by Josh Bennett
There are so many reasons why Kemptville is not a good location for a new jail: there are no social services in place, no shelters, no courthouse in the area, no access to public transportation, and there is no sign that this will ever bring any economic benefits to the region. I will let the two local non-partisan groups which oppose the jail, the Coalition Against the Proposed Prison (CAPP) and the Jail Opposition Group (JOG), speak to those points, and I will reflect on how undemocratic this process has been. Steve Clark and Doug Ford’s government hurt democracy and our local representation when they impose this kind of government policy on communities with no open discussion or consultation.
For the last few years, the municipal government of North Grenville has done extensive consultation with residents on the future of Kemptville. This is what every level of government should be about: consulting, engaging, and empowering local citizens to have a say in the growth, vision, and future of their community. Following these public consultations, the local government drew up a strategic plan to help grow the local economy and bolster tourism. MPP Steve Clark was part of these consultations and well aware of the vision of the citizens of North Grenville for the future of their community.
All of sudden, with no warning, Steve Clark and Doug Ford announced that the Province would build a maximum-security prison in the centre of Kemptville where the old agriculture college used to be. Steve Clark did not consult the municipal government, giving the Mayor and Council a single day’s notice of this plan, and he did not consult the community. All the hard work that had been done by the community, the robust plans, the consultations, the discussions, and the strategies to build up North Grenville are now all thrown out the window with this proposed prison. The prison will completely change the town of Kemptville forever, and will completely dominate the local culture, real estate, small business, and the local economy.
Naturally, local citizens united and voiced their opposition to the proposed jail. This is also a fundamental part of our democracy: the right to voice opposition to government policy. At first, Mr. Clark was in denial, referring to them as “small special interest groups from outside the area”. When they started gaining traction, with hundreds of signs all over town, rather than listen to them, Mr. Clark filed a complaint with Elections Ontario claiming that the groups were “conducting unregistered third-party political advertising”. This is a shameful attempt to silence local citizens’ opposition to his party’s policy. It is attitudes and actions like this that hurt our local democracy.
MPPs are elected by the citizens of their riding to be their representative in the legislature. Yes, they are members of a political party, but their priority should be to listen to the concerns of their constituents and represent those concerns at Queen’s Park. Mr. Clark used to do this – he was always present and visible around the riding, always with a smile, and always understanding and supportive of local concerns. This all changed when he became a Minister in Doug Ford’s government. He is now more concerned with doing Doug Ford’s bidding than he is with representing the interests of our community. I had hoped that Mr. Clark would change the PC Party, but it is obvious that the PC Party has changed him. His complete lack of consultation and representation has prompted me to step up and run against him in the next Ontario Election. I will be the Ontario Liberal Party candidate, and I will be holding Steve Clark’s feet to the fire for issues like this. If elected, I will be putting our citizens and our community’s needs first, and I will help to restore and repair both trust in government and our local democratic rights.