THUNDER BAY -- Even though there is no mention of funding for new jails in the Ontario budget, that doesn't necessarily mean the government has locked the door and thrown away the key on a replacement to the Thunder Bay District Jail.
The provincial spending plan, tabled Thursday, did not include any mention of funding commitments for new correctional institutions despite there being calls for new facilities in Thunder Bay, Sudbury, North Bay and Ottawa.
Municipal Affairs Minister and Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro on Friday said a review of the correctional system currently being undertaken by Independent Advisor on Corrections Reform Howard Sapers will determine whether capital investments will be made on jails.
"There is obviously need here in our community," Mauro said. "There is need in a handful of other communities in the province whose institutions are very dated but we continue to advocate for our local community."
Mauro said the report could dictate some, all or none of those facilities should be replaced. No matter the finding, he said money shouldn't be an issue with the government's 12-year, $190 billion infrastructure program available for new jails.
"We say that word infrastructure but I'm not sure people always are really aware of what we're talking about when we say it. It's roads and bridges but it's also hospitals and it's also potentially jails and other facilities like that," Mauro said, noting that also included the $250 million Thunder Bay Courthouse.
"There's a lot of physical infrastructure that's contained in that pot and absolutely there's resources available."
The lack of mention came to the disappointment of former Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 737 president Mike Lundy, who said he was optimistic the budget would include a commitment to replacing the aging 91-year-old jail.
“I thought that it might be in there,” Lundy said. “I do understand they are waiting for a whole series of reports about the crisis in Ontario corrections that are going on, so I think they have to get everything in line first.”
The jail, built in 1926, has been in the spotlight following a December 2015 riot and hostage taking of a correctional officer followed by the escape of an inmate last year.
Besides a plan to hire 240 new staff across Ontario to handle segregation issues, there haven’t been any new announcements for corrections.
“We all know there’s a ton more that has to be done, but that’s pretty much all that was in there in regards to institutional corrections,” Lundy said.
“I have to believe they are listening to all the problems and that they realize there’s a lot that needs to be fixed.”