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Ford addresses Wilmot land acquisition controversy

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Premier Doug Ford says the Region of Waterloo’s plan to buy a large tract of farmland in Wilmot for an unidentified industrial project is part of a broader provincial strategy to ready sites for development, but one aspect of the proposed deal “doesn’t sit well” with him.

Ford was asked about the proposed land acquisition during an unrelated funding announcement in Kitchener Thursday.

The 770-acre block of farmland in Wilmot Township, just outside Kitchener, has become a source of contention in recent months. The region says it wants to purchase the land “to create shovel-ready sites to attract economic investments and create jobs.”

Farmers say they were told if they weren’t willing to sell, their lands would be expropriated. Environmental groups have also raised concerns.

A map shows the land the Region of Waterloo wants to buy. (Graphic by Hayden Phillips/CTV Kitchener)

On Thursday, Ford said his government asked municipalities to set aside land, although it hasn’t been promised to any specific companies.

“We’ve sent some forms out – I think it was about a year ago – saying, ‘If you want to assemble land we’ll be there for you,’” Ford told reporters.

“Anyone who assembles it, we’re pretty confident that companies are going to come and put a facility there.”

Ford said the projects will create jobs and spur economic development.

“A lot of smaller towns, like for insistence Wilmot, they need money, so what better way than you know clear some land and create some development,” he continued.

He pointed to St. Thomas, Ont., where Volkswagen is building a massive plant to manufacture electric vehicle batteries, as an example.

Premier Doug Ford announces $14 million in housing funding for the City of Kitchener on April 11, 2024, as Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic looks on. (Dan Lauckner/CTV Kitchener)

Asked about farmers’ concerns about potential expropriation, Ford said that part of the plan “rubbed [him] the wrong way.”

“I’m all for assembling land across the province, but personally, I think it should have been handled a little differently with a real estate company, so it kind of really bothered me when I heard that,” Ford said. “You have to be a willing participant and that’s what we’re looking for, willing participants, willing townships and regions that want to open an opportunity for companies to come here and create jobs.”

Alfred Lowrick, a spokesperson for the affected landowners, said he agrees with Ford that things should have been handled differently.

“There’s no doubt this has gone sideways and it needs to be rectified,” Lowrick said.

Lowrick said the residents aren’t against economic development but they want more collaboration and transparency from the region and the township.

In an emailed statement, the Region of Waterloo said it appreciated Ford's comments in support of its land assembly efforts, which it said will create space for "a once in a generation investment."

"It is a competitive site that will attract international investment. It 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," the region said in part. "While the details of the negotiations remain confidential, we are confident that we can reach fair, amicable agreements with the landowners involved."

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