The City of Kelowna is out of the running as a location for a proposed new provincial correctional centre.
And that announcement came as good news for those looking to bring the proposed provincial prison to the South Okanagan.
The Ministry of the Solicitor General indicated this week that government-owned land specifically zone for a prison in north Kelowna — across from Lake Country and the Okanagan Indian Reserve — will not be used for the facility, despite 15 years of speculation that it would be.
“It’s critical that local governments and citizens be part of selecting a site for this new secure custody centre,” said a representative for the ministry. “That’s why we’ve asked local governments to forward recommendations so that we can ensure we find the best site, one that has community support and meets all of the project criteria.”
According to Lake Country Mayor James Baker, opposition to the prison from the Okanagan Indian Band “was the major factor in the decision” to rule out the Kelowna location, as were concerns from Lake Country that local roads and services would be impacted negatively without the district receiving any of the financial benefits from Victoria.
It is not a stance the local governments in the south of the valley and beyond appear to share with their counterparts to the north.
With a recent unanimous vote from the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen to support a bid to bring the facility to the area, along with an anticipated vote this Monday from the Penticton Indian Band and support from Summerland council, Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton said he believes the collective push to have the prison built here is a result of local leaders believing that every community will benefit.
“I think it is incredibly important that we will all work together and we do it regionally,” said Ashton. “I know that we are all working hard to do that and I think that is important because in my opinion this is an opportunity to bring the four entities together, in no specific order: the regional district, Summerland, the City of Penticton and the Penticton Indian Band, and show the province the we are both committed and that we can all work together for the benefit of all. Because it doesn’t matter where it goes, we are all going to benefit from this if it comes here.”
Currently, the Village of Lumby is also pursuing the prison and will hold a referendum April 30 to gauge voters’ support. Ashton said Penticton has no plans to do the same.
“We have seen a lot of community support for this,” said Ashton. “We got elected by the people because a change was required and they wanted us to make decisions. So I think it is really important that when we have an opportunity in a short timeframe to bring a government facility like this to the region, that we do make decisions in a timely manner and that is what we are doing.
“We are going to go full bore on this as a region.”
With files from the Kelowna Capital News and Vernon Morning Star.