It was supposed to be a non-election issue.
But the prison debate was one candidates running in the Lumby election couldn’t avoid Monday.
Approximately 150 residents packed into the White Valley Community Centre for the Lumby Chamber of Commerce all-candidates forum.
Among issues ranging from smart meters to growth in Lumby was the prison issue.
One question posed to candidates was: if elected, would they write a letter to the solicitor general to remove Lumby’s name from the correctional facility list?
Just two candidates agreed they would: mayoralty candidate Jim McEwan and council-hopeful Jo Anne Fisher.
But all candidates, including McEwan and Fisher, agreed that efforts need to be made to move past the issue, repair the divide and find ways to help Lumby grow.
“It was the main divide of our community. It divided the town, it pitted neighbours against neighbours and it pitted the town against the areas outside,” said McEwan, adding that this is a democracy and it is only fair to let your neighbour have their opinions.
Fisher, who would like to see Lumby grow through tourism initiatives rather than prisons, adds: “People are tired of living under the shadow of the Lumby prison debate.”
A few candidates were pleased to see a sort of healing taking place at the meeting, as suggestions were made on how to help Lumby move on and grow in other ways. But they were also outraged as the question about retracting Lumby’s bid for a prison was raised.
“We’re opening up a huge wound that was healing here tonight,” said Janet Green, who is currently a councillor but is seeking the mayor’s position. She would like to start fresh in the spring with a community garden.
“Getting our hands dirty always brings people together.”
A community forest is something incumbent mayor Kevin Acton is working to establish for Lumby, as well as creating better paying jobs for the citizens.
But one resident questioned how Lumby is supposed to attract businesses, let alone keep the ones it has, when other residents are staging boycotts over the prison debate.
“I think the best way to do that is lead by example – shop locally,” said Acton.
The boycotting businesses issue prompted councillor candidate Judy Gibbs to be blunt: “Maybe the people should grow up.”
Incumbent councillor Lori Mindnich is confident that the community can heal.
“We’re all neighbours and as neighbours we will come together and we will survive.”
Elinor Turrill pointed out that the vote is done and the issue is out of Lumby’s, and Area D’s, hands as a decision from the provincial government needs to be made.
“It’s time to heal, it’s time to be neighbours again,” said Turrill, who is seeking one of the four seats on council.
Councillor candidate Randal Ostafichuk, known around town as ‘the guy who wears shorts all winter,’ was applauded for shaming the retraction letter question for being brought up.
“You’re lighting a fire that we’re trying to put out,” he said, after noting that everyone who voted, whether it was a ‘no’ vote in Area D or a ‘yes’ in Lumby, did so because they wanted to see Lumby prosper.
The divide created between the two jurisdictions is one council-hopeful James Harvey also touched on.
“You have to be tolerant of your neighbours and respect their decision,” said the local firefighter.
“This should be on the back burner and we shouldn’t be dealing with this at all. We should just focus on the future of Lumby.”
Lumby politicians have been criticized for pursuing the bid for a correctional facility, particularly following the referendum.
The combined results from Lumby and Area D showed a majority of voters were against the prison.
But when broken down, the two jurisdictions had conflicting views – Area D voted 66 per cent against, while Lumby voted 56 per cent in favour.
Councillor candidate Murray August says he too would have listened to what, specifically, the people of Lumby asked for.
“Based on that opinion and based on being a councillor, if that was the case, I would have to go with the town and what they agreed upon,” said August, who lives and works in Lumby.
Nick Hodge, who hopes to gain a councillor position, admits he’s not a fan of prisons, anywhere. But if it comes down to Lumby gaining a correctional facility he would ensure it comes with a bonus, like getting services upgraded.
“What I want to do is make sure that if the prison does come we get a good deal out of it,” said Hodge, adding that even a prison won’t drive him away.
“I’m not going to leave Lumby either way, I’m going to stay.”