‘It creates 7 warring fiefdoms’: Community groups and Waterloo mayor question province’s urban boundary process

It’s been an ongoing tug of war between the province, municipalities, developers and community activists.

And province’s plan for urban boundary expansion has just taken a new turn.

Last summer the Province of Ontario announced it would be expanding the urban boundaries in municipalities across the province, including the Region of Waterloo.

That plan was later scrapped by the province after the fallout of the Greenbelt scandal and the resignation of the Housing and Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark.

The province’s new housing minister Paul Calandra said the previous decision were not made “in a manner that maintains and reinforces public trust.”

After this decision in late October, municipalities were given 45 days to identify any recommended changes to the official boundaries.

At the time, it was believed Region of Waterloo council would make this decision, now it appears the province is seeking recommendations directly from individual cities and townships.

Community groups, including the Grand River Environmental Network, Hold the Line Waterloo Region and the Waterloo Federation of Agriculture, believe this process is a mistake.

“In essence, it creates seven warring fiefdoms of each municipality competing against each other for scarce resources,” said Kevin Thomason, with the Grand River Environmental Network.

Kevin Thomason, with the Grand River Environmental Network, appears during an interview with CTV News on Nov. 20, 2023. (Jeff Pickel/CTV News)

Thomason says the region’s ability to work towards a unified vision has been the key to its successful growth.

“The regional Official Plan is one of those things that has brought our seven municipalities together and allowed us to do things that no other place in the province has been able to accomplish. One of the reasons for our success is simply we’ve done planning better than others and we need to continue that collaborative planning effort into the future,” said Thomason.

Waterloo Mayor Dorothy McCabe also believes in this approach, and recently passed a motion at the city level to recognize the Region of Waterloo as the ultimate planning authority.

“We don’t think it should be left to just mayors. [Mayors] shouldn’t be able to just unilaterally decide that they want different parcels of land added to our official plan,” said McCabe.

She added: “Without the region there to help negotiate and manage some of those planning and infrastructure decisions, it can create a very unstable planning environment.”

Township of Wilmot Mayor Natasha Salonen appears to be in favour of the province’s approach.

Salonen had put forward a motion asking the Region of Waterloo to send a letter to the province to support the municipality’s ability to recommend its own urban boundary expansion.

Salonen says she has pulled her notice of motion because “the province has enacted the essence of my motion.”

The deadline to submit any boundary change recommendations to the province is Dec. 7, 2023.

 

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