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NDP leader likens Wilmot land grab to Greenbelt scandal

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A controversial land acquisition proposed in Wilmot Township is once again in the spotlight, as Ontario NDP leader Marit Stiles hosts a town hall in the community, calling the deal “eerily similar” to the Greenbelt scandal.

The event Friday drew hundreds, with some people who couldn’t fit inside the meeting room at the Wilmot Recreation Complex watching the proceedings from outside on their phones.

People who couldn't get a spot inside the Wilmot Recreation Complex for a town hall addressing a proposed land acquisition watch the meeting on their phones from outside. (Dan Lauckenr/CTV Kitchener)

Local chef Thompson Tran was among those in attendance.

“Food is the centre of everything I do,” Tran told CTV News. “Local food security as well is super important so we’ve got to fight for it. Nobody else is going to fight for it.”

There are many unanswered question around the Region of Waterloo’s plan to purchase 770 acres of farmland spanning six farms and several residential properties between Wilmot Centre Road and Nafziger Road.

The region says it wants the tract “to create shovel-ready sites to attract economic investments and create jobs.”

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

Property owners say they were told if they weren’t willing to sell, their lands would be expropriated.

At a news conference Friday morning, Stiles called that “a false choice.”

“It’s a choice that has no respect for people whose lives and livelihoods and families rely on these lands,” she told reporters.

“Doug Ford and the Conservatives have a habit of forcing unilateral decisions on people without any consultation.”

People gather at the Wilmot Recreation Complex on April 19, 2024 for a meeting on a controversial farmland acquisition. The town hall, hosted by the opposition New Democrats drew hundreds. (Dan Lauckenr/CTV Kitchener)

What has Ford said about the deal?

At a stop in Kitchener last week, Ford said the proposed Wilmot acquisition was part of a broader provincial strategy to get sites ready for development, although he doesn’t like how it’s being handled.

He said his government had asked municipalities to set aside land, but it hasn’t been promised to any specific companies.

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

“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.”

Kevin Thomason with the Grand River Environmental Network speaks at a news conference hosted by the Ontario NDP on April 19, 2024 in Wilmot Township. (Zoom)

On Friday, Stiles and others said more transparency is needed.

“We were on the front lines of the Greenbelt scandal,” said Kevin Thomason Grand River Environmental Network “We knew then that things just didn’t add up, didn’t pass the sniff test and just didn’t make sense. And we’re seeing that same thing again here. There’s just too much secrecy, too many things happening in closed door meetings.”

People hold signs inside a town hall meeting hosted by the NDP opposing the acquisition of farmland in Wilmot Township for an unidentified industrial project. (Dan Lauckner/CTV Kitchener)

Farmers concerned

The NDP news conference Friday morning was hosted at St. Jacobs Foods, a cabbage farm directly across from the land the region is eyeing.

Owners Eva and Tim Wagler are concerned if the acquisition goes through, it will impact their ground water and future.

“We have worked so hard to get this farm to where we are now. How do we even plan and grow our business if we do not know if our land will be taken away? If they can do this across the road, they can do this here any day,” Eva Wagler said.

People attend a meeting at the Wilmot Recreation Complex opposing the Region of Waterloo's plan to buy 770 acres of farmland for future industrial development. The April 19 meeting was hosted by the NDP and drew hundreds. (Dan Lauckner/CTV Kitchener)

Tim Wagler said a major manufacturing operation would put their business in jeopardy.

“Over 300 acres drains into the pond behind us which we irrigate the whole farm with, and from here it goes into the next river. So if that is contaminated, it's not really good to spray on our food,” he explained.

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