Residents, local politicians gather in Wilmot over land expropriation concerns

Over 70 residents took to Wilmot Mennonite Church on Thursday morning to voice their concerns with local provincial and federal politicians over plans for farmland to be expropriated.

Those in attendance included Guelph MPP and Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, Kitchener Centre MPP Aislinn Clancy, Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife and Kitchener Conestoga MP Tim Louis.

The meeting comes after multiple farms from Wilmot Centre to Nafziger Road were approached by a consultant, Canacre Ltd., in March on behalf of the region to attempt to buy the lands. The farms were allegedly threatened with expropriation if they did not accept the offer by Mar. 20, which has come and gone. The same farms were also approached in January by a developer looking to buy the land for $58,000 an acre.

Alfred Lowrick, who represents the farmers that were approached, said if the land is expropriated, at least six houses could be affected.

“They’re going to be bulldozed,” said Lowrick. “Where are these people going to find homes other than moving into the city? And I’m sure that’s not what they wanted to do when they moved out here in the first place.”

Adam Van Bergeijk of Mountainoak Cheese on Huron Road said his farm was approached by a developer in January and a consultant in March. He said they were “shocked” to receive the offers. He said if the land is expropriated from them, they would have to find another spot, adding they have been at that spot since 1996.

“Otherwise, we don’t have enough feed for the cows,” said van Bergeijk. “Those cows provide the milk for our cheese.”

Multiple groups, including the Ontario Chapter of the National Farmers Union and the Waterloo and Ontario Federations of Agriculture have called for the pause of any projects on the lands. Ontario Senator Robert Black penned a letter to Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Lisa Thompson on Apr. 3 saying that the possible expropriation would jeopardize the farmers livelihoods and food security for those in Wilmot, Ontario, Canada and the world.

MP Louis, who sits on the Agriculture Committee as a member of parliament, said the federal government is not involved in the land expropriation and knows as much as the residents in Wilmot.

“Anybody who ate today knows how important this is,” said Louis. “I’m not here to talk, I’m here to listen and to learn and to take that back [to Ottawa].”

Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife, who introduced a petition to the Ontario legislature last week, said she reached out to planners and those in finance and asked where they got the money for the expropriation.

“You didn’t have this money back in June,” said Fife. “You didn’t have five million dollars to land bank, now they have potentially $27-million? Where did that money come from?”

She added an investigation needs to be done to find out how developer had known that land would be redeveloped back in January.

As of now, none of the farmers who have been contacted have been given expropriation notices.

Regional Chair Karen Redman provided the letter to CityNews 570 that was sent to multiple residents:

Thank you for reaching out regarding the Region of Waterloo and Wilmot Township’s partnership to assemble shovel-ready land in Wilmot Township.

Waterloo Region has a long history of innovation and collaboration. Together, we have balanced the protection of our natural environment with facilitating economic opportunities to support a high quality of life for residents.

The Regional Official Plan supports the continuation of this important balance as we rapidly grow to one-million residents.

Shovel-ready land is critical to securing future investment and, in turn, good jobs to support that growth.

Through our collective effort to secure future economic prosperity, we understand that when businesses are looking at investment and/or expansion they are seeking land that is serviced and ready to go. Through engagement with local and global businesses, we understand that a lack of large-scale shovel-ready land in Waterloo Region results in businesses choosing to invest elsewhere.

Since 2021, Waterloo Region has received numerous inquiries seeking large-scale parcels for development, speaking directly to the urgent need for this type of land. 

The Region and Township remain committed to balancing protecting vital agricultural lands with securing significant economic investment, supporting a high quality of life for residents. While limited details can be shared at this time, more information and engagement opportunities will be provided as soon as possible and all necessary consultations will be conducted.

Having said that, no current or future shovel-ready lands are or will be located within the Regional Recharge area, which is critical to our water supply. The Regional Official Plan protects our water sources and ensures a more than adequate supply of high-quality farmland remains.

Generally speaking, this area is excellently suited for future development and investment given the proximity to arterial transportation and existing infrastructure, and the connection to Waterloo Region’s skilled workforce.

To ensure the privacy of the landowners we are not able to speak specifically about the location or size of the area at this time. 

Extensive due diligence is done when evaluating shovel-ready sites, and that work will continue with all partners throughout this process.

This work is about securing generational investments and creating good jobs to carry us into the future. Extensive provisions are in place to ensure we grow with care and consider all factors when moving forward.

Thank you again for reaching out. I understand this initiative affects all of us in different ways and your comments and feedback are valued and appreciated.

Organizers of the meeting said that members of Wilmot council and Kitchener Conestoga MPP Mike Harris Jr were invited to the meeting.

Kitchener Conestoga MPP Mike Harris also provided the following statement to CityNews 570:

“There was no invitation extended to me or my office regarding this morning’s meeting, which is unfortunate as some of the organizers were quoted as saying I declined the invitation. I was only made aware of the meeting later this afternoon.

I have had the opportunity to speak with multiple farmers and landowners regarding the Region’s decision to begin to assemble land in Wilmot Township, and I will continue to work with all levels of government and the community when and where it is appropriate.”

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