The Jail : A democratic solution

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by Jim Bertram

If we are even to begin to assess the importance of “the Jail issue”, we must establish a few criteria which will permit us to organise our thinking about it. For example, someone thinks: “I have a gut feeling against this project.” Why do they have that reaction ? How to organise that feeling?

Well – nothing against gut feelings. But, it can be useful to explore such immediate and unreflected reactions in order to explain the very frequent justification for them. I have partially explored this idea in a set of articles and comments published in the Times in the recent past.

One point of justification for reaction to the Clark Jail Project which I would like to underline sharply, is the insult to local people the top-down announcement represents. The people of NG had nothing to say about the evolution and development of their community as represented by this project and its top-down non consultative imposition. After all, we were not told that North Grenville is being “considered” for the setting of a new Jail to serve the “Greater Ottawa Prison Complex”. We were told that a decision had been irrevocably made by the provincial government to locate that jail here in our community. No question of a consultative project before that decision, a consultation of the people. No consideration of local views, needs, aspirations. Just the giant totalitarian fist of the Clark/Ford government on our insignificant heads. As Steve Clark directly responded to Dr. Shanahan’s (Times Editor) question concerning consultation on this topic: “The provincial government has sole discretion in making this decision.” In other words, get lost you insignificant serfs. Stop poking your noses where they’re not wanted. What do YOU know about it. Just shut up!

Well, now. I hadn’t realised we were quite so insignificant during the last election campaign, when we were told the Conservatives valued “the voice” of the people; when they said on campaign literature that they were “…for the people…”Now just what people would those have been? Because it’s apparent that Clark/Ford have no concern for the voices (collective “Voice”) of the people in our NG community.

As an individual citizen, I am also enraged at the pettyfogging, gutless, noncommittal reaction to this project from the beginning by our so-called municipal representatives: our Council and Mayor. I have even received a supposed argument for the project from one of our Councillors. Not the slightest sense of outrage over NOT being consulted as a community or Council (a 48-hour notice is not consultation, Madam Mayor). I have dozens of studies I have examined which provide points against projects similar to the Clark/Ford jail project. But that’s not really the point. Experts have no investment in our home area, whether offering points for or against the indefensible annihilation of local rights represented by the thoughtless imposition of this jail. Surely, even those who think the jail might not be so bad can understand the viciousness of such a unilateral, non consultative gesture on the part of the Conservative government of Ontario? You know – the ones that are “…for the people…” Who want to hear your Voice. NOT!

The Nobel prize winning economist , Friedrich A. von Hayek, wrote in “Der Weg zur Knechtschaft” (The Road to Serfdom) that no bureaucrat or politician can know as much about the business of the average citizen as that citizen him/herself. I would briefly extend that idea with the statement that, following the same inherent logic, nor can government adequately replace the balanced judgement of a group of citizens over the development of their community. Oh yes – they can steamroll you to satisfy the interests that they serve, whoever they may be. But- is that really wise?

That depends on the courage and intelligence of the people whom they are offending. My proposal is to direct Mr. Clark, Mr. Ford, and our Mayor and Council toward this solution:

  1. Withdraw the province’s top-down, inconsiderate, and frankly offensive, decision to place a jail in North Grenville.
  2. Following withdrawal of this odious dictatorial measure, the province may wish to propose a thoroughgoing, democratically inspired discussion of the project involving real EXTENSIVE CONSULTATION of the VOICE OF THE PEOPLE OF NORTH GRENVILLE. Not the people in the Party’s back rooms. Not the power brokers in Ottawa (you know– “Greater Ottawa”). But the people here in North Grenville.

I don’t know if Messers Clark and Ford have ever heard of Cicero before. He is reputed once to have said: “Vox populi summum bonum est” (The voice of the people is the highest good.) What do you say Mr. Clark? Mr. Ford? Wouldn’t it be good to get this done the right way, the democratic way? Just before you throw this article in the basket, remember I voted Conservative last time. And take just a moment to reflect on my suggestion, while remembering: admitting an error is a mark of character, not a failure. Let’s hope you have enough character to do so.

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