BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Shadow looms large

Lumby prison controversy lurks during municipal election

It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Not only has the prospect of a prison dominated life in Lumby for the past year, it’s casting a shadow over the municipal election Nov. 19.

Coun. Tracy Williamson is largely walking away from a possible second term because of the emotionally charged atmosphere of the last few months. And while thick skin is required in politics, one can only endure so many nasty phone calls, e-mails and face-to-face encounters. The pay isn’t worth it.

Not surprisingly, opponents to a correctional facility have set their sights on Mayor Kevin Acton. While only one of five votes, Acton set the tone for the debate that engulfed the community.

It was Acton who indicated that council only wanted to provide facts to residents, but often the information came across as a hard-sell, whether it was handing out glossy provincial government brochures or the so-called experts who made jails sound as innocent as Boy’s Town.

Instead of giving the impression that he was undecided and truly wanted the public to influence his actions, Acton frequently stated that he favoured a jail as an economic development catalyst.

Council asking for questions to be submitted in advance of a public forum left some residents with the impression that queries critiquing a prison would never see the light of day.

One of Acton’s challengers Nov. 19 is Janet Green, who says there is a need for strong leadership. However, as a member of current council, Green is as responsible for the prison process unleashed on the public as Acton is. It will be difficult to differentiate herself on this subject when she was sitting at the very same table.

Also on the ballot for mayor is Jim McEwan,  generally associated more with organizing Funtastic slowpitch tournaments than he is with political games.

Like many residents living in the adjacent electoral area, McEwan opposes a prison. But his challenge comes from possibly being mayor of the village where the majority of people who voted in April’s referendum supported having a prison. How is he going to reconcile his own views with listening to the people he represents?

And when he says he wants to strengthen and unite the community — does he mean just the folks who pay taxes in the village and actually elect Lumby council or is he referring to the broader sense of community, which includes the electoral area? If this year’s controversy has shown anything, deep divisions do cross borders.

Beyond mayor, the eight people seeking the four councillor seats in Lumby include high-profile individuals on both ends of the jail spectrum.

Are they purely one-issue candidates or will they be focused on more mundane affairs like water quality, taxation, parks facilities, residential development and aging sewer infrastructure?

It’s hoped Solicitor General Shirley Bond will soon make a decision on the location of an Okanagan correctional facility so it doesn’t cast other issues aside leading up to the Nov. 19 election.

But realistically, the damage is already done.

Whether a site is known or not known, the names on the ballot and their reasons for seeking public office are a clear indication that Lumby residents will be reliving the prison debate once again.

—Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star