David Shanahan: It’s not just North Grenville, but it seems to be across the board and not just in Canada even that there is a real problem about housing, shortage of housing, especially shortage of affordable housing. How do you see that working?
Steve Clark: You know, our government, right from the first day I was sworn into cabinet, we took increase in housing supply as a priority for Ontario. And you’re right, it’s not just in Ontario a problem. It’s not just a Canadian problem. You know, I’ve made a commitment through the introduction of legislation to help put a plan in place to increase housing supply. We’ve seen as of last year, a high of 100,000 housing starts, which is really the most housing starts we’ve seen in Ontario in since the mid eighties. The same thing with purpose built rental. We made some changes to purpose for rental and what we saw last year was a high in in rental stock being started the likes we hadn’t seen in over 30 years. And, you know, my housing affordability taskforce is really going to be a roadmap that I hope the three levels of government can come forward and support that would really increase housing supply and really change the dynamics so that that affordability is is paramount. But the government has done a lot in the last four years, but there is much, much more work that we have to do with our municipal partners and with the federal government.
Full Interview …
David Shanahan: We can move on to the whole prison issue. I suppose the basic question is: do you have any regrets about the way this whole thing has been handled from the provincial point of view?
Steve Clark: Well, you know, I think we’ve talked, you know, and certainly I’ve heard the concerns of the community. I understand the ongoing concerns that they have on things like infrastructure and policing and the unused land. You know, the correctional file has been discussed for many, many years. As you know, unlike probably all the other candidates, I’m supportive of the correctional bundle. But I understand that there are some residents of North Grenville that are worried about the Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex. I want to assure people it’s a modern new facility that represents a real significant investment, I think, to the economy of North Grenville, and it’ll support public safety across Eastern Ontario for generations to come. And I understand some of the concerns regarding local police. I’ve been assured by the ministry that because it’s been bolstered by the Ministry of Correctional Services, that the challenge for local police is going to be greatly minimised. The policing cost to support the small facility, they’re not anticipated to be onerous. North Grenville is not going to face the burden alone, because the correctional team is going to be bolstered in that institution. I’ve had great success with ensuring that there’s not that burden on the local community, and I’m going to continue to be vocal for it. I’m also going to be vocal that any unused property, and there’s going to be some significant property that’s going to be unused, is going to be transferred to the municipality for their initiative that they’ve launched to the community a month or so ago.
And I think that that will show that there’s still a great opportunity for agriculture related initiatives that are sponsored by the municipality. So I think having that significant collateral investment will not just support public safety, but it’ll bring hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy during construction. And there are some well-paying jobs for many residents in the long term.
David Shanahan: Well, you know, local opposition groups would kind of question almost every aspect of what you’ve said. And that’s, you know, another issue entirely. But if everything is so positive and there is so much there, why is so little of the background information being released unredacted?
Steve Clark: I don’t control the freedom of information process. I don’t control it in my own ministry when someone makes a FOIA request. I’ve said to individuals, I’ve written in the past and advocated in the past, but it’s not something that I control. I don’t control that process. So I can’t speak to what was released by the ministry. I had no role in that.
David Shanahan: Well you understand that the lack of transparency obviously feeds into any suspicions or fears that the community might have regarding what’s involved. But if that’s not your area, obviously that’s not. And we can hope that there might be something further down the line that would be revealed. The other aspect is that in the whole course of this, the municipality has been pretty well hammered by Opposition critics as well, claiming that they knew all about this and that they could be doing more to stop it and so on. Do you feel you should come out more strongly in terms of making it clear what the respective roles are?
Steve Clark: Well, you know, again, David, you know, from my experience with other correctional facilities in the riding, specifically the St Lawrence Valley Treatment Centre, the Brockville Jail, the Forensic Treatment Unit, you know, I’ve advocated to Liberal ministers of corrections about extending those correction jobs in the right. I’ve been on the record to go back to my, literally, my first campaign in 2010 indicating that I think a modern correctional facility bringing those good jobs is a positive. And I knew that my predecessor, Bob Runciman, felt the same way. So, you know, I understand there are still some outstanding concerns regarding things like infrastructure and policing costs and what’s going to happen with the remaining land. And I’ve committed to people who are in favour of the facility and who are opposed to the facility that I’m going to continue to advocate for answers from all of the ministries, whether it be the Ministry of the Solicitor General or the Ministry of Government, Consumer Services. And, you know, I think that, as an MPP, I’m going to continue to get those answers as best as I can.
David Shanahan: But would you agree that the municipality of North Grenville had no control over this. They could not stop it.
Steve Clark: The province made a decision to put a provincial facility on provincial land. So I’m going to continue to work with the municipality. They’ve got a plan for the unused property, and I’m going to continue to work collaboratively with the municipality when they’ve had a question around infrastructure. I’ve been able to address that question. I’ve indicated to you today some of the answers that I received from the Ministry on Policing Costs, and I’m going to continue to advocate for the excess land to be transferred to the municipality. So I’m going to continue to work collaboratively with the North Grenville Council on those remaining issues.
David Shanahan: Just as a last thing. I know in the North Grenville Times, we’ve decided to basically ask residents whether they’re for or against or couldn’t care less about the prison. Why wasn’t something like that done before, and why wasn’t there proper consultation to see what the attitude of the population would be to this before it was announced?
Steve Clark: Well, right from the day the announcement was made in August of 2020, we started the process of communication. You know, the first Zoom call in the middle of the pandemic took place in November, far earlier than the normal consultation process. So, you know, again, we continue to this day to forward concerns to the ministry and as well receive positive comment. You know, I’ve been knocking on doors in North Grenville consistently since the campaign started, and I’ve also received a number of people who are supportive of the project. And I respect both sides of the issue.
David Shanahan: Yeah, I agree. One of the reasons that we want to do this is because I personally feel that we don’t really know who’s for, who’s against, what the general mood of the people is. And it would be good to get that clarified at least, so that we have some idea of that. But in terms of the consultation, I think the main complaint is that consultation after decision is made, when you are told it’s a done deal, isn’t a consultation, it’s simply looking for a response or reaction, but it doesn’t change the actual decision. Consultation, you would imagine, should take place in order to inform the decision, and that didn’t happen. And I wondered why not?
Steve Clark: And I can’t speak to the process. You know, the process from the ministry was the process. And, you know, we are continuing to you know, we’re not done the conversation. We’re going to continue to have the conversation with the community. I’ve made a commitment right from the day we announced it.