Large crowd attends forum opposing land collection in Wilmot

Over 100 people attended a public meeting at the Wilmot Mennonite Church last Friday to rally against the Region of Waterloo’s proposed land grab in Wilmot Township.

Angie Hallman, a farm owner in the affected area and a former Wilmot councillor, hosted the event and the Gazette asked her about the alleged non-disclosure agreements (NDA) signed by members of council in Wilmot and at the Region, something she can’t get her head around.

“I’ve never signed an NDA for the municipality. The only thing elected officials are responsible for, even being out of office, are things discussed in-camera. That’s the only thing that really follows us after we serve our time in politics.”

She added during her time in office she decided to hire her own attorney to wade through municipal waters.

“Navigating issues I was passionate about; how did I walk that line without disclosing what I know about an issue but still represent the community that voted me to be there? The advice I received was very valuable to know about how every single elected official can listen to constituents and take that information upstream. So, to say nothing is confusing me.”

Hallman said if she was still in office, she would take people’s concerns to the mayor, the region’s chair and the premier’s office.

During her address to the crowd, Hallman explained citizens in the area have defeated plans for high-speed rails, ministerial zoning orders (MZOs) and the Highway 7 bypass in New Hamburg, and the community needs to pull together again.

“Like those situations, the fight is not just the responsibility of those in the eye of the storm.”

One of those farmers affected is Alfred Lowrick, who spoke on behalf of his fellow farmers. He said nothing has been clarified by the powers that be.

“At this point, we still haven’t received any official information from the region or provincial government about what their plans are. No expropriation orders have been issued to landowners and the initial offers to purchase land have expired.”

He added since the Region of Waterloo is the expropriating authority, all information from other agencies and governing bodies is irrelevant.

“We anticipate the region’s next steps shortly and will keep you posted.”

Lowrick had some harsh words for the province and even called the situation, “Greenbelt 2.0” and “Farmgate,” partially because the land acquisition was leaked to potential land purchasers.

“It has all the markings of inappropriate dealings and corruption at Queen’s Park.”

He added they plan to keep getting the word out on their website at along with keeping those interested up to date with regular emails highlighting new information. The group also has lawn signs available for a minimum of $10 to cover costs.

A petition is also circulating and has garnered over 23,000 signatures. The township itself has a population of about 22,000.

“I’m sure it has gone well beyond our area, but it sends a strong message with such impressive numbers of people speaking up,” he added.

Although not in the affected area, some residents from the nearby Morningside Retirement Community were on hand to share their concerns. Homeowner’s Association president Judy Brown said she represents many of the residents. She said many of the 500 or so residents are former farmers and moved in to enjoy the beauty of the land.

“Homeowners are concerned about the process, or lack of it, that has happened. Some use the word dictatorship and other words I cannot mention to describe the non-disclosure agreements forced on our local councillors.”

She added many people are worried about how a potential industrial development could affect air quality.

“Many are concerned about the noise and traffic they would be forced to endure, but all of them told me they are most concerned about our neighbours – the farmers who are affected by this. They fear the loss of prime agricultural land and the affects it has on our food supply and on climate change.”

Brown asked the politicians involved to put industrial developments where they belong, not on prime farmland.

Not everyone is against the land acquisition. The Business and Economic Support Team of Waterloo Region (BESTWR) has released an open letter offering its support. The team is made up of the Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation, Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, Explore Waterloo Region, Greater KW Chamber of Commerce and Communitech. Ian McLean is the president and CEO of the KW Chamber of Commerce and the author of the letter. He said the region is at a critical stage when it comes to acquiring shovel-ready lands.

“We are on the path to one million residents and this inevitable growth requires investment and, most importantly, jobs,” McLean wrote. “Preparing shovel-ready land is critical and will be pivotal to the ongoing success of our future economy and communities across Waterloo Region.

“ … We consistently hear that employment lands are essential to attracting anchor investment and job-creation opportunities for our region. These jobs will create the economic prosperity we need for our growing community.”

He added the region has turned away investment in the past because of the lack of available and ready sites.

The letter was released shortly after the public meeting was held in defiance of the attempt to purchase or eventually expropriate land owned by six township farmers.

Also on hand to speak and listen at the meeting were Kitchener-Conestoga MP Tim Louis, Guelph MPP and Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife, Kitchener Centre MPP Aislinn Clancy and Kevin Thompson from the Grand River Environmental Network.

Lee Griffi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wilmot-Tavistock Gazette