Okanagan prison delay blamed on economic downturn

Premier says decision on South Okanagan correctional centre will be made soon

  • Dec. 13, 2011 10:00 a.m.
Premier Christy Clark speaks to members of the public following a town hall meeting Monday in Penticton.

Premier Christy Clark speaks to members of the public following a town hall meeting Monday in Penticton.

Uncertain financial times has prevented the B.C. government from pulling the trigger on finalizing the details on the proposed correctional facility in the South Okanagan.

So says Premier Christy Clark, whose visit to Penticton Monday was spent answering questions from the media about the proposed South Okanagan prison facility, and what was taking her government so long to make a decision.

“It’s still in planning work. It’s working its way through Treasury Board and some of those government processes right now. It’s taken longer than we’d anticipated for two reasons. First, it’s a huge capital project in what is a very tough economy. As economies of the world have really gone south, we’ve been very carefully considering every dollar that we spend. It’s a very big project,” she said.

Clark dismissed the idea that the HST referendum held earlier this year resulted in delays on the prison project.

“Overall, it’s fair to say that the HST has had an impact on the budget. There’s no question about it. There’s $1.6 billion we have to pay back to the federal government. So that’s having an impact across government,” she said. “But we’re working our way through it. We’re looking at government with the knowledge of the HST having an impact, but way, way, way more importantly what is going on in the world economy.

“That is the biggest challenge B.C. faces economically, and we are at the moment a safe harbour for jobs and job creation. But we will not remain a safe harbour if government starts going out spending irresponsibly. If we’re not a safe harbour anymore, then we’re not attracting investment and losing jobs, not creating them. That’s the equation we’re trying to put together.”

The provincial government announced last year that it wanted to build a remand centre in the South Okanagan as one measure to combat prison overcrowding in B.C. Corrections facilities. In an effort to move on the project quickly, the Solicitor General’s office had required a tight turnaround time from municipalities to express interest in the project, forcing many to draft submission packages within months while selling the idea to residents.

Although early indications had shown a decision was expected in June, the summer months came and went — along with fall and heading into winter.

When asked when residents could anticipate the government’s decision, Clark only offered “soon.”

“You’ll get a final decision soon. I wish I could be more specific than that,” she said.

The other element holding back a decision, she said, was the volume of material submitted by citizens reflecting their opinions on the project.

Some communities held a referendum on bringing a remand centre within their municipal boundaries: Penticton residents shot down the referendum, while Lumby passed a similar plebiscite by a narrow margin. Summerland has indicated it would consider holding a referendum if the province chooses the district as the desired location.

“I’ve been listening closely to the views of local residents. They vary dramatically in Osoyoos and Penticton, for example,” she said. “I went down to Osoyoos a few months ago, and people were pretty excited about the prospect of a prison. In Penticton? Not as many people excited about it.

“I’m feeding that knowledge into our decision because if you want to open up government and you believe in letting people have a say, which I do, you listen to people’s views before you make a decision.”