A proposed housing development on the Nanticoke industrial lands is shaping up to be a provincial election issue in Haldimand-Norfolk.
The Conservative candidate, Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt, supports a plan by developer Empire Communities that would bring some 15,000 homes and 40,000 new residents to Haldimand.
“In Haldimand there is very little supply of housing in any of our communities,” Hewitt said on social media when the plan was brought to council in March.
“The only way to achieve affordable homes is to increase supply and partner with the province on a plan ... .”
Haldimand council has applied to the province for a minister’s zoning order (MZO) to change the zoning of 1,700 hectares of “provincially significant employment lands” surrounding Stelco’s Lake Erie Works.
Outgoing MPP Toby Barrett has been vocal in his opposition to housing near the Nanticoke steelworks, arguing the land is best left for industrial use and more homes should instead be built in Townsend, a community near Jarvis already zoned and serviced for residential expansion.
Barrett’s stance still carries weight since he is the campaign manager for his longtime executive assistant, Bobbi Ann Brady, who is running as an independent.
Barrett said Brady was his choice as successor but the premier’s office rejected his recommendation and appointed Hewitt instead. That leaves Brady and Barrett in the unusual position of campaigning against their former party.
On Tuesday, Brady said the “vast majority” of “several hundred” written statements sent to Barrett’s office were opposed to the Nanticoke housing plan.
“People continually tell me they like our area the way it is and they are tired of government trying to make it something different,” she said. “We welcome housing development in the riding, but not in an industrial park.”
At a Haldimand council meeting in March, Stelco’s vice-president of corporate affairs said Empire’s housing plan could drive one of the county’s largest employers out of the area within 20 years.
“This puts us at risk,” Trevor Harris told councillors. “It puts the economy at risk.”
Brady said she wants to see more industry come to Nanticoke “not only as major employers in the area, but also as a part of Ontario’s green future.”
As such, she is in support of a recent announcement that Atura Power — a subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation — and Imperial Oil will study whether the site of the former coal-powered OPG power plant in Nanticoke could one day produce hydrogen as a low-carbon fuel source.
In a message to residents on social media, Hewitt said the Nanticoke lands have been marketed to new industries for years “with no success,” noting Stelco had the chance to buy the land to forestall any residential development but chose not to.
“How many more years do we continue to hope and pray for something to happen?” Hewitt said. “Today we have the chance to control our destiny.”
While Hewitt may have the premier’s backing, Barrett said not to count out Brady, pointing to her 23-year track record of helping “thousands” of constituents and leading the local PC riding association.
“Some assume Haldimand-Norfolk is a safe Conservative seat, but I had to knock on doors for 20 years before our area left the Liberal and then NDP fold,” said Barrett, who was first elected in 1995.
“I think things are going to get a little more exciting.”
Also on the ballot in Haldimand-Norfolk are two firefighters — Nate Hawkins for the New Blue Party and Sheldon Simpson of the Ontario Party — Erik Coverdale of the Green Party, and NDP candidate Sarah Lowe of Caledonia, a constituency assistant to party leader Andrea Horwath.
The Liberals have yet to announce a candidate.
With files from Tara Lindemann, The Sachem
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator