Demanding a voice

Often a sense of community outweighs actual political borders.

Often a sense of community outweighs actual political borders.

Whether you live right in the village or in Whitevale, Trinity Valley or at Mabel Lake, it’s all covered by one overall name — Lumby.

That’s why many of the people who are active on both sides of the prison issue come from the adjacent rural electoral area.

They use the shops and schools in Lumby, they may own businesses there and they certainly share in the cost for recreational amenities. They contend that a prison will impact them — for the good or the bad — and they can’t understand why they don’t have a say just because they don’t reside in the village itself.

It’s because of that sense of ownership that Area D director Rick Fairbairn has little choice but to hold a referendum in parallel with a vote in the village. His constituents are demanding a voice.

However, what will a referendum in Area D achieve?

Yes, the residents will have provided their input but the results will not be binding on anyone.

Fairbairn is not a member of village council, and he won’t determine the fate of a prison because the property in question is not his jurisdiction.

The results can be presented to Lumby council for information purposes but they won’t be part of the official count.

Kevin Acton, Lumby mayor, has already made it abundantly clear that any ballots from outside of the village will not influence what his council ultimately does with a correctional facility.

“We will take it into consideration but a final decision is based on the village taxpayers,” he said.

“They are the ones who will be impacted by it (prison) directly tax-wise.”

And as much as there is a common bond, the reality is that council is only elected to represent the interests of residents living within the village.

Acton’s comments about taxes may appear harsh but once again, it’s reality. If water, sewer or road infrastructure need upgrading to cope with the pressures brought on by a 360-cell correctional facility, it will only be property owners in the village pumping dollars into those projects.

Yes residents in rural Lumby could be affected by a prison eroding their lifestyle and increasing crime. But it could also bolster a struggling economy and help draw new families into town.

The same argument could be made for nearby Cherryville or the Lavington part of Coldstream, which is also close at hand.

I understand the need for Area D residents to want to participate in the debate. Many families have lived there for decades and they identify themselves as being from Lumby. There are deep social and economic investments in the community.

But unless the provincial government redraws the political boundaries before the April 30 referendum, a vote in Area D will be nothing more than a costly survey.

There will be absolutely no teeth behind the ballots gathered, and the expectations of people wanting to play a meaningful role in their community will be dashed.