Nfld. & Labrador

MPs claim Toews is playing politics on prison debate

Federal Liberal MPs in Newfoundland said Wednesday that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews should have been aware of the province's need for a federal prison.

Federal Liberal MPs in Newfoundland said Wednesday that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews should have been aware of the province's need for a federal prison.

Newfoundland MPs say Public Safety Minister Vic Toews (pictured at an announcement Tuesday in Newfoundland) should be aware of Newfoundland's need for a new prison. ((CBC))

St. John's area MP Siobhan Coady said she and MP Scott Simms have talked to various government officials for a number of years about the need for a new prison to replace the 150-year-old Her Majesty's Penitentiary.

Toews told reporters Tuesday that Ottawa has no plans to pay for a new prison for the province, adding that Liberal MPs from this province have not been lobbying for one.

But Coady and Simms both said Wednesday that this is not the case.

"Clearly Mr. Toews is playing politics or he certainly doesn't know his file," said Coady. "This is an incredibly important piece of infrastructure for St. John's and it's incredibly important that the federal government partner with the province which is what the province has been asking for four years."

And Simms' office circulated letters Wednesday showing correspondence dated April 2008 from Simms to then Minister of Justice Robert Nicholson.

In the letter Simms asks the minister to "give every consideration to the Town of Buchans as the preferred location for a new and much-needed prison for Newfoundland and Labrador."

In a reply to the letter a month later Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day acknowledges the letter, but notes that "there are no plans for the federal government to build a federal prison in that province."

Despite the roadblock, the province said it would not give up. Provincial Justice Minister Felix Collins said his department is working on its own plan to revamp the prison, as well as the entire provincial corrections system, without Ottawa's help.

"I won't speculate as to when you will see particular timelines on these things," he said Tuesday. "But we are just about ready to go to cabinet with some proposals that we think are viable options for our infrastructure facilities in this province."

Collins said nothing should be expected in the upcoming budget, however.

The provincial government plans to refine its scheme over the next year that will likely include the expansion and retrofitting of corrections centres across the province and possibly a cheaper and scaled down replacement for HMP.