The scrambling for cover of communities in the Okanagan to avoid housing a new provincial jail has become an embarrassment.
And it’s another puzzling attempt to thwart a stable, economic contributor to many local communities that are badly in need
Government jobs are about as stable as you can get in these current economic times. But it’s this whole jail concept that people can’t seem to get their heads around.
This past week, Mayor Sharon Shepherd said she wanted to hold a meeting with representatives from Lake Country and the Okanagan Indian Band to discuss the project. She wants it to be built on the old Hiram Walker site at the city’s northern border.
That parcel of land was purchased in the 1990s by the province, and was rezoned by the city in 1996 with the intent then to house a prison facility.
The first attempt to proceed with that project was delayed by budget priorities, as another prison in Port Coquitlam was given a higher priority. Then in 2008, the prison was to be greenlighted, only to have the Okanagan Indian Band voice their objections, delaying the project again.
On the petty politics side, Lake Country still has some bitterness about how Kelowna was able to claim the property from Winfield, which continues to this day.
As for the Indian band, they feel a prison will negatively impact their ability to develop tourist industry businesses in the area.
So once again, while we all talk about creating jobs, we find ways to scuttle a positive step in that direction.
When the Solicitor General’s ministry released a statement this week saying Kelowna was no longer being considered, which clearly caught city hall off-guard, I think that was the voice of frustration.
The government was embarrassed when the Okanagan Indian Band’s objections sidetracked the project before, and show no interest in getting mired in local politics to iron out a solution.
The problem for the B.C. Liberal government is nobody else wants the 360-cell remand centre either, despite its estimated 240 correctional staff, $17 million payroll and facility service spin-offs. But why? While location is important, the days of sticking a prison in the middle of a subdivision left with the closure of Oakalla and the B.C. Pen in Burnaby and New Westminster respectively.
What are we really concerned about here? People in custody jumping the wall and rampaging through our community as they flee?
Given the proposed location, most people in either Lake Country or Kelowna won’t even know it’s there.
Trying to revive this project at the Kelowna site appears beyond help, with too many competing interests at play. That’s too bad.
It’s a wasted opportunity that should have been saved.
Barry Gerding is managing editor of the Capital News.