Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says he is putting his own credibility on the line when he says a $200-million replacement for Her Majesty’s Penitentiary will happen.
Parsons and Transportation and Works Minister Steve Crocker announced plans for a new facility on Wednesday, with initial requests for proposals set to be issued this summer.
“I get asked questions about this courthouse that was announced in 2014 or that courthouse. The fact is people will be skeptical when plans are made and there’s no delivery to them,” said Parsons.
“That’s not something our record shows. Personally, I would stake some personal credibility on this. You don’t announce something that we don’t intend on happening.”
Construction of the facility is expected to begin in 2022, with “substantial completion” coming in 2024, according to the initial announcement.
“It’s a 30- to 36-month start-to-finish. That’s how these projects are shaping up for us,” said Crocker.
There is no federal contribution to the project, though some of the land earmarked for the prison will have to be given to the province by the federal government in order for the project to proceed.
While there will be room for federal inmates in the facility, with funding for those inmates provided by the federal government, it will be a provincial responsibility, Parsons says.
The decision to “go alone” with the project without federal assistance was made early in the year, Parsons said, adding that the timing of the announcement has nothing to do with the imminent general election.
“This was a decision that’s been made in conjunction with the 2019 budget, so it would have been in the last couple of months that we said let’s figure out the financing and the time that it’ll happen. That’s basically when this project was green lit and ready to go,” said Parsons.
“The budget comes out a week from yesterday and the fact is this is a budget-related announcement.”
There is some ambiguity about whether the government will pass the 2019 provincial budget before the election, although Parsons and Crocker insisted the budget would be passed before the writ drops.
The facility will roughly double the existing capacity of Her Majesty’s Penitentiary, and include permanent space for female inmates, though Parsons says there are no plans to close the existing women’s facility in Clarenville.
“We’ve made changes to Her Majesty’s Penitentiary to accommodate female inmates over the last few years, so the reality is that there will be female inmates and male inmates housed in this new facility,” said Parsons.
Crocker says the facility will be built through a public-private partnership, with the private sector handling construction, but the operations handled by the public sector.
Jerry Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, says he is comfortable with that approach.
“We had the foresight in our collective agreements that we have a commitment in those agreements that when something is built P3 that there will be public-sector workers working inside,” said Earle.
“We’ll hold this government or any future government’s feet to the fire to follow through on this commitment.”
Her Majesty’s Penitentiary was constructed in 1859. What else happened that year?
• “A Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens, was published.
• Formal borders were agreed to between Brazil and Venezuela.
• The chimes of Big Ben rang for the first time in London, England.
• Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species.”
• Karl Marx published “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.”
• Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer of the Sherlock Holmes series, was born.