I have lost count of the number of letters to the editor, articles, and social media posts that have been generated since the announcement by the Ontario Government that it was opening a “correctional facility” in Kemptville.
It may well be that the powers that be assumed that any fuss over the facility would die down after some time, because that is what usually happens in situations like this. People get riled up and write angry letters, but soon the passion abates and something else takes over the headlines and the minds of residents.
You would imagine that the presence of a pandemic in the Province would help move the prison (for that is what it is) off the front pages and letter pages of your friendly neighbourhood newspaper.
But a quick glance at this week’s issue of the Times will show that such is not the case.
If anything, the passion and depth of feeling seems to have increased over the past months. The opposition that exists within our community to this provincial project has been surprising in its consistency, intensity, and fervour. And it is not going away.
The strange thing is that the focus of that anger and opposition seems to have shifted somewhat from the provincial to the municipal scene.
Many residents were waiting for Mayor Peckford and her Council colleagues to take a stand somewhere along the line, and their failure to do so has deeply upset many in the community. Threats are being made that the next municipal election may see a serious decline in the votes garnered by the current Council members.
Council, for its part, has argued that there is little it can do, in practical terms, to counter the government’s plans, and that any open opposition by Council would only result in the Municipality being punished by the Province, resulting in a loss of funding and other benefits of the largesse to be expected from Queen’s Park.
Mayor Peckford made her position clear at a recent Council meeting when she said “I believe in only fighting battles I can win”, implying that nothing will stop the Province doing what it wants with its own land.
I believe this is a serious error of judgement by the Mayor and Council of North Grenville.
Their position only confirms the fears of many that they have simply given in to the Ford government and are now trying to rescue what they can from the situation through negotiating for the excess lands and farm buildings on the property.
But what, they may ask, is the alternative? What choice do we have? What do people expect of us?
What the people of North Grenville expect is that the individuals who they elected to represent them on Council should do precisely that: represent them. When Ford and Steve Clark imposed this facility on the community without warning and without consultation, I think the voters had a right to expect Council to protest.
Whether you are for or against the prison, you have to be outraged at the way this thing has been handled by the Province. Maybe the government took us for granted, a very safe Conservative seat where they could handle opposition without fear of losing votes next year.
But Council should have come out openly to protest on our behalf the treatment dished out to North Grenville, the utter lack of respect shown in making this decision on locating a prison here, and the way in which the announcement was made. Council could have rallied the people behind them and conducted a survey to see how extensive the opposition to the prison is in the community. Then they could have faced Ford, Clark, and Solicitor General Jones with the backing of their neighbours.
And if we were to be punished for our ingratitude and for daring to oppose our betters at Queen’s Park, Council could then openly report that also, and rally support within the community. You see, sometimes, it’s not about only fighting the battles you can win. Sometimes, you fight what you know is a losing battle because it’s the right thing to do.
Let me be honest here: I like this Council. It’s the best one we’ve had since amalgamation (admittedly, not a high bar to reach). I don’t want to see its achievements during the pandemic, or its positive direction in general to be forgotten in the anger over the prison. But it will all be lost if it continues to barter for scraps from Ford and Company and neglect to represent the people who elected it.
Is there a majority either way, for or against the prison? Perhaps, at the very least, Council should be asking the question.
I believe that there has never been an issue that has raised such intense and sustained opposition in this Municipality’s story. Mayor and Council need to get out in front and reflect the views of people.
It is a matter of principle, leadership, democracy.