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Protestors demand meeting with MPP over potential Wilmot land acquisition

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A group of protestors, worried about Waterloo Region’s efforts to buy or expropriate land in Wilmot Township, took their concerns right to the door of MPP Mike Harris on Thursday.

The demonstration moved between Arthur St. South in Elmira and Harris’s office.

Protestors said they have been trying to set up a meeting with Harris for the last month to express their concerns.

Although Harris’ office is usually open on Thursdays, a printed sign taped to the constituency office’s door said they were closed to walk-ins while they did casework.

Undeterred, the protestors still hoped their message would get through.

"I would tell him to come and see Wilmot," protest organizer Judy Brown told CTV News. "Come and see the land that is threatened with expropriation. Come and meet the farmers who are making their living and feeding us."

Landowner Fran Strassburger, who was also at the demonstration, said she was approached by the region more than two months ago and was told they wanted to purchase 770 acres of land located between Nafziger, Bleams, and Wilmot Centre Roads.

"We told him right away 'No, we have no interest,'" Strassburger said. She added she still has no plan to give up her property.

Strassburger had hoped to share her frustrations with Harris.

"Why are you working for the government instead of working for your people? Because that’s how it feels to me."

Although the region has declined to answer many questions surrounding the potential land acquisition, representatives have previously said the region is trying to assemble shovel-ready land to attract large-scale economic investments.

Premier Doug Ford has also confirmed his government has asked municipalities to have land ready for large projects.

Wilmot property owners, meanwhile, said they’ve been told that if they refused to sell their land, an expropriation process would follow.

Protestors wave signs at a demonstration regarding Waterloo Region's efforts to buy or expropriate land in Wilmot Township on May 23, 2024. (Krista Simpson/CTV News)

Harris responds

In an emailed statement to CTV News, Harris cited new Statistics Canada numbers on population growth in Waterloo Region. Specifically, that the population rose 5.5 per cent in 2023 and could reach more than a million by 2032, 19 years sooner than the previous estimate.

He went on to say: "The Region is experiencing unprecedented growth, and with that comes change, innovation and opportunity for prosperity for long-time residents and newcomers alike. I sincerely appreciate Wilmot's residents' active engagement and bringing their concerns to my attention. As the matter seemed to fall under the scope of the Region of Waterloo, my staff requested more details. I then responded with the information I had available as MPP and direct the remaining concerns to the region for their response. I have unequivocally responded to every question the group has raised."

The statement continued: "My office and I have corresponded and met with many community members, including local farmers and landowners, and we have heard and thoroughly understand their concerns. We have also had several community members, even local farmers, reach out to support this land assembly for the jobs and opportunities it will bring to the township and the region as it grows in the coming decade. I hope the parties can table their concerns with the region directly and the community can move forward on the matter together."

Harris said he has also written a letter to Wilmot residents. The letter, which was shared with CTV News, states, in part: "The ongoing land assembly in Wilmot Township is a strategic move with immense potential for fostering future economic opportunities in our region and beyond. While benefiting our local residents, families and communities, this process also has a ripple effect, positively affecting thousands across Southwestern Ontario as the region continues to grow and attract investment.For decades, the land assembly process has been undertaken in many communities across the province, including within our region, for projects that have become vital to our region's success. I understand that site selection has been underway for some time under the guidance and purview of the region itself."

It added: "To respond to your concerns regarding location specifically, the land was selected by the Region of Waterloo because it is flat, close to a skilled workforce, electrical power, Highway 401 and not in an environmentally sensitive area or on top of a natural gas line. Waterloo Region has nearly 214,000 acres of prime farmland, and the region is asking for a 770-acre parcel, representing a very small percentage. Waterloo Region and Southwestern Ontario are growing, and it would be irresponsible to ignore or, worse, turn away opportunities for thousands of significant, well-paying, stable, long-term jobs that will bring prosperity to the region for generations to come."
Harris alsoencouraged anyone concerned with the process reach out to the Region of Waterloo.

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