Keeping watch on the neigbours

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Our neighbours in North Grenville have been getting very hot under the collar about the proposed new jail to be opened in Kemptville in a few years. It’s not just that there is tremendous opposition to the very idea of a prison, there is also a great deal of anger over how the entire affair has been handled. The letters and opinion pages in our sister publication, The North Grenville Times, have been filled with angry denunciations of local M.P.P., Steve Clark, and the Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones. But it is not an issue for our noisy neighbours alone, unfortunately. Although North Dundas has not been “promised” a similar gift from the province, the manner in which they acted in regard to the Kemptville situation should give us some concern.

The manner in which this has been handled by the province has been nothing short of incompetent. When a government leaks information in dribs and drabs, as they have done in this instance, they’re either trying to hide something, or they don’t know what they’re doing. In this case, I don’t think they were necessarily trying to hide. In fact, all accounts suggest that they were feeling quite proud of themselves, and were shocked to find people were not lining up to congratulate them and thank them for being so generous to the people of North Grenville.

The reports of those involved in the dispute indicate that these bureaucrats and politicians have still not registered how badly they have handled this farce.

No, the one thing that everyone can agree on in this mess is that there has been a complete lack of respect for the local residents shown by all the provincial players involved. It is obvious that there was a lot of time and planning that went into the new deal for Eastern Ontario correctional services; yet none of that time or planning involved the residents of North Grenville. The municipal mayor and council were not consulted. Even the original name for the place was insulting – Greater Ottawa? Really? It makes you wonder where the bureaucrats think North Dundas is. Perhaps they’ll think of something big for here too, without actually considering what residents might think about it.

What comes across from the Toronto bureaucrats is an impatience, a sense of annoyance that they have to justify themselves to the people who clearly don’t appreciate what they’re being given. It’s important to remember that, from the government point of view, the Kemptville prison is just one part of a much wider project that involves Brockville, Ottawa, and Napanee. Problems with the Kemptville segment would only throw the entire project into disarray.

The Mayor and Council in North Grenville are also coming in for some strong words from citizens, who are annoyed that their elected representatives seem to be “rolling over” and not speaking up on behalf of the people. At the very least, it is said, there should be loud and angry cries from them about the lack of respect, the lack of consultation, and the arrogance shown by the provincial players. The Council may have no actual legal powers, but they certainly have strong moral authority in this, given the way it’s been handled, and they should be speaking out, not trying to work behind the scenes to mitigate the effects of the proposed prison.

What is the lesson for North Dundas? Well, for a start, we can’t afford to feel smug about what’s happening next door. Being a loyal Conservative riding did not prevent this happening to North Grenville. Perhaps their loyalty was actually a factor in the decision to impose this on them. A safe seat: they weren’t going to abandon the Conservatives, or were they? The next provincial election will be interesting for Steve Clark. But if this riding roughshod over the citizens of one municipality is successful, then other, smaller municipalities may need to pay attention to what’s happening next door, and be wary of how the bureaucrats can ignore the rights of residents. And municipal councils need to decide how they would react to something like this.

There seems to be little likelihood that the streets of Kemptville will be overrun by convicted criminals, but the general economy and property values may be affected. Perhaps, if the neighbours get their way, the province will have to find somewhere else to put their prison. Somewhere nearby, perhaps?

Actually, that is hardly likely. According to those who know, other municipalities in Leeds & Grenville have indicated that, should North Grenville not want the prison, they would be very happy to accept it. Whatever happens next door, the principle that needs to be kept in mind is that the Ontario Government feels quite happy to impose its will on local municipalities, and their residents, without consultation, without thought, and without consideration. It might be worthwhile to keep an eye on our neighbours, for our own education.

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