When I ran for Mayor, I had a clear vision for our community. Two things were not part of that vision: a global pandemic and a new correctional facility.
While both developments have been entirely unexpected, as a Council, we are clearly focused on guiding our community through them.
First and foremost, I want you to know that all of Council appreciates many of the concerns that have been expressed, and the frustration that the announcement around this potential facility has created for many. On the other hand, Council has received positive messages about the facility, and many others who have reached out have indicated they are neutral.
Nonetheless, I was very surprised – as was the rest of Council and the community- when the announcement of the new correctional facility was made last August by Premier Ford and the Ontario Solicitor General, Minister Sylvia Jones.
Since the announcement, Council and municipal staff have been working diligently with the Ministry to learn more about their plans, to ensure our community’s many voices are heard, and that the Ontario government is accountable and responsive to our concerns.
Throughout, Premier Ford and the Solicitor General Sylvia Jones have made it clear that the new facility is not going elsewhere. The province has held this parcel of land for a number of decades, and the correct zoning (Institutional) is in place for the proposed provincial Correctional facility. These lands were not part of the Municipality’s acquisition of the 626 acres of Kemptville College on the other side of the road.
Many in this community, however, including this Council, have had a vision for these farm-side lands owned by the province. Therefore, we have signalled a strong interest in shaping what happens on the large remaining parcel of land that will not be used by the province for a Correctional facility, and is part of the 182 acre property.
More discussion will come on this matter if the Ministry formally signals its intention to go down this road.
Subsequent to Premier Ford’s announcement last August, I have worked directly with MPP Steve Clark to urge Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General to fast-track its public consultation efforts to begin last fall, instead of this Spring.
Consequently, the first public meeting to explain the project and answer questions from the local community was held on October 30. Council insisted that several key community groups, including opposition voices, as well as representatives from the Kemptville District Hospital, local school boards, and business community, were front and centre at this meeting.
This was followed with a public meeting hosted by the Ministry on November 26 – with nearly 300 people in attendance over zoom, and that went for over three hours.
Three additional sessions took place in December with the local school boards, service organizations in the criminal justice system – as well as representatives from the Kemptville District hospital.
In addition, the Deputy Mayor and I began meeting virtually in October with several Mayors throughout Ontario who have correctional facilities in their backyards. These meetings continued into February and have been focused on what questions we need to ask, and commitments we need to secure.
Further, on January 25-26, myself and Council colleagues met with Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs’ Parliamentary Assistant, Randy Pettapiece.
In those meetings, we expressed the many concerns our community has – and we have also presented a compelling case for the community’s use of the farm side’s surplus lands (and remaining buildings) in order to build on North Grenville’s rich agricultural history.
Council’s response to the new facility has been carefully weighed. The reality is that the Ontario government has the authority over the land and has sole responsibility for provincial corrections.
We are encouraged that the Ministry has made a public commitment to being a responsive community partner and neighbour. It is crucial that the channels of communications remain open between myself, Council, MPP Steve Clark and the Ministry of the Solicitor General.
While we are concerned about what a 235-bed new correctional facility will mean for North Grenville, we also need to ensure that decisions made with respect to the correctional facility respond to the realities of our community.
Council has been adamant that the facility must not undermine our investments in tourism, economic development or compromise Kemptville Campus’ bright future. These are integral to the quality of life that residents have come to enjoy, and should expect moving forward.