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‘A gain, not a loss’: Kemptville correctional facility part of rebuilding Ontario, says OPSEU president

The following Op-Ed by OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas was published in the Kemptville Advance.

‘A gain, not a loss’: Kemptville correctional facility part of rebuilding Ontario, says OPSEU president

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the cracks in our system, and now it’s time to focus on the fixes — on economic recovery and creating quality jobs. Luckily, the new Kemptville correctional facility is an opportunity to achieve both.

In fact, Kemptville has become an important part of the plan to modernize correctional facilities across the entire eastern Ontario region. It’s a project that will come with major investments for the region and a significant spinoff of new jobs — quality jobs that will help to stimulate the local and provincial economy when it’s needed more than ever.

The construction of a fully public facility in Kemptville is a gain, not a loss — an opportunity, not a liability. And that isn’t a false sales job, it’s the truth.

It’s understandable that local residents have concerns about the plan. Ontario’s correctional system is far from perfect, after all. After years of underfunding, the system has become dangerously overcrowded and short-staffed. But that’s why the government’s plan to build capacity is so important.

I’m proud to say that OPSEU/SEFPO has led the charge, fighting for these improvements for decades. We’ve demanded infrastructure upgrades and improved planning and design to build safer institutions for staff and inmates alike. And for the first time in a long time, we’re pleased to see a government taking our demands seriously.

We’re pleased that the construction of the new facility will use modern planning principles and design, including single-cell occupancy — vital for saving lives and also essential for social distancing. It’s all about creating safer environments and communities, focused on rehabilitation and programming. To be clear, while the facility will be built as maximum security, it is not a prison. It’s a facility that will mainly house offenders classified as minimum and medium security, awaiting trial.

Kemptville is a charming community — but it’s also growing. By creating hundreds of quality, stable government jobs, many can now work in their home community too. And with more capacity comes the opportunity for even more good government jobs across the region.

While all growth comes with some costs, it’s important to consider the benefits of a larger tax base and what it can do to boost the local economy. It means more money in people’s pockets and more spending on local goods and services, which will support local businesses.

With the province’s commitment to fund the expansion of municipal services, there will also be millions in investments to enhance infrastructure, transit and social services in North Grenville and the entire region. The province will have more resources to invest, by using provincially owned land for the project.

Some have asked, why Kemptville? But with the size of land required for the project and the current state of the real estate market, it’s no wonder that the province is trying to keep its acquisition costs as low as possible. When it comes to spending taxpayer dollars, it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do.

That’s why it’s so disappointing to see members of the opposition using this as an opportunity to throw political punches, instead of supporting opportunities for economic growth and quality employment. Local residents are entitled to have their concerns and the chance to consult meaningfully with their MPP. But to have out-of-town politicians butting in to fight against top-notch unionized jobs during one of the toughest times in recent history is disheartening.

We must recognize that there will be tough decisions to make on the road to rebuilding a better, stronger and safer Ontario. Kemptville’s correctional facility is one of them — but much like Brockville’s situation, it’s an important one. In Brockville, the proposed replacement of the existing correctional facility has been met with resounding community support.

Change is exactly what Ontario needs to recover, and building the Kemptville correctional facility is an important part of it.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/SEFPO)