There was a genuine touch of irony in the news that, just the day before the public “consultation” was to be held regarding the proposed prison in Kemptville, a prisoner had “walked away” from a correctional facility near Brockville. Embarrassing for the province. Then again, the entire farce that has been played out since the Solicitor General, Steve Clark, and the Premier made the grand announcement that the Greater Ottawa Correctional Facility was coming to Kemptville.
The manner in which this has been handled by the province has been nothing short of incompetent. When a government leaks information in dribs and drabs, as they have done in this instance, they’re either trying to hide something, or they don’t know what they’re doing. In this case, I don’t think they were necessarily trying to hide. In fact, all accounts suggest that they were feeling quite proud of themselves, and were shocked to find people were not lining up to congratulate them and thank them for being so generous to the people of North Grenville.
The reports published in this issue indicate that these bureaucrats and politicians have still not registered how badly they have handled this, yes, I’ll say it again, this farce.
I have been saying all along that there was not sufficient information on which to base an opinion on the prison. By the way, let’s be honest: this “facility” has doors that only lock from the outside. The occupants do not hold the keys. There are staff in large numbers whose job it is to stop the residents “walking away”. That, friends, is a prison.
No, the one thing that everyone can agree on in this mess is that there has been a complete lack of respect for our community shown by all the provincial players involved here. It is obvious that there was a lot of time and planning that went into the new deal for Eastern Ontario correctional services; yet none of that time or planning involved the residents of North Grenville. The municipal mayor and council were not consulted. Even the original name for the place was insulting – Greater Ottawa? Really? I think we, as a community, have the right to be outraged and furious.
Reports from last week’s “consultation” Zoom call indicate that there has been no sign of respect yet from those same bureaucrats and politicians. What comes across is an impatience, a sense of annoyance that they have to justify themselves to these North Grenville people, who clearly don’t appreciate what they’re being given. It’s important to remember that, from their point of view, the Kemptville prison is just one part of a much wider project that involves Brockville, Ottawa, and Napanee. Problems with the Kemptville segment would only throw the entire project into disarray. Sorry about that, bureaucrats, but we aren’t really concerned with the big picture. We are concerned about the dismissive attitude and the total lack of respect you and your political masters have shown to us.
Mayor Peckford and council seem to think that they have no authority to object to the prison. But they do: they represent the people of this municipality, and they speak with our authority. At the very least, there should be loud and angry cries from them about the lack of respect, the lack of consultation, and the arrogance shown by the provincial players. They may have no actual legal powers, but they certainly have strong moral authority in this, given the way it’s been handled, and they should be speaking out, not trying to work behind the scenes to mitigate the effects of the proposed prison. Council says that their reading of the situation suggests that opposition and support for the prison is divided relatively equally in the population; but that is not the impression I get. Judging from letters and articles submitted to the Times, there seems to be very little support. Of course, that is often the way: opponents make more noise. Supporters don’t have to.
On one level, it doesn’t matter if it does no good to complain. Complaining is the point, and not a surrender in silence or mild protest. Can anything be done to stop this thing? Probably not. The fact is that the province has put too much time, money and planning into this to walk away as easily as a prisoner in a correctional facility. We could appeal to that reliable community supporter over many years, Steve Clark. Oh, right…. This is not a matter of having a small town mentality, as some have suggested. It is a matter of trying to change an entire Eastern Ontario project.
It reminds me of the controversy that surrounded the building of the Municipal Centre years ago. There were those who protested that we couldn’t afford such a white elephant, that it would cost us huge sums for the foreseeable future. Others pointed out that municipal council and staff could not go on trying to work out of the Ferguson Forest Centre buildings. Much heat was generated, some rather unscrupulous behaviour too.
In the end, where are we with that building? Well, both sides were right. The Municipal Centre sucks up lots of taxpayer dollars, and will continue to do so for some time to come. On the other hand, it is impossible to imagine municipal, sporting, and social life in North Grenville without it. If the proposed prison is inevitable, it will probably turn out like that: both supporters and opponents will be found to have been correct in their predictions. At least, we can only hope so. In the meantime, all we’re really asking for is a little respect.