In front of a standing-room-only crowd, Penticton Council voted 5-1 Monday evening to withdraw its submission to bring a provincial prison to the municipality’s city limits.
The decision follows the result of last week’s official opinion poll which saw two-thirds of the voters who participated in the process reject the idea of building and operating a provincial correctional centre in Penticton. Only about 24 per cent of the community’s 26,500 eligible voters cast a ballot in the poll, with 4,302 voting “no” and 2,143 voting “yes.”
Ironically, the only member of council to vote against Monday evening’s motion to withdraw the city’s prison submission was also the only one to actively campaign against the facility: Coun. Garry Litke.
That is because the motion included a last-minute addition, proposed by Coun. Mike Pearce, “that the city provide a letter of support to any other applicant outside the city that can demonstrate an economic benefit to the city of the highest magnitude.”
Considering the community just went through a divisive often-heated debate over the prison, Litke said offering to provide a letter of support for nearby prison submissions “muddies the water.”
“I think the community spoke very clearly about what they wanted for the city,” Litke said before the vote. “You can play with the numbers however you want (but) 4,302 votes in opposition to the correctional facility within the city is a significant mandate. In fact, that is a greater number than a lot of us around this table got in the last municipal election.
“That is a mandate that has been given to this council by the community and the motion that is on the floor right now I think does a little sidestepping around what the community has said to us.”
However, Pearce pointed out the motion states that for a proposed prison location to receive a letter of support from council it would have to be located outside of Penticton’s city limits.
There was some discussion as to whether or not one of the two locations submitted to the province by the Penticton Indian Band — near the Cantex gravel pit — would be eligible to receive a letter of support as it sits on PIB land but is completely surrounded by the City of Penticton.
Regardless, Pearce said “the province will not go near that piece of property (because) they know the descent they are facing a quarter of a mile away.”
The letter of support initiative, he asserted, was simply a matter of council looking to further Penticton’s economic interests.
“I (proposed this) on behalf of every person in this community that needs more employment,” said Pearce. “We need economic development.”