The shock felt by City of Dauphin officials and residents after the province's sudden decision to close the Dauphin Correctional Centre has now turned into anger and a resolve to fight.
The city and the Rural Municipality of Dauphin have organized a town hall — and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has been invited to hear firsthand the far-reaching effects of the decision which will force 80 employees to either move, or stay and look for another job.
"It was so shocking," Mayor Allen Dowhan said Wednesday. "I say it was the worst day in my civic career of 22 years.
"We're looking for respect for all speakers at the town hall and, hopefully, a change of heart."
Dowhan said Justice Minister Cliff Cullen and local Tory MLA Brad Michaleski have also been invited, with the goal of hoping to persuade the provincial government to change its mind and build a new jail in the city located 160 kilometres north of Brandon.
He said the province has to understand losing 80 jobs in a community the size of Dauphin — there are more than 8,100 residents in the city and another 2,300 in the surrounding municipality — would be the equivalent of losing hundreds in Winnipeg.
"There was no contact at all from the province before the announcement (Jan. 24). It was like a deer being caught in the headlights," Dowhan said. "It's the whole Parkland region which is affected: Winnipegosis, Ethelbert, St. Rose — it's a regional issue."
The town hall is scheduled for Monday, 5:30 p.m., at the Parkland Recreation Complex.
The province's sudden decision was especially shocking because, as far as residents knew, plans were still moving forward to build a new jail in Dauphin.
In 2013, then-justice minister Andrew Swan announced the 100-year-old minimum-security correctional centre would be replaced by a new, expanded one. Land for the new facility had been donated by both the city and RM.
Meanwhile, the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, which represents correctional workers at the centre, is holding a local rally and march Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.
Michelle Gawronsky, MGEU president, said organizers hope more than 500 people will attend. Bert Blundon, the union's national secretary-treasurer, will be there, she said.
"We will march down to the jail... Some store owners say they will close to be with us."
Gawronsky said she was in Dauphin on Monday to meet with the correctional officers, as well as their spouses.
"I was in the community for 24 hours and the whole community is in shock. They're angry. They're upset. One (correctional) officer said three of them have wives who are nurses in the hospital, so if they move, the hospital will lose three nurses," she said.
"I asked the (justice) minister to come out with me, but he just looked at me. But, if they feel what they're doing is the right thing to do, they should come here and stand in front of people and tell them."
Cullen's office responded late Wednesday afternoon.
"We recognize that this decision is a difficult one for our employees, and we also recognize the broader impacts in Dauphin and surrounding communities. That is why we made it a priority to meet in person with the mayor and council and representatives from the RM on Friday to discuss the decision," the justice minister said in a statement.
"Those discussions were a first step in the province’s future planning for the region and municipal leaders will be an important part of the process, and we will prioritize further discussions."
Meanwhile, Gawronsky said the community was already building needed infrastructure for a new jail.
"There's a big sewer system sitting in a big farmer's field," she said. "They've already poured thousands of dollars into their future."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Wednesday, January 29, 2020 at 7:37 PM CST: Final version