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Jail jobs still a concern for land owner and Penticton RCMP commander

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton is flanked by correctional officers Friday at the groundbreaking for the new Okanagan Correctional Centre. Construction is expected to begin in August. - Joe Fries/Western News
Justice Minister Suzanne Anton is flanked by correctional officers Friday at the groundbreaking for the new Okanagan Correctional Centre. Construction is expected to begin in August.
— image credit: Joe Fries/Western News

Putting locals into jobs created by the new Okanagan Correctional Centre remains a concern for the First Nation land owner and the region’s top Mountie.

Construction of the jail north of Oliver likely won’t begin until mid-summer, but dignitaries gathered at the site Friday for the official groundbreaking.

“We can’t start any construction until the design is reviewed by the province and goes through the whole process,” Richard Burley, an executive with Plenary Group, explained afterwards.

His firm heads the consortium of companies that will finance, build and maintain the $193-million jail through a 30-year public-private partnership with the B.C. government.

Burley noted the 378 concrete prisoner cells will be pre-cast by a specialty firm outside B.C. that he declined to name, while other components will be pre-fabricated “not far from here,” so “while you can’t see a whole lot happening on site now, we’re absolutely on schedule.”

He added, though, that lead builder PCL Constructors is “trying to do as much local procurement, employment, all that sort of thing as they can.”

Clarence Louie, chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band, which leased the jail site to the B.C. government, said there is no formal agreement in place that guarantees jobs for his members, and he remains concerned about how much local employment will be created.

“There might be some contractors, some jobs and people come from Kelowna — they’re already coming from Vancouver (but) we want to see as much as possible that those local business people get the benefit from this project,” he said.

Louie plans to continue meeting with project managers to ensure OIB members and businesses get a piece of the action. He’s also working to see that horses, which are an important part of his band’s culture, are somehow incorporated into rehabilitation programs for aboriginal offenders.

Meanwhile, the South Okanagan’s regional RCMP commander has recommended local politicians start lobbying the B.C. government now for more police officers.

“I’m here to tell you that this jail situation requires an increase in provincial manpower. There’s no doubt about that in the Oliver area,” Supt. Kevin Hewco this week told the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

“Our workload will go up in perpetuity with respect to that facility, because of the workers it will attract, the family of inmates, et cetera, et cetera. It’s kind of a no-brainer.”

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said following Friday’s groundbreaking that a formal request for more police must be sent forward by local governments, which have yet to ask.

“Obviously I’m interested in helping out, and if there’s a need, we address those needs," said Anton, who disagreed with Hewco's assessment.

“We always like to have the right amount of police, but I don’t anticipate a facility like this necessarily creates the need for more police.”

The jail, which the B.C. government estimates will create 240 permanent corrections positions and 1,000 direct and indirect jobs during constriction, is expected to welcome its first inmates in fall 2016.

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