Mayor Peckford on the Correctional Facility

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Mayor Nancy Peckford spoke with Times Editor, David Shanahan, about the proposed Correctional Facility announced by the Ontario Government.

The conversation began with a question about the confusion which still exists about when Council first knew about the proposal.

David: I would say there remains confusion in the community about the correctional facility and how it came about. There are still people who think that there was some kind of trade going on. We got 43 funding, the Province got a prison. So, did it come as a surprise?

Mayor Peckford: Oh, it was a total shock. I was really was gobsmacked. It was nothing that we expected, anticipated, contemplated. We really didn’t. We were so excited to have formalized the plans for the International Plowing Match, which came just before the pandemic. And by last July, I was writing a letter to the province and Minister Clark suggesting that, in order to secure the farm side lands for the IPM, that we could lease them.

So really, that was my thought process: When and if the province surpluses the farmside lands, what can we do to potentially acquire them, build on the IPM, and bring back agricultural related initiatives to those lands? So the announcement of a correctional facility was really, initially, difficult to absorb and somewhat disorienting and not something I ever expected I would have to deal with in the community.

I don’t like to say I’m powerless over the decision – but the province has been clear.

The correctional facility from day one has been presented to me, to Council, as a fait accompli. There was no warning signal other than Minister Steve Clark kept saying that before the farmside lands, or any provincial lands, are rendered surplus, i.e potentially available for sale by the Municipality, they would be subject to a due diligence process internally in the event that any provincial Ministry saw a use for it.

Apart from that, there was not a sniff of a correctional facility coming here, and it was never on my mind, not in a million years. However, Council has been adamant that we will not be powerless over some of the next steps.

David: What, realistically, do you think council could do, could have done at the time, about this?

Mayor Peckford: So just to answer your question, on CR 43, the announcement confirming both federal and provincial funding for County Road 43 came in July of last year, before the announcement about the correctional facility in August. So, all of the funding had been confirmed by then.

I know some people think Council wouldn’t oppose the Correctional facility because of the need for CR 43 funding- and nothing could be further from the truth.

By last July, the paperwork was being signed and we were on our way. In fact, the provincial government had already recommended CR 43 for funding to the federal government in July of 2019. We had waited another year for the federal government to give it their green light, which, with some pushing by myself and Minister Clark, we got in July of 2020.

In any case, when the correctional facility was announced, it required Council and the Municipality to shift its thinking very quickly. Our first thought was, of course, could the province do this without consultation from the community and the answer was overwhelmingly, yes. The correct zoning was in place.

So the next questions was how quickly could we get information out to the community? How could we fortify ourselves in terms of a better understanding of impacts? How much land would the proposed correctional facility use? Could we access some of the lands that, maybe, they weren’t going to use?

And that’s why we pushed really hard to accelerate some of those public engagement and stakeholder engagement pieces last fall, a year in advance of what had been proposed.

At the same time, Council didn’t necessarily know all the questions we needed to ask. And that’s why the Deputy Mayor and I started to reach out to other Mayors to say, help us ask the right questions. What do we need to watch out for?

So, I think in the weeks and months after the announcement, we were in a process of really coming to terms with “what does the facility mean?”. And David, I’ve said it to you before, there were and are people who were expressing enthusiasm about the opportunities the facility would generate. But, obviously, we also have heard a lot of distress and anxiety too.

Consequently, I and other members of Council wanted to ensure we were getting as many answers to the questions that members of the community were asking. Because, overwhelmingly, the questions were good questions and they were fair questions.

David: What position was council in, in terms of being able to do anything about this?

Mayor Peckford: Well, I think, at the time, we wanted to have as much information as possible, so that we could be clear with the community about what we thought the short term and long term impacts of a correctional facility would be. And I think, to some extent, those questions have been answered, and to some extent there is much more to be determined, in terms of impacts.

Regardless, however, we know there are some very important lands and buildings on the farmside lands from the Kemptville College days that should be preserved and utilized for agricultural community-related initiatives. And, because of the fact that we have the International Plowing Match coming in September 2022, and we had already been contemplating how the IPM could generate momentum to bring agricultural opportunities back to Kemptville, we have used the last several months to advance North Grenville’s interests regarding access to those remaining lands and buildings.

Because what we could see, based upon the many conversations we had with the Ministry subsequent to the announcement, was that there was no going back for the province. None. The reality is the province has decided to build that facility. And by the time they announced it in this community, that decision was made, signed, and sealed. It wasn’t aspirational. It wasn’t “we’re thinking about it”. No matter what you think of this selection process for the facility, the decision was made.

Given this, for me or Council to have locked heads with the province on whether or not it was legitimate for them to put the facility there, I think would have been a non-productive conversation. We would have spun our wheels for a year and we would have lost months, if not more than a year, banging our heads against the wall and ignoring where, in fact, we had an opportunity to assert control.

If we communicated straight opposition, nothing else, we were losing time on the opportunity that I think we had, which was to leverage our conversation with the Ministry of the Solicitor General and our local MPP Steve Clark who sat around the cabinet table, to say, we need other community activities on those lands.

In other words, how do we gain control over as much land as possible as quickly as possible.

Frankly, it would be a wasted opportunity and a loss for the community if the only thing that came out of the farmside lands was a provincial correctional facility. It would be an insult to the deep agricultural heritage that these lands represent and the role that Kemptville College played for over 100 years.

So, our mindset has been, how do we work with Steve Clark and the Ministry to secure an agreement to save every building we can, to ensure that we in North Grenville pursue some community related agricultural activity on the lands that won’t be used by the correctional facility.

That is why Council released the letter that was written to me in May from the Deputy Solicitor General.

It publicly confirms a shared intent between the Ministry and the Municipality to move forward and create the agricultural opportunities that are vital for our community’s future.

This letter is the result of the many stakeholder and engagement sessions where we have heard loud and clear that there must be community-driven agricultural initiatives on those lands.

Yes, some are objecting to a correctional facility entirely, but our objective has been, if nothing else, to have more than a facility there, so we can leverage the agricultural and related opportunities coming our way via the IPM, Kemptville Campus, and beyond.

And, as I have said, David, sadly, this announcement has created division in the community. That division is not lost on myself and Council.

We have an incredible community, and I’m so proud of it.

I meet people every day who are struggling with the prospect of this facility. And I also meet people every day who are genuinely excited and think it’s a good thing for North Grenville. And I feel its my responsibility to ensure that both sides get as much information as possible from the Ministry, and we do everything in our power to have control of some of the lands that will be available.

There is no doubt that the future of these farmside lands is different than what we expected. We offered to buy. We offered to lease. Those things didn’t happen. The province comes up with a whole other plan for those lands over which we have absolutely no input.

It was announced in a way that didn’t account for how North Grenvile has changed since the old correctional facility in Burritt’s Rapids closed in 2004, and how this new one would be perceived, especially being so much closer to town.

David: So the basic fact of what you’re saying is that this is something the province came and imposed on the community. There was no room for negotiation about this. There was no question that it’s not happening.

Mayor Peckford: No, we have nothing to negotiate, as its not our land.

David: And nothing to negotiate with.

Mayor Peckford: No. In terms of authority or jurisdiction, no.

David: And you’ve got groups who are opposed to this. Where should they be focusing their energies?

Mayor Peckford: This decision rests with the province of Ontario. I think some of the arguments that the opposition groups have used around the value of provincial jails, who is housed in them, whether or not they get adequate programing, those are legitimate questions. Those are good questions to ask and we should all be asking them.

David: But not a municipal jurisdiction?

Mayor Peckford: Not questions we can answer. We can be alerted to them, we can ask that they absolutely be answered by the province.

As I have said, the decision for the establishment of a facility in Kemptville is part and parcel of a commitment to transform provincial Corrections in eastern Ontario that was initiated under the Wynne government. The Ford government saw merit in it, and the cabinet table signed off on a significant budget investment which resulted in the announcement.

David: The things that have been brought up by members of the community; what about water and sewer, and related infrastructure?

Mayor Peckford: The Ministry has already initiated those conversations with the Municipality. For example, the correctional facility will opt into our wastewater facility and pay the same as any other institution, like a hospital or school. They are not exempt.

I recognize those arrangements will not alleviate the concerns around some of the implications of the facility. However, we have to focus our attention on where we can exert the most influence, the most quickly, and come out better as a community for what we can control.

David: Perhaps the organizations who are opposed should be camped out on Steve Clarke’s doorstep, rather than council meetings?

Mayor Peckford: Well, certainly, if you have real issues with the amount that’s being spent, or about the criminal justice system generally, I would really encourage residents to ensure they’re fully communicating with the province on some of those concerns, and they’re legitimate. It’s not that those critiques don’t have value.

Incarcerating people is never the full answer, and nor should it be. At the same time, people do deserve to do their time in modern and humane facilities where they don’t fear for their lives, they have access to mental health support, and which can serve as a ‘reset’ for them.

But I very much encourage people to reach out directly to the Solicitor General around their concerns about how the criminal justice system operates.

Here in North Grenville, we have connected members of our community with senior level Ministry officials to start some of that dialogue on rehabilitation.

I understand that those who are opposed are not satisfied, necessarily, with how Council has managed the announcement, but they are members of my community and I will treat them with respect. I respect who they are, and I completely understand their need to ask hard questions.

Our door is always open, and it has been since the beginning.

I really feel that – in this day and age of hyper divisive politics – that we have to keep an open mind and heart. I hope that, despite everything, the community-driven activities which we expect to take place on these farm side lands will enhance community cohesion and agricultural opportunities.

Because we have got a good thing going in North Grenville, and given our heritage and given where we are located in Leeds and Greenville, what happens on those lands is incredibly important to the future of this community.

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