As part of our Conversations with… series, I sat down with Deputy Mayor Jim McManaman. In a wide-ranging and informative discussion, Jim talked about the municipality’s response to the pandemic, before moving on to the big issue of the day: the proposed prison for Kemptville, or the Greater Ottawa Correctional Facility, as the province chose to call it.
Jim stressed once again that Council knew nothing about the project before a late night call to Mayor Peckford from MPP Steve Clark. “Yeah, we were shocked, as everybody else was. That was the Monday night, I believe, or the Tuesday night.” When CAO Gary Dyke was asked about what Council could do, the reply was not encouraging. “They’ve got the land. They can put it here. And we have no zoning and no public meetings to discuss how it’s going to look.”
The province doesn’t need to apply for zoning or any other municipal permit. A Ministerial Order was all they required. Is there anything Council can do? “We’re not playing dead, though. We’re constantly at MPP Clark. And we’ve been constantly, especially the mayor, constantly in communication with the Solicitor General and their office and pushing hard. We’re the ones that forced MPP Clark to say we’re going to have a consultation, coming up in the Fall. We want this done.”
The irony is that the municipality had been trying to buy the farm land for a couple of years, but had been put off by Steve Clark each time. Jim believes this was because the province was planning the prison for some time. “That wasn’t our vision for that land. Our vision was as part of the campus. I understand that I’ve got limited, or virtually no power to do anything about it, per se. And I get it. The public probably wants me to scream and maybe chain myself to one of the bathrooms. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to be involved in the discussions. I want to know more about it”, said the Deputy Mayor. “We’ve constantly asked: what can we do to slow this, impede this, get more answers. There’s not a lot.”
When I asked Jim directly if this was a done deal, the reply was quite clear: “You know, it looks like that, David, for sure. And I hate to say that, because I know people will get all upset when you hear that. I’ve got just as many in-person conversations with people, and emails from people, who support this as those who don’t. There’s lots in the community, the business community, I think in general, very much behind this.”
Another possible response could be to demand concessions from the province in terms of paying for any infrastructure improvements, such as water and septic, that might be required by a 235-bed facility and its 300 to 500 staff. “But yeah, for sure, we were going to push the province very hard to have them pay for part of this plan. MPP Clark, has initially told us, yes, the province is going to pay for construction. We’re going to make sure that we understand, and our Public Works people understand, that if they do tap into it, and we’re talking upwards of 500 people in a facility a day, how much capacity is that? What is the real number? And that do we need engineers? Who do we need to make sure that we’ve covered that off? But, yeah, we’re gonna charge for that.”
I asked Jim if the council is pushing for a meeting with the province to see what is happening?
“Yeah, like I said early on, we insisted that they put something together to have this town hall, whether it’s going to be virtual or not. We pushed back very hard right from the get go. They’ve agreed. We’re just here waiting for dates. I think Nancy’s probably on the phone texting Steve every day. She’s very adamant that we get this information. And so, are they holding back a little bit, so that when they do this, they’ve got all their ducks in order to say, because this is how it’s going to be, or this is what we’re looking at? But we’ve been pushing. Trust me, we’ve been pushing every day to get Steve and the gang together to talk to the people and fix this communication gaffe they’ve made. And they know it. You know, I think they thought it was not going to be a big deal.”
Well, of course, it is. In our conversation, Jim discussed the impact the prison might have on housing and the plans for affordable housing, as well as dealing with the rumours which circulated that the pipes being paid on County Road 44 last year were all part of the prison project, a theory he dispels quite explicitly. The work, he says, was to fix the system in the Campus, and separate it from the farm lands; work that was done and paid for by the province. As a final word, Jim said: “We don’t want the taxpayers to pay a dime for this place. If anything, you know, it should be paying us. And I know there’s a small stipend they pay us, and I forget what it is, but I thought it was peanuts.”
The full conversation is available on our website: www.ngtimes.ca.