I found that the recent letter from Marie-Therese Voutsinos entitled “To the Honourable Doug Ford” makes quite a number of interesting points that many of us tend to overlook. (Incidentally, I have never understood why, when somebody assumes political office, that they suddenly become “Honourable”). Her letter became all the more interesting with it following on from a previous letter from Paul Cormier, entitled “A more appropriate use”.
What I particularly like about Marie-Theresa’s letter was that it was big picture, addressing many of the problems that we are going to face in the future, if we don’t change our way of thinking regarding the use of arable land, particularly that which is close to urban centres. Using the structures already on site to develop and teach farming practices to a new generation of young farmers helps to restore the services offered before the college was closed down, and would help our own area farmers, who have family who want to continue farming. This would, in part, return the campus to its traditional uses.
Projects such as using farm land for non-farm uses, are symptomatic of a larger problem: food insecurity. Food security is something that many of us take for granted. Canada relies far too much on food imports from other countries. With climate change upon us, all over the world people are on the move, abandoning arable land that can no longer be used for farming due, primarily, to droughts.
Historically, communities grew up around good farmland. You ate what could be grown locally, and you traded with nearby communities for other produce. In this age of globalization, our food comes from all over the world, and carries a significant carbon footprint with it. While you might say that this is just one small project, when considered together, they all become death by a thousand cuts.
A major problem is that, as communities expand, much of this sort of farmland is paved over. We have no strategy to ensure that this farmland stays in production. Rather, it succumbs to the needs of developers, who see the land as nothing more than a business opportunity.
As communities grow, land values rise, as does the value of farmland close to urban centres. Farmers, understandably, see this as an opportunity for a comfortable retirement when developers come knocking. You cannot blame them. Farming is a business with incredibly small margins, and we do not pay them anywhere near enough for the services that they provide.
As Marie-Therese points out, there is better and more viable use for this land. Also, a public/private venture proposal had already been made, that Steve Clark was aware of, that would keep the land in agricultural uses, plus our municipality has already expressed a desire to purchase these lands. The meeting with the Solicitor General’s office brought into sharp relief that they were totally unprepared to discuss even the basic problems regarding the considerable lack of pretty much all of the services and infrastructure that this jail facility would require. This begs the question of why a meeting would be instigated when they had hardly no response to these blindingly obvious shortcomings. It makes you wonder just how much thought has gone into this.
Of further interest is that 66% of our current prison population is in remand, that is, people who have been charged, but not convicted of anything. This is up by a factor of almost 3 in the last 25 years or so. This is due entirely to the failure of the provincial government to deal with the bail crisis. I would think if they fixed this one item, then the question becomes, why do we need new jails?
Personally, I am left to wonder if this decision was political. When you consider that our town has the smallest population, by far, of any jail location in Ontario, then there are less people to anger. It is starting to look like a numbers game.