Over the past weeks, there have been a lot of rumours going around about the proposed prison to be built on the outskirts of Kemptville. Gossip, speculation, questions about what kind of facility it would be, where exactly it would be located, what level of security, what kind of inmates, etc. Feelings against the prison ran very high indeed, while those who favoured it, or else were prepared to wait for more information before deciding how they felt about it, seemed more willing to consider the pros and cons.
This issue of the Times may be a perfect example of what I mean. Articles and letters raising questions, once again, about whether council knew about the project before they claimed to have been told. Speculation about its possible impact on the community’s crime rate, housing costs, and whether it would put people off settling in North Grenville.
There has been quite a lot of doubt cast on statements by Mayor Peckford and Deputy Mayor McManaman, which I found strange. Neither have ever given us reason to think they were the kind of people who would deliberately mislead residents on any issue. Their entire approach to governance has been to have maximum transparency and openness in discussing matters of concern in the municipality.
I know that I have been accused of being too favourable to this council, too biased in their favour. But I question the “too” part of those claims. Those of us who have known other, previous mayors and councils recognise the difference this one has brought to their style and content of governing. But, and it is a major “but”, if it was ever found that they had misled, or in other words, lied about what other journalists have described as “what did they know, and when did they know it”, then they would have lost all credibility and any hope of re-election. I don’t happen to think that is the case.
Perhaps it is just a symptom of what society has become in the last three or four years that people in political office are automatically suspect, assumed to have hidden agendas, natural liars and miscreants. Should we just assume that when someone says they have no authority to affect decisions of the provincial government, they are just denying responsibility? Maybe our past experiences, or what we see happening elsewhere, makes us more cynical than we should be.
But we also have a lengthy article by Mayor Peckford showing that she has not been sitting on her hands all this time. Consultations were had with mayors of other communities with such facilities, and information was received about the effect such a place had on their towns over time. Residents will take what they want from her statements. It is really unfortunate that all of this is happening in a time of covid, when we are prevented from meeting together in person, and in large numbers, to question, raise issues and concerns, and hear from those in a position to enlighten us.
Instead, we are forced to talk among ourselves, and it is a breeding ground for those rumours and gossip that so easily leads to misunderstanding, misapprehensions, and anger. The consultations Mayor Peckford announces in her statement, which will take place in a conference call on October 30, can only include a few voices. Likewise, the “ multi-phase consultation process” promised by the Solicitor General’s Office for later in the year will include a wider range of participants, but it is not known whether these meetings will be streamed or made available to the general public.
It has seemed clear from the beginning that the provincial government intends to go ahead with this prison, no matter what. It is a stain on the reputation of Steve Clark that this has happened the way it has, and that he has avoided answering some direct questions that have been put to him, including some from this newspaper. There may well be a reaction at the next election against the way in which a Conservative administration has handled the entire affair: that is the level of upset their actions have already caused.
But the fact remains: if this is coming, and if there really is little that we can do about it, then we must stand together and insist on whatever safeguards and concessions we believe, as a community, are necessary for peace of mind and general security. This must not require a penny of taxpayer money, and any infrastructure improvements that are required have to be paid for by the province, and not the municipality. That is the least we can expect in this rather unfortunate affair.