THUNDER BAY - Officials with the union representing correctional workers in Thunder Bay are not optimistic that a new face in the ministry overseeing corrections will fix the deteriorating conditions in local jails.
On Wednesday, the Ontario government announced the appointment of Marie-France Lalonde as the new minister of community safety and correctional services following the resignation of former minister, David Orazietti in December.
“This is really nothing new,” said Shawn Bradshaw, president of OPSEU Local 708 with the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre. “We watch this merry-go-round all the time in corrections. We are always getting a new minister.”
Bradshaw believes that most MPPs do not want to inherit the corrections portfolio because it doesn’t provide a lot of political points, so ministers often move on to other things.
“Who knows how long she will stay,” Bradshaw said. “Hopefully she has an interest in the portfolio and can get up to speed pretty quick because corrections is falling apart around her.”
Union officials have been lobbying the Ontario government for a new facility to replace the 100 year old district jail in Thunder Bay. Bradshaw points to the riot in Dec. 2015, the murder in custody five years ago, and the situation involving Adam Capay and the lack of resources to handle certain offenders as the main issues affecting correctional facilities in city.
“It has to happen,” Bradshaw said of a new jail. “Unfortunately, we have been in the spotlight too much.”
The departure of Orazietti was welcomed by Bradshaw and he added the last minister to actually give the portfolio the attention it deserved was Yasir Naqvi, who left the role just as he was understanding the issues.
“We are just as happy to see him [Orazietti] go as having him,” Bradshaw said. “We were disappointed when Naqvi left because we felt he was finally starting to understand what he inherited.”
In Dec. 2016, Thunder Bay was listed by the Ontario government, along with Ottawa, Sudbury, and North Bay as possible cities for the construction of a new correctional facility.
With Lalonde being an MPP for Ottawa-Orléans, Bradshaw worries Ottawa might take precedent over Northern Ontario.
“Hopefully she sees the need up here and can wrap her mind around the dynamics that there are no other institutions within a short jaunt of here,” Bradshaw said. “Hopefully she wants to come up here and see what Thunder Bay faces in a day. The invitation is there to any MPP who wants to come through. We will have open doors and hopefully there will be open minds to working toward a better system.”
Michael Gravelle, MPP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, is more optimistic regarding the new minister and he said he will continue to lobby the minister for a new correctional facility in Thunder Bay.
“I know Minister Lalonde very well,” he said. “She knows and understands the north extremely well and I’m sure she will do a fine job as minister. Certainly one of my priorities will be to focus on a new jail here in Thunder Bay.”