Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. hasn't pressed for HMP upgrade cash, but feds open to talks, O'Regan says

Roads and education have been the province's priorities so far, says Seamus O'Regan.

Feds only deal with province's priorities, says Liberal cabinet minister

A concrete structure within Her Majesty's Penitentiary is used for a woodworking program. While parts of the prison date back to 1859, the age of this structure is unknown. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

Seamus O'Regan says the federal government could be open to chipping in on a new prison for Newfoundland and Labrador, but so far it hasn't been on the agenda.

O'Regan, the Member of Parliament for St. John's South-Mount Pearl, was asked about the need for a new prison to replace the 159-year-old Her Majesty's Penitentiary during an unrelated funding announcement on Thursday.

"We work with the province on their priorities and the priorities right now have been things such as roads [and] education," he said. "We've worked with them hand and glove on what their priorities are. We continue to take their guidance."

While speaking about a $40 million investment in small craft harbours around Newfoundland and Labrador, O'Regan said the federal government spends money where the province needs it most.

Seamus O'Regan at a funding announcement in St. John's for small craft harbours. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

He pointed to the federal investment in a new $100-million science building at Memorial University, and upgrades to the water treatment plant in St. John's.

"We invest not only for now, but in the future on projects," he said.

When asked about a new prison, after four inmates died suddenly within the provincial prison system in the last year, O'Regan paused for a moment.

"There's more money coming into this province in three years than has ever come in in this province from the federal government and I am very, very proud," he said. 

"The penitentiary — I'll talk to the province. But I will just say that I came here with some extremely good news about a wharf that was badly needed."

In 2014, the province contracted a company to come up with a plan to replace Her Majesty's Penitentiary. (CBC)

The province's justice minister told CBC News on Tuesday that the funding for a new prison was competing against other needs.

"That's a very big capital infrastructure need that we have and we have to weigh that versus hospitals," he said. 

The province set aside $100,000 in this year's budget to plan for a new prison. 

In 2014, an architectural firm was contracted to draw up designs for a facility to replace Her Majesty's Penitentiary, but the plans did not progress any further. 

With files from Peter Cowan and Malone Mullin