Kitchener-Waterloo

Advocates protest outside MPP Mike Harris' office in response to region's plan to buy up Wilmot farmland

Protesters say they gathered outside of Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris' office to share their frustration with his lack of communication. This comes after six landowners in Wilmot township received notices that the Region of Waterloo wanted to buy a total of 770 acres of their farmland. And if they don't sell, that land will be expropriated. 

'He's our representative ... and he should be representing us,' says protest organizer

Protesters share frustration over region's plan to buy Wilmot land

20 days ago
Duration 1:33
Protesters gathered outside the office of Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris on Thursday because they say he won't meet with landowners and advocates who are concerned about the Region of Waterloo's plans to purchase land in Wilmot Township. The region has told six landowners it wants to buy their land for a total of 770 acres. If they don't sell, that land will be expropriated. Harris was not in the office Thursday.

More than 50 protesters gathered outside MPP Mike Harris's Elmira office to voice their concern over the Region of Waterloo's plan to forcibly purchase Wilmot farmland for industrial use.

The group gathered on Thursday afternoon, waving signs that read: "unwilling community," and "save our farmland."

The protesters wanted to share their frustration with Harris, but they say that since an initial request to meet the Kitchener-Conestoga MPP on April 24, he still hasn't organized a time one month on.

"He's our representative, our provincial representative, and he should be representing us," said Judy Brown, an organizer of the protest.

"We wanted to do something, so we decided to speak to Mr. Harris, and when that was unsuccessful, we decided to bring our message here to him," she said.

On March 12, six landowners received notices that the Region of Waterloo wanted to buy their farmland. If they do not sell, the land will be expropriated. 

In total, the region is trying to assemble 770 acres in Wilmot Township near the intersection of Nafziger Road and Bleams Road, south of New Hamburg.

One of those landowners is Ashley Myers. She arrived at the protest with her newborn strapped to her chest and her toddler-aged daughter, Millie, in tow.

"We're fighting to keep our farmland," she said. "We want to keep food on the table for our kids."

"We heard today that the group was going to be here, so we wanted to join in to support."

photo of a woman holding a megaphone
Protest organizer Judy Brown said she feels that MPP Mike Harris hasn't been effectively representing the farmers' opposition to the region's land assembly. (Cameron Mahler/CBC)

'Stinks to high heaven'

The Region of Waterloo has said it's partnering with Wilmot Township "on land readiness to create shovel-ready sites to attract economic investments and create jobs."

They're calling it "land assembly." In a written statement, the region said they need it "for large-scale economic investments to further support Waterloo Region's economic vitality as it grows to one million residents by 2050."

But the protesters said that wasn't a good enough explanation.

"It really looks as if we are being sold a story about imaginary jobs that are to be created by some yet unknown company," said protester Anne Loeffler.

"It stinks. It stinks to high heaven," she said.

photo of people holding sign in Wilmot farmland protest.
The Region of Waterloo has said it's partnering with Wilmot Township "on land readiness to create shovel-ready sites to attract economic investments and create jobs." (Cameron Mahler/CBC)

While some are opposed to the land assembly, a local group made up of the presidents of local chambers of commerce, economic development, Communitech and Explore Waterloo Region, dubbed BESTWR, are in favour of the region's attempts.

Ian McLean is the chair of that organization and is also president and CEO of the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce. He said the land is needed because without it the region could miss out on opportunities to grow.

"In terms of having large sites for billion-dollar investments and the jobs that come with that, [this] has been an issue that didn't just develop recently. This has been something we've been talking about in the business community, to the region and local municipalities, for years," McLean said.

photo of a toddler holding a sign
Millie Myers's parents were one of the six landowners who received a letter from the region asking to buy their farmland or risk having it expropriated. (Cameron Mahler/CBC)

Comment from MPP Harris

The protest group sent out a media release about why they chose Harris' office to hold their demonstration. In that release they claimed it was "because of a lack of response to their request for a meeting to share our concerns about the planned acquisition of farmland and changes to our small community."

The statement reads that "after weeks of no reply we received a last-minute email from Mr. Harris, but no invitation to a meeting to dialogue with him."

CBC News reached out to Harris for a comment and received an emailed statement. That statement reads in part, "I have unequivocally responded to every question the group has raised."

"In addition, 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."

In the statement, Harris said he has urged residents to confer with the municipal government, adding, "I hope the parties can table their concerns with the Region directly and the community can move forward on the matter together."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cameron works at CBC Kitchener-Waterloo. For story ideas, you can contact him at cameron.mahler@cbc.ca

With files from Karis Mapp and Aastha Shetty