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Pair of Wilmot councillors demanding transparency from the Region of Waterloo on land grab

By Lee Griffi, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Two Wilmot Township councillors have broken their silence on the controversial Region of Waterloo land acquisition plan citing a lack of respect.

Harvir Sidhu and Kris Wilkinson invited members of the media and concerned citizens to a press conference on Stewart Snyder’s farm right in the heart of the 700-plus acres of land up for potential industrial development.

Sidhu, Ward 3 councillor, said it is time for the region to talk.

“Over the past few months, we have heard from our community loud and clear. Wilmot residents are angry. They are angry that farmers and landowners have not been treated fairly or with respect during this ongoing land acquisition. It honestly comes down to respect or a lack thereof,” Sidhu said.

He added no one should be forced to live in such uncertain times and he challenged the region to release the technical details behind the land acquisition and tell residents why this particular site is being assembled.

Wilkinson, who represents Ward 2, explained Wilmot council is not the decision-making body on the issue, but they do represent the people directly impacted. He also called out the Region of Waterloo to be honest with ratepayers.

“I am publicly calling on the region to come to Wilmot to hear directly from our residents and farming community,” Wilkinson said. “We’ve tried to play by the rules, but the process has not shown for our residents. The farmers are hardworking individuals, they bring a lot to our small community and honestly, enough is enough.”

Following statements from the pair of councillors and the face of the Fight the Farmland campaign, Alfred Lowrick, the trio took questions from the media including one asking why the township can’t say more.

“All of our information has been provided to us in closed sessions (of council). As you are aware, anything discussed in a closed session means we are bound by the Municipal Act and we can’t disclose that information to the public,” said Sidhu.

If any member of council were to release details from an in-camera session, they would be in breach of the act, terminated from their position and banned from ever running for municipal office again. The Region of Waterloo has so far ignored all requests to be more transparent. Sidhu said there is no Plan B yet, but hoped the press conference would make waves.

“I would say calling them out in public should be pressure enough for them to listen. We will continue to advocate for our people. We have been following the rules to no avail but that’s why we have come out today, to make it more public. You would have to ask the region why they aren’t coming out and accepting our asks.”

Wilkinson explained at the end of the day the region receives the message and added he is seeing a disturbing trend in local politics of late.

“I want to remind our bureaucrats who they work for. You work for the people. We work for the people. We represent them and we are asking for information and action and the bureaucrats who work for us who perform these tasks and duties need to listen and respond. At the end of the day, we are the ones who pay for them to be there.”

The media released information on the land acquisition 14 weeks ago, yet the public knows no more details about why the land has been chosen and for what potential purpose.

“Truthfully, I thought we would probably see some resolution to this issue and have conversations happen,” Wilkinson said. “We have been trying to respect the process but it isn’t being led by our level of government. We have not wanted to muddy the waters, not wanted to involve ourselves in something we don’t have any control over.”

He added he and Sidhu are doing their jobs, which is to represent the ratepayers of Wilmot.

“At the end of the day, that is what we are on council to do and we have to make sure we are bringing those voices to the forefront.”

Wilmot Mayor Natasha Salonen released a statement following Wednesday’s event and said she supports everything said by her fellow elected officials.

"It's no secret that our residents have many outstanding questions about the region's land assembly in Wilmot Township. I echo the concerns that Coun. Sidhu and Coun. Wilkinson have raised about the process. I'm continuing to work behind the scenes to advocate that the landowners are respected during the process and will continue to advocate for the region to provide information to the general public."

Lowrick and the Fight for Farmland group said they have filed a total of 21 Freedom of Information requests. He added his hope is the township will pass a motion saying they are unwilling hosts for any development that takes away prime farmland.

“We are trying to learn more about these regional and provincial secret backroom meetings and dealings,” Lowrick said.

He also announced a pair of Fight for Farmland town-hall meetings tentatively scheduled for Thursday, June 20 and Monday, June 24 at 7 p.m. at the old community centre in downtown New Hamburg. More information will be released by the group shortly.


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