We are writing as North Grenville residents and business owners opposed to the plan to build a 235-bed prison in Kemptville. Like so many in the community, we were shocked by the Ford government’s surprise announcement and viewed its failure to consult prior to making the decision as dismissive and undemocratic. As more information has emerged, we have come to believe that the plan is ill-conceived and will compromise North Grenville’s quality of life and economic future, increase the property tax burden, harm future plans for downtown revitalization, Kemptville Campus development and tourism, and forever tie our image to a failed prison system.
At a public information session held by the Ministry of the Solicitor General (SolGen) in November of last year, SolGen staff promised they would be transparent in their dealings with the people of North Grenville. However, the results from a November 2020 Access to Information request made by a local resident, and responded to by SolGen no less than seven months later, demonstrate anything but transparency. Out of 145 relevant pages, only 10 were released, with 135 pages withheld. Despite this scant information, we now know that Kemptville failed to meet many of the established selection criteria, including our lack of a public transit system and our distance of more than 40 km from the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC).
And even more worrisome, the documents state that the size of the property will allow for future prison expansion. The fact that the possibility of a bigger prison was being planned for, and kept secret, highlights that even the most basic facts have been withheld from us.
The Ford government’s initial claims that the prison would boost the local economy have turned out to be dramatically exaggerated. They have failed to provide any evidence to support this claim. Many studies show that building prisons does not boost small town economies and that real estate prices in those towns drop or stagnate. A frequently cited 2017 Canadian study by Humber College Professor Greg McElligott reinforces similar findings from multiple studies originating south of the border, which show minimal spin-off economic benefits.
And what about jobs? We know from SolGen that most jobs at the prison will be filled by existing staff from the OCDC. But unfortunately, an early erroneous statement made by Mayor Peckford that the prison would bring 500 new jobs has lingered as an “urban myth” for almost a year now. While the Mayor did publicly acknowledge this error at the June 22, 2021 Council meeting, Council still has work to do in dispelling this misinformation, especially since the 500-figure related only to the hiring of new staff in prisons across the entire province over a five-year period, ending before the Kemptville prison even opens, as stated in a June 16, 2020, press release.
We believe there is a strong likelihood that the prison will result in an additional property tax burden. For example, the Province has recently cancelled all contracts with municipalities for the recovery of policing costs for correctional institutions. Once the prison is operational, all signs point to additional Ontario Provincial Police expenses to be borne by North Grenville’s approximately 7,500 property taxpayers. The prison will not pay property taxes, but instead, a “payment in lieu of property taxes”, an amount that has not increased since 1987. At the same time, our municipality will be required to provide the necessary infrastructure and services to the prison, a facility with no discernible benefit for our community.
We understand that the provincial government has jurisdiction over where provincial correctional facilities are built. We believe, however, that North Grenville Municipal Council would have been well advised to have taken a more neutral position regarding the prison following the announcement, and certainly should have taken a principled position in opposition to it once the facts began to emerge.
On the biggest issue facing our town for many years, Steve Clark has failed his constituents. Documents in the release of information package reveal that SolGen acted to formally place the Kemptville property on hold in September 2019, almost a full year prior to the public announcement. As our local MPP and a member of cabinet, Steve Clark should have been fully aware of the plans, and yet they were not disclosed to our municipal council and the local residents he was elected to represent. This government has a track record of reversing itself on poorly thought-out policy decisions, and there is still time for us to add the proposed prison to that list. It will be up to the people of North Grenville to ensure our community’s voice is heard loudly and clearly by Premier Ford, MPP Clark, and their colleagues in Toronto. It’s not too late. Make yourself heard.
Kate Armstrong; Bryonie Baxter; Merlyn Baxter-Jeffery; Larry Belzac; Susan Belzac; Teresa Bender; Peter Bender; Margaret Birnie; Anne Bohatyretz; David Bosschaart; Sarah Bowie; Barb Brady; Rosalind Brooks; John Brooks; Michael Bunn; Isabel Byce; Norm Carmanico; Cathy Carmanico; Jennifer Charles; Christiane Charron; Diann Consaul; Paul Cormier; Mike Corrigan; Heather Cranek; Ann Creasey; Colin Creasey; Jessica Deaken; Nathaniel Deaken; Christopher Dean; Sally-Anne Dean; Lorraine Delangis; Bob Delangis; Malina Dockindorff; Catherine Ellis; Sheila Fisher; Mairéad Frizell; Lisa Gallant; Ron Geroux; Sarah Godwin; Scott Godwin; Amanda Gould; Nadia Gray; Paul Gray; Tricia Habberjam; David Habberjam; Neil Harrington; Rick Henderson; Stephen Hnatyshyn; Jill Hnatyshyn; Andrea Hossack; Eric Innanen; Corey Jones; Brian Jung; Jon Jung; Victor Lachance; Colleen Lynas; Lisette Major; Rose Martin; Patricia Meredith; Ann Newton; Henry Newton; Karen Nickleson; Lise Parnell; Rodger Parnell; Becky Rea; Lorraine Rekmans; Maia Reynolds; Veronique Roy; Jane Rutter; Stéphane Sens; Suzanne Sheldon; Bill Sheldon; Don Sherritt; Lisa Skentelbery; Wayne Terry; Colin Thain; Jennifer Thain; Janice Virtue; Marie-Therese Voutsinos; Gail Worgan; Maurice Wozniak; Miles Yang.