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OFA asks for an unwilling host resolution while Cressman wants to let the process play out

By Lee Griffi, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

While answers on the Region of Waterloo’s land acquisition in Wilmot Township remain far and few between, the opinions on what should or shouldn’t be done are aplenty.

Wilmot Coun. Stewart Cressman said in a Waterloo Region Record article last week he wasn’t impressed with the press conference held by fellow councillors Harvir Sidhu and Kris Wilkinson on one of the affected farms. Cressman said the best strategy for the township is to see what happens.

“We don’t manage negotiations so it’s about letting the process play itself out. The farmers would like us to stop it. I believe in many ways the train has left the station,” Cressman told the Gazette.

When asked if he was for or against the land acquisition, Cressman said he’s a two-handed politician.

“All I can do is say farmers should be treated fairly. As a farmer myself, I would expect that if they were trying to purchase my property and I was an unwilling seller. I think that has been council’s position right from the get-go.”

Cressman added as a father of four sons and nine grandsons, he understands the importance of good-paying jobs locally.

“The future of the region is going to be different than where it is now. How do we balance those competing interests for farmland? We have immigration. Jobs are required. How do we address that and retool an economy where productivity is slipping behind the rest of the G7? I’m not saying we do it all on the backs of a few Wilmot farmers.”

He added the municipality is a desirable place to live by virtue of housing, people moving in and quality of life. Given that and the economic development mandate from the province, he said the big question is how to move that forward with farmers who have rights as landowners.

“When you have a person who wants to purchase something and unwilling sellers, usually it’s price that determines who is going to move on that paradigm.”

Local Ontario Federation of Agriculture director Mark Ruesser attended the press conference last week and while he isn’t completely satisfied, he did say it’s something.

“Good for them for at least beginning the process,” Ruesser said. “I appreciate that and told them that. Have they gone far enough? No, but it’s a start. It’s appreciated when elected people recognize the process isn’t proceeding the way it should.”

Reusser said if Wilmot declares the municipality as an unwilling host for a potential industrial development, it would send a very big statement.

“The region would have to respond and the province would have to respond. When you are looking at votes, we are in a swing riding provincially and federally. We have politics invading this all over the place.”

When asked about Reusser’s idea of declaring the township an unwilling host, Cressman explained that move could result in incurring the wrath of the Region of Waterloo and the province.

“There are ramifications without actually having any teeth in it. In many ways that creates an uncomfortable position for the township to be in because we just don’t have the ability to stop a process that initiated with considerable money spent already.”

Cressman, a rookie member of council along with the rest of his fellow elected officials, thought the Prime Minister’s Path would be the biggest issue they would have to face. He added he is worried about the township’s leadership going forward.

“It has put a strain on interpersonal relations between councillors and between councillors and staff. Then we have the polarizing issue with our residents and that is unfortunate. How do we bridge this once it’s in the rearview mirror to be unified on any issues going forward.”

Reusser called out Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris for his lack of engagement and also had some strong words for Wilmot’s mayor and some councillors.

“Natasha Salonen, I think, is looking to be premier someday. She will do nothing to antagonize this government. We have at least two (local) politicians, and probably three or four, who are very concerned about their future. I would suggest that when one is elected as a politician, one should be far more concerned about your constituents, not yourself.”

It appears as though any councillor who breaks in-camera confidentiality would be removed as an elected official and banned from running again. Reusser admitted he isn’t a lawyer and isn’t familiar with municipal law, but he does question whether that is true.

“I do know the leader of the provincial NDP (Marit Stiles) said last week screw you to the (Ford) government and sue me if you don’t like what I am saying. I think there are times when one needs to make a stand and do what’s right. I would expect my elected councillors to seriously consider making a statement.”

He added when everyone remains quiet, staff and elected officials, it breeds disrespect for the institution of government.

“If you can’t trust your own government, who can you trust? I want my government to do the right thing. I think most people do. They want decisions to be open and transparent. They want to be involved in decision making.”


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