Guarantee. It’s the word many citizens were hoping to hear from the B.C. Corrections representatives at a public forum held on Tuesday in Penticton.
Guarantee that tourism won’t fade should one of the three sites (Campbell Mountain, Cantex, city yards) identified by the city for a potential jail be chosen. Guarantee jobs would be created for local residents and business. Guarantee property prices wouldn’t diminish.
“We will have no guarantee that it wont be privatized. We don’t have any guarantee it won’t be reclassified to a new standard of usage. Let’s not fool ourselves with the idiosyncrasies. I have a problem anytime someone comes bearing gifts, especially a level of government,” said Penticton resident Lindsey Hall at the meeting.
“I have to ask the question, what is the catch? And I find it so disheartening that a community such as ours is so hungry as to take a bite at this rotten carrot. What are we to be offered next? A nuclear waste facility? We all understand that such a facility is not a positive for a community. Penticton’s primary industry is tourism and that will be blemished tremendously with the installation of one of these facilities. The stigma will be brought upon the town and that, in my opinion, is not a debate. Three years ago when we had all our industrial-based jobs, our production-based jobs, we wouldn’t even consider debating this issue.”
Brent Merchant, assistant deputy minister corrections branch, told the crowd that there is no guarantees on anything. Instead he showed examples of communities that also had voiced many of the same concerns before a jail was constructed in their city. He said they now hear none of those concerns since the jail has been operating.
“It would be like me asking you as a retailer, can you guarantee me you will net $200 million in the next five years? You can’t give me that guarantee and I can’t give you a guarantee about your house prices. I guess it is a rhetorical question and I can’t answer,” said Merchant.
What the B.C. Corrections representatives did state is they build jails to last 30 to 40 years, this one in particular would be built to LEED Gold standards and jobs that are generated for citizens or contracts for businesses would be posted so all B.C. residents could apply for those positions and contracts equally.
Exit surveys were offered to the approximately 200 people who attended Tuesday’s forum asking if they are in favour of a correctional facility being located in the South Okanagan. A total of 86 people said they were in favour, with 102 opposed. A second question asked to rank the sites identified if the facility was to be located in Penticton, Of those who returned the survey, 56 chose Campbell Mountain, 33 chose Cantex and 19 chose the city yards site as their first choice.
The few who stuck around to the end of the meeting, saw one woman issue a tearful, passionate plea against the facility.
“I live in upper Carmi and we have a wonderful community up there, and you are going to stick that in front of my million-dollar house in my million-dollar view looking out at the lake. We have a beautiful view up there and I am going to have to stare at this place. It sickens me that we would even consider ruining the only side left in Penticton to develop. You are going to jeopardize that with this facility. It sickens me,” said Janet Scott.
“This is so emotional. I’m telling you, you are going to have a fight on your hands. The upper Carmi people you are going to have to fight, I am telling you right now. Regardless of how wonderful the facility is. I know we need it, let’s just be smart about where we are going to put it.”
One resident suggested it would benefit council to hold a referendum on the issue of bringing a jail to the city, which received a short round of applause from the public. City staff said those wanting to have their voice heard can call City Hall and set up a meeting or write or email mayor and council with their opinions.
While there are no plans to hold a referendum, city administration confirmed after the meeting that council would have to pass a bylaw for the wording of the referendum question. They suggested it could take 60-80 days after it received third reading for the referendum to actually happen because of the organization it takes and the statutory advertising that has to take place.