people. The NDP should commit to making the upgrades — and paying for them — quickly, he said.

"We know how technology changes in 10 years. The systems might be totally out of date in 10 years. We can't play with public safety for that long a period of time."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had L'Isle Vert