It is likely that the provincial government will choose a location for its new correctional centre sometime before the City of Penticton holds its June 18 binding referendum, according to the Solicitor General Shirley Bond.
“My team is currently already evaluating the proposals,” Bond said Monday. “It started late last week and that evaluation will continue and I am hopeful to have a recommendation provided to me before the middle of June.”
Council submitted two sites to the provincial government in March — one on Campbell Mountain and the other near the Cantex gravel pit — in a bid to bring a proposed Okanagan correctional facility to Penticton’s city limits. However, faced with growing opposition to the prison, council voted unanimously last week to call a binding referendum on the matter.
Bond said as the evaluation team analyzes the competing sites in the valley they will take a number of things into consideration before making their recommendation to her, including the site location and size; its proximity to courthouses, RCMP lock-ups and other institutions; the availability of utilities; zoning; environmental conditions; and community support — a “critical piece,” she said.
However, because the deadline for providing information to her office regarding the proposals was April 30, Bond said Penticton’s vote will not be considered in the process.
“They can’t consider the outcome of a referendum that hasn’t taken place yet,” she said.
When asked what would happened if she approved one of the Penticton sites only to have it voted down in the referendum, Bond said she would not speculate on that outcome.
“At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the mayor and council of Penticton to choose whether or not they want to be in this process,” said Bond.
“They have told us they want to be in the process. So if constituents of Penticton are unhappy with them being in this process they need to make sure they are making that clear to the mayor and council.
“We are operating on the assumption that if we get a letter from the mayor of Penticton saying, ‘Please consider our proposal,’ we should consider that proposal, assuming that they have met the test that they believe is necessary to have the proposal considered. And I am sure you can imagine I cannot extend the process six weeks to wait for one community to basically have a binding referendum.”
Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton said in hindsight council should have elected to hold the referendum earlier in the process, but that opposition to bringing the prison to the city grew to become larger than what he thought it would.
“Initially, we were getting indications that there was support but when the indicators started to show that there wasn’t as much support then what we want to do is say to the community, ‘OK, it is your decision then,’” he said.
“There has been a substantial uptick in those opposed to a prison and, in my opinion, some of that uptick has been based on information that I don’t think is factual or that is exaggerated. And this has been building. So what I think is the fairest process is to get the facts out there and then to see whether there is public support or not through a referendum.”
Ashton said he hopes holding the referendum so late in the process will not diminish the two proposals the city has put forward, noting that there is a range of criteria that Bond and her team must evaluate, some of which may play to Penticton’s advantage.
“I think there are a lot of tags around all the sites that need to be considered,” he said. “One of the criteria they have is community support and if Penticton comes through with that criteria … I do not think we should be disqualified.”
Ashton confirmed that if Bond selects a location outside of Penticton before June 18, the referendum will be cancelled saving the city most of the $50,000 budgeted for the vote.