Michael Mantha’s News from the Park for 240503

‘What’s happening in Wilmot Township could happen in any farm community in Ontario’

May 3, 2024

The other morning, I enjoyed (well, sort of I enjoyed) a particularly energetic workout at the gym before heading into the Legislature. I know it was particularly challenging because, besides feeling my heart pounding, one particularly affable security guard made a quip about my red face and perspiration on my brow as I checked in. I laughed and replied, “It’s all about discipline. Either use it or lose it.”

Minutes later, I was going through the headlines when I came across several articles about an important issue involving the possible expropriation of prime farmland in Wilmot Township in the provincial riding of Kitchener-Conestoga. Regular readers of this column will recall that I have written several pieces on agricultural issues, including one just last week on increasing mental health concerns for farmers and their families. As important as doctors, lawyers, teachers, mechanics, and factory workers are, if we didn’t have farmers to feed us, all would be lost. The way I see it, we better take good care of them if we want them to keep feeding us the rest of the world.

For those who do not know, Wilmot Township, located just west of Kitchener/Waterloo, comprises nearly 265 km2 of prime farmland. Seemingly out of the blue, there has been a sudden movement to develop 770 acres of productive farmland, making it ‘shovel ready’ for industrial development. This is a prime example of one of the many stressors farmers face today, which I mentioned in last week’s column.

According to reports, weeks ago, an American-owned company called Canacre Ltd. started going door to door, unannounced to farms, offering to purchase the land. This contact was made at the behest of the Waterloo Region Council. CTV News reported on April 3rd that the regional chair sent a letter in which it provided no details other than to state the purpose of the purchase was “facilitating economic opportunities to support a high quality of life for residents.” The letter explained that large parcels of land are urgently needed to meet industrial growth needs. It is urgently required because of the necessary “proximity to arterial transportation and existing infrastructure, and the connection to Waterloo Region’s skilled workforce.”

First and foremost, as stated in last week’s column, Ontario is losing 319 acres of land to development every day. Continuing down this pathway will, without question, lead to disaster in the not-too-distant future. But what makes this all the more egregious is that the land owners are subject to extreme pressure to decide quickly to sell the land willingly now at the offered price because, if they don’t agree, the company will take steps to expropriate the land (i.e. take it by legal order).

Given the reported pressure and speed at which this action is playing out, it is no wonder that residents of the township but the entire Ontario farming community and environmental groups are up in arms. Even the Waterloo Region Labour Council has taken a stand, saying, “What the labour council found so problematic with this is that [there was] no consultation. It’s just being taken away from them without any discussion points and nothing being transparent. For me, it’s knowing that personal connection of farmers and just all of a sudden – here is your livelihood, and you don’t have a say in this; it’s being taken away from you, no consultation.”

CityNews 570 quoted Alfred Lowrick, representing affected fellow landowners, “The timelines were given for acceptance of this offer is today, which is absurd given the massive disruption to our lives and the situation it creates with a goal to reach full land acquisition of August of this year.” He explained that none of the landowners had received formal notification, meetings or consultations before they heard a rap on their doors.

What is the purpose of keeping the public in the dark about major initiatives, especially the landowners themselves? Whatever happened to the principles of fairness, integrity and transparency? I know if my company had an initiative that I was proud of and had confidence in, I’d want to share it. Experiencing pressure tactics and secrecy makes people suspicious, and rightly so.

I readily admit there are times when the expropriation of land is appropriate. Such cases might involve matters such as widening a heavily travelled road or one with a dangerous dog leg. Or perhaps there is a need for public facility construction, access to upgraded utilities or initiatives for the common good. Expropriation is unacceptable if it is in the name of private interests or corporate gain. 

Waterloo Region Record reporter Luisa D’Amato, in her April 24th article, posed a possible link between the sudden surge in the Wilmot farmland purchase/expropriation and the Ford government’s announced gargantuan deals with electric vehicle car and battery manufacturers. D’Amato wrote, “Wilmot is the perfect location for Toyota, which has vehicle manufacturing plants in Cambridge and Woodstock, producing more than half a million vehicles a year between them. Wilmot Township is between those two sites. The land being assembled is right on Highway 7 and 8, near a rail line, and within easy commuting distance for a large number of potential employees. Vehicle batteries are very heavy, so it’s economical to have them manufactured close to the vehicle assembly plant.” She pointed out that the recent events and pressure tactics would explain the possible secrecy and urgency surrounding recent announcements. The atmosphere would be different if the region were just looking at a site to be ready for some unknown future client.

As I continued reading the news, I learned that support for farmers is ballooning. Reports indicated growing turnouts for rallies and town halls. I found myself grinning and saying out loud, “Wow.” On April 20th, CBC News reported that hundreds of people, including many from across the province, attended a rally at the Wilmot Recreation Complex. Some said they are afraid that what is happening there will happen to them next.

During a recent Question Period, MPP Catherine Fife asked Minister of Agriculture Lisa Thompson why the government was prioritizing putting money in the pockets of developers rather than supporting Ontario farmers. After the Minister’s response, Timiskaming—Cochrane MPP John Vanthof went on to ask a supplementary question:

“Let’s make this clear: What’s happening in Wilmot could happen in any farm community in Ontario. A developer shows up, offers you a deal, you don’t take it, and then the government comes along: “If you don’t take the deal, we’re going to expropriate it.” That could happen anywhere in Ontario, just like it’s happening in Wilmot for an undisclosed project. And then what will happen, if this undisclosed project is a factor, all of a sudden the land that was taken from the farmer will quadruple, will go 10 times in value, and that money will go to the speculator, to the developer, not to the farmer.

Is that the Ontario that you support, Minister of Agriculture?”

That’s when my exchange with the security guard hit me. These people understand that, just as with personal fitness, in democracy, use it or lose it. This issue is getting people up on their feet to make their concerns and voices heard the way they should in a democracy. 

Over the years, it has been my privilege on many occasions to converse with farming families and attend countless agricultural meetings and events. I have long admired the pride and passion that farmers bring to their work. It is evident in every conversation I have. Farmer and agrarian speaker Joel Salatin says, “Farming is a passion and a way of life which goes beyond a job or a career. It is a calling and a vocation, a love of the land and a respect for nature, a commitment to sustainability and a desire for self-sufficiency.”

When we stand with our farmers, we stand in good company.  

As always, I invite you to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at mmantha-co@ola.org or call Toll-free 1-800-831-1899.

Michael Mantha, MPP


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