With a 66 per cent majority of ballots rejecting the Penticton prison proposal, voter turnout of 24.4 per cent for the poll was a strong showing, given that city council was elected in 2008 by 32.4 per cent of eligible voters. RDOS residents were excluded despite the stated regional approach to the jail competition.
The “We can do better” campaign phrase is a signal not to sell short our local attributes which are the envy of many other communities, but to use them to foster desirable future development. It’s also a way of saying that we expect better than support for a jail from the economic development agencies of our municipal and provincial governments.
In the case of the province, more affluent parts of B.C. have been awarded Olympic facilities, a major conference centre, a retractable stadium roof and transportation upgrades at enormous cost to B.C. taxpayers. It seems blatantly unfair that a competition for a prison is dangled in front of Okanagan communities as a job-creation strategy, when others have received huge, positive investments devoid of economic and social risks.
It’s also true for Penticton’s Economic Development Office (EDO) which campaigned hard for local prison sites despite an apparent lack of original and localized analysis. Given its policy role, Penticton’s EDO needs to be returned to the direct accountability of City Hall, rather than the present obscure reporting relationship to the Chamber of Commerce.
Following the June 20 Penticton council vote to rescind Penticton sites but conditionally support other applicants in the region, Mayor Dan Ashton finally acknowledged that there could be impacts to Penticton from a South Okanagan jail, such as extra policing costs. Those RDOS directors who agreed to support the jail because of perceived “benefits to all communities” have never brought forward a plan for sharing costs related to those impacts, though they were quick to confirm that they would welcome the benefits.
The 3,500-name petition to the province, Penticton council and the RDOS asked that the prison not be built in Penticton or the RDOS. Along with the poll results, it registered opposition to a project which governments were advancing without revealing risks. The petition was also meant to avoid negative, costly impacts to Penticton which Mayor Dan Ashton has now acknowledged.
In short, the petition and poll clearly state to the BC Liberals that consideration of a jail/remand centre in the RDOS should be halted as it is viewed as a Trojan horse and not an economic gift.
B. Robert, CAPP chair