No referendum planned for prison

  • May. 11, 2011 6:00 a.m.

Summerland residents will not follow Penticton residents in voting on plans for a proposed prison, at least not yet.

Mayor Janice Perrino said the district will not hold such a referendum unless it knows for sure that the province has identified Summerland as the preferred location for the prison which Victoria plans to build in the region.

Perrino — who called such a referendum “premature” in light of the fact that it is still unclear where the province plans to build the proposed 360-cell correctional facility — said the district has too many other items on its agenda right now to schedule a referendum.

“We have far too many things to worry about,” she said in wondering aloud if Penticton had any inside information.  She also questioned the cost of holding a referendum in light of the fact that the province is still deciding after receiving final submissions, including Summerland’s, last month.

“Why would you waste the money?” she asked.

But Perrino left no doubt that the district would consult the public through a referendum if the province were to choose Summerland as a destination for the facility.

“We will absolutely do a vote,” she said, adding that district council would abide by the wishes of the electorate.

Perrino offered these comments after the public last week heard of plans from city officials in Penticton to schedule a binding referendum.

City council scheduled the binding referendum from June 18 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the South Okanagan Events Centre after council had unanimously endorsed such a step by a 5-0 vote.

According to the city, the question will read: “Do you approve of a provincial correctional centre being constructed and operated within Penticton city limits?”

The timing of Penticton’s referendum is certainly interesting. Eric Foster, Vernon-Monashee MLA, told the Vernon Morning Star that Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond “would  like a recommendation from staff by the end of June,  so likely after the referendum.

The city will budget $50,000 for the process, which will include mail-in voting; two advance polls; curb-side voting so people with mobility issues can vote from their vehicles; and voting opportunities for the elderly and shut-ins at the hospitals and seniors locations.

The decision to hold the referendum came the day after an anti-prison rally in front of City Hall attracted roughly 40 protesters, including Coun. Garry Litke, the lone council member who has publicly criticized the idea of a prison in Penticton in voting  against forwarding two potential Penticton sites for the correctional centre — one on Campbell Mountain and the other near the Cantex gravel pit — as part of a regional submission to bring the facility to the South Okanagan.

“As soon as a bright shiny object comes along we tend to do an about-face and chase it. Instead, we should be asking does this proposal fit with the vision we have for Penticton?” said Litke last month. “A correctional facility does not fit my vision with the future of Penticton, nor does it fit the vision of any of our community leaders.”

Not everybody agrees. Several community leaders in the South Okanagan including Summerland have voiced their support for the facility because it could help revitalize a local economy that has shed hundreds of jobs across sectors since the start of the Great Recession and confronts the real prospect of demographic decline, if not collapse, in the face of an aging population.

The possibility of economic revitalization also inspired officials in the small North Okanagan Village of Lumby to heavily promote their community as a potential prison site. But this agenda also encountered opposition in dividing the community, a fact reflected in Lumby’s recent referendum on the issue.

During an April 30 referendum, 56 per cent of those who voted in the Village of Lumby said yes to a prison while 44 per cent said no. Residents living in the adjoining rural area around Lumby rejected the idea, as 66 per cent voted no.

Village officials have since announced that it would pursue development of a correctional facility.